The State of the You

By Pragmatic Institute August 13, 2007

It's the beginning of the quarter and, for some vendors, the beginning of a fiscal year. Time to think about what you have accomplished in the last year and what you want to accomplish in the upcoming year. It's time for employee evaluations. And because evals are often connected to compensation changes, employees expect--and deserve--more management attention on this critical activity.

Yet managers loathe employee evaluations. Our short-term focus means that we can only remember the last project you worked on. We have too much personal work in addition to the personnel work. We are supervising too many employees and projects.

Here's how you can help your manager.

Even if your company doesn't ask you to do it, send your manager an annual status report on your projects: a 'State of the You' in effect. An annual review is your opportunity to remind your manager of all the tasks you accomplished this year, tasks that he has probably forgotten about. It's the one document where you can crow about your accomplishments as an individual contributor without having to couch it in team language.

To Prepare

Think of your self as a product; your manager is the buyer. You have skills and experiences (ie., features) that are meaningful to your manager. Which problems did you solve for your boss during the last year and what unresolved problems are you best suited to solve?

Review your last appraisal for items that you needed to work on and the objectives you had committed to achieve this year. Note which objectives you accomplished and which you did not. Comment on the results and lessons learned about the objectives you achieved. Explain the objectives you missed.

Review your calendar for the last year and identify every project you were involved with. Write a short description of the project, the results the project achieved, and an accurate assessment of your contribution. Most managers hate the word 'involved' which implies a passive participation. Instead focus on your contributions to the team and the results that you achieved.

Review your resume for accuracy and identify new items that you can add to your accomplishments. Does your manager care that you have secretarial skills? If not, don't bother to mention your knowledge of word processing and spreadsheet programs.

Finally, think about the 'listening style' of your manager. Is he more impressed with data, stories, or formulas? You'll want to convey your successes in these terms. Managers with a development background tend to be 'data listeners' so you'll give results in that form: 'By defining a fixed set of features, we achieved our planned ship date of June 15, resulting in $10,000,000 in FY2004.'

Sales and marketing people tend to be 'story listeners,' especially stories involving customers. So the same information might be conveyed this way, 'Bill Jones, the head of XYZ Inc, told me that our on-time delivery of the product resulted in an early delivery for his project and probably a promotion. He was amazed that we shipped on schedule.'

Finally, finance listeners are swayed by formulas, most often in the form of procedures. Therefore, illustrate your points by showing the process by which your results were achieved, as well as illustrating how you institutionalized the process itself. 'We decided on a fixed set of features and signed a product contract. This meant that no one could change the feature set or the schedule without contacting the product manager. The team took the contract seriously and we kept to it. The product shipped on our planned schedule. By the way, I've documented this process and sent it to all the other product managers.'

A manager typically has a preferred listening style. Lead with this preferred style and support your point with one of the other two styles.

The Status Report

With an accurate assessment of your past year in hand, write a memo to your boss inventorying what you accomplished and what you didn't (and why). You can start this memo with something like this:

'My employee appraisal is scheduled for the end of this month. To help you in assessing my performance, I have prepared this list of my accomplishments. In particular, the one accomplishment I am most proud of is....'

Your manager will be surprised at all that you've accomplished in the last year and will realize that he was only thinking of what you've done in the last few weeks. This document gives your boss a series of paragraphs that he can use as he writes your review.

Think of this document as your company's 'resume on file' for you. In effect, an employee evaluation is like a job interview-- for your existing job. This document reminds your manager why he should hire you again this year.

The Meeting

Because you also think of your appraisal as a salary renegotiation, you may not be inclined to be too open in this meeting. But your salary increase is probably decided by the time this meeting occurs, another reason why the 'State of You' document is so important. Your objective for the meeting with your manager is to get his accurate assessment of your performance. This is very much a win/loss review; don't try to overcome his objections and sell him on you. Accept the negatives with a smile and say 'That's interesting. Tell me more.'

  • Review your list of accomplishments with him.
  • Solicit advice on one thing that you could do or learn to be a better resource to the company. This should be your primary objective to accomplish for the next review.
  • Ask for a suggestion of a training course or seminar that would improve your skills.
  • If you think it's wise, review your existing resume with your manager and ask him to identify an addition for the resume that will extend your existing skills--such as 'coordinate a trade show event' or 'create a standard MRD template for the company.'
  • Finally, ask for a simple summary of your manager's perception of you. 'When I think of you, the term that comes to mind is...' In effect, what is your 'brand' in the company?

Both employer and employee hate the appraisal process. We put it off until the last second. It forces us to face that which we'd rather not, to confront when we'd rather not. This approach--giving your manager a profile of your success--makes the review process easier by highlighting your skills and accomplishments.

For more advice on writing your review, read John Porcaro's 'Employee Review' at http://johnporcaro.typepad.com/blog/2004/06/employee_review.html

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