This time of the year, many of us are running towards the holidays for much needed rest and family time. For most of my clients, that also means end-of-year performance and business review meetings.
In an ideal world, a review would be a generative time to reflect on the challenges of the past year, both highs and lows. A time to take stock of our successes and take an honest audit of shortfalls and the key obstacles that kept us from achieving our goals.
How do we leverage all of that information into a powerful vision of where we want to grow and learn in the coming year?
If you’re in an organization that is large enough to own the function (and honestly, every company should regardless of size and budget), you may be preparing for a conversation with your boss or team to evaluate this past year. Let’s lay the groundwork so this can be a powerful experience that yields insights for you, allowing you to come back refreshed from the holidays and take action.
If you are a leader, this is an opportunity to contemplate and connect with employees.
Express appreciation and respect for contributions — regardless of whether they were ultimately successful, so long as they showed the level of dedication and good faith effort you expected of them. Remember that performance reviews are one of the most dreaded HR processes at companies — people often feel under the microscope and on the defensive for being evaluated for where they fell short, rather than appreciated and supported.
A lot of things were out of our control this year, but as a leader, you “bring the weather.”
You have the power to create a warm and open environment that enables a candid and kind two-way conversation. And while experimentation, "meh" results, and outright good-faith failure are a necessary part of growth and success, leaders need to hold people accountable for their behavior, and it is possible to do — with kindness. As my former executive coach shared with me, a leader is kind, clear, fair, and firm.
No matter what your role in your organization, everyone has a boss. In preparing for your own performance conversation, here are some suggestions to make the most of your time:
Come prepared. If you’ve been provided with an agenda or self-evaluation, draft your responses to the questions ahead of time, and then sleep on it. Review with fresh eyes and edit down to your key points to share, or questions to ask.
Be concise. The time can go quickly! Keep the conversation tight and focused on what is really important to you and your work.
Keep it conversational. Be aware of both how much you are talking and also how much you are listening and receiving information. Seek a balance.
Ask for clarification. Sometimes you may need more information on an insight, and it’s perfectly normal to say, “Can you tell me more about that?” and ask for more context.
Use “I” statements. “I” statements are accountable and leaderly. This may be obvious, but in general, “you” statements can come across as blame-ridden or accusatory. For example, instead of “You did not give me the support I needed,” try “I worked independently..."
Enjoy the wins. If you receive praise on your work, accept it happily. Some people have a hard time accepting a compliment. This takes joy away from both you and the giver. Let yourself take pride in your accomplishments.
Listen to understand. If you receive criticism, accept it graciously and learn from it. Many people have a hard time hearing improvement feedback, and they get defensive rather than listening to understand the information that’s being shared with them. It’s important to train yourself to frame feedback as a data point that is useful to you, that helps you avoid potential blind spots. Knowing what others think of your performance is critical to your success, and it’s the only way to improve. One helpful mantra is, “I need to know this information. It can only help me.”
Close with a question. End your conversation by asking your boss, “What one thing could I do to be more effective in my role?” Save time for this — this was always the question that got me the most insightful information for crafting my next development goal.
While you may not embrace a review as much as a beautiful autumn walk through the woods, I hope you find these tips helpful. You may be in a supportive, healthy culture with appreciative leaders — or not so much. (My career was a mix of both.)
Regardless of where you find yourself this year, position your conversations to gain the insights you need to keep learning and growing.
My Personal Reflections on 2020 for BBCC
As a consultant, I run myself through a similar exercise and reflect on the wins and challenges in an honest way, as I don’t have the same kind of third-party feedback loop I had as an employee.
A quick round up of my top moments include:
Supporting two clients in earning significant executive promotions.
Helping leaders take this unique pandemic moment to focus on healthy workplace cultures with virtual team workshops to eliminate toxic behavior that working remotely enabled
Speaking at leading industry conferences in healthcare, financial services, HR, legal and compliance, and trailblazing women’s organizations, and guest lecturing at UCBerkeley (3x) and Stanford
Joining Fast Company and Harvard Business Review as a contributing writer
Like many of you, I found the daily exercise around work-life integration was a dramatic and unexpected challenge. As a family, we hosted freshman year of college in the kitchen and high school in the dining room for our daughters.
We missed emotional and milestone family gatherings — from funerals to high school graduation — and quietly mourned unfilled expectations while being grateful for good health, education access, and our home.
With the possibilities of doing things in new ways, I eagerly jumped at the experimentation and ended up saying yes to too many commitments that I now see weren’t always strategically aligned with my goals. I had hoped to set better work boundaries this year, but with so much already blurring the work-life balance, I’m chalking it up to experience and recommitting to it as a goal for next year.
I want to express sincere gratitude to each of my clients for trusting me with your growth and partnering with me to live in your learning edge. As a coach, there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing a leader step into their power and harness reflection and self-awareness.
I’m optimistic about the opportunities that 2021 will bring for all of us.
To your health and continued growth,