Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ― Charles Darwin
I'm helping one of my mentees get the edge in her performance review this year. I thought it would be helpful to share the insights and actions that I’m sharing with her, with a broader community, so more people get a chance at getting better performance reviews.
One of the things I should point out is that I had a 100% success rate for helping the people I mentored achieve the review score they set their mind on. I’ve helped several people achieve the top and elite ratings at Microsoft. While I don’t focus on this anymore, it was an interesting challenge and I learned a lot along the way.
This is a no holds barred, hard-core guide to getting a better performance review. As the game gets tougher, you need to get better. I know a lot of people not happy with their reviews. They thought that if they did a good job, everything would take care of itself. That’s the same fallacy as, “If you build a great product, they will come.”, and all the variations along that theme.
To get a great performance review, you have to design for it, and make it a project. It can be one of the most “rewarding” projects you do.
Let’s start with the formula for better performance reviews which includes a few cornerstone concepts:
Identify your handful of personal improvements. These are your Priority 0 improvement opportunities. What are the three things that you really need to improve to eliminate your naysayers and build a coalition of supporters? Chances are you already know. But knowing and doing are two different things. Don't make it a major project. Instead, make it a 30 Day Improvement Sprint. Do a little for 30 days and it will add up.
To recap, make your short list of key things to improve, and execute your list.
Here is a summary of the big steps to getting a better performance review:
In the words of Bruce Lee, “Aim past your target.” The idea is that if you want to break the wood, then aim past it. If you fall short, maybe you’ll still reach your target.
Decide on a number or rating. Believe you can do it. The first and worst person to block you from getting a better review is always you. Start from the inside out. Set your eyes on the prize, and decide that you are going to achieve it (or give it your best shot, enjoy the process, and learn a ton along the way.) Don’t sell yourself short here. Stretch.
Ask your manager to help you get that number. If you don’t have a number in mind, then you’ll have a tough time asking for help. Ask your manager for the work that will help you get that number. As you can imagine, this really forces you and your manager to pay a lot more attention to what’s on your plate, and what it’s actually worth … to you, the team, the organization, to Microsoft, to the customer, etc.
This is an important place to start. I’ve seen too many people sell themselves short, right from the start. They didn’t believe in themselves. And if you don’t believe in yourself, then why should anybody else. That’s why getting a better review starts here. It challenges your self-imposed limits and puts your beliefs to the test.
You’ll be surprised what you’re capable of, but sadly you have to first believe it, to achieve it.
This is an ongoing thing. You have to stay connected to what counts. To stay connected to what counts, you have to find out what counts. It comes down to filters and priorities.
People use filters all the time to make meaning. It’s the lenses they use to look at the world. It’s the language they use. It’s the values they latch on to. If you know the filters that people use, then you can be more relevant by using the same language (note that, sadly, sometimes even “similar” language is too far apart for somebody to connect the dots.)
Priorities are the backbone of value in the workplace. The problem is there is often a gap between what people say the priorities are, and what they show the priorities are. But the better that you can see the priorities and work with the filters, the better you can connect (or change) what you do, to be relevant and on the radar.
Find out what’s on your manager’s plate and your manager’s plate, and so on.
For example, in your 1:1s with your manager, ask your manager what’s top of mind? What are the things keeping them up at night? What’s their short-list of priorities?
You can test yourself by asking yourself, do you actually know the top three things on your manager’s radar? If you don’t, then don’t be surprised if what you do is not relevant, and don’t be surprised if they don’t champion your work at mid-year or end-of-year, and don’t be surprised if they can’t even tell anybody what your work is or how it’s valuable.
You can also use Agile Results to help you rise and shine the spotlight on your best work. Think in three wins: Three wins for the day Three Wins for the week Three Wins for the Month Three wins for the year
Practice telling and selling your story. Name your stuff in simple and sticky ways. The easiest way to downplay your value is to come up with really weird, names of your work, that nobody, but you, can ever remember.
Do brown bags to build awareness. Show a colleague or two what you’re working on, and how it might help them out. Find the people who would benefit from your work, and share it. The goal is to help others benefit from your work, and, as part of the process, you build awareness of your work. You also simplify the story of your work, the more you practice it. You also improve the value of your work, through the feedback you get as you tell and sell your story. Be on the hunt for identifying crisp, clear, and compelling benefits for the work you do.
Here is the most important part, and another key to getting better performance reviews …
As you can imagine, by having your manager articulate your wins, you start to find out what sticks and clicks, and what falls through the cracks. I am constantly surprised by how a lot of the value of the work that I do, gets lost in translation. The beauty though is that once you start to pay attention to it, you can start to surface more value in ways that more people understand. The other beauty is that at some point, you don’t have to flow more value. Instead, you simply have to drive more awareness and adoption of your value. “Value leakage” is the enemy.
It will always come down to either flowing more value, or getting more impact out of the value you delivered. On one of my teams, we called this “perception engineering” and we actively invested in helping others realize the value of the work we did. After all, if a tree falls in the woods …
Identify the short-set of influencers. Influence the influencers.
The key take away here is to turn critics into coaches, and build a tribe of raving fans, especially the people with influence. Tip the dominoes in your favor. Get the votes that count on your side.
Start paying attention to the good things that people say about you or your work. Capture it.
One of the best tips a colleague gave me years ago was to create an email folder called Kudos and to drag a copy of acknowledgements or praise into it. If you gather it as you to, it’s a lot easier to leverage it down the line.
It’s also a great forcing function. If your Kudos is empty, maybe you aren’t showing your stuff to enough people, or getting enough feedback. Sometimes you have to ask for feedback. Keep in mind that people are usually better about complaining and providing negative feedback, than they are about sharing praise. So if you think that it sucks that you have to ask for people to share their appreciation, acknowledgment, or praise … yep. It’s the nature of the beast.
The key take away is that it’s one thing for you to say great things about your work, and it’s another thing for others to say great things about you or your work. Since you have a vested interest in you, and your opinion is automatically biased, it’s better to have a cornucopia of kudos from others.
I like to structure my review using the following frame:
When you structure information, you can make it more powerful. You can surface the good stuff. You can give focus to key information. Also, the process of collecting and structuring your information transforms the information. You will start to see patterns. You will start to see themes. You will start to see the bigger picture.
I’ve actually written a post about this performance review template.
Put these tips into practice. They aren’t easy, but they are worth it. Regardless of what you get on your review, this process helps you achieve more, and grow your capabilities, so it’s actually a “can’t lose” approach.
If you really want to change your game, including master motivation productivity, and time management, and get better performance reviews, check out Getting Results the Agile Way at http://GettingResuts.com
nice writeup. now delete it before my teammates read it.
@ jhealy -- Thank you.
No worries ... there is always a big gap between knowing and doing. No matter how many people I share the info with, only a small percentage will act on it.
That's why "ability to execute" is always a competitive advantage.
"The problem is, you are the most intimate with your work. If you can’t express the value simply in ways that others get, then how in the world will they root for you, or praise your work. "
Some people are afraid to come off as arrogant so they don't pat themselves on the back enough in front of the people who need to know. It's okay to sing your own praises and explain why what you did is great for everyone else. Your efforts contribute to their scucess, be sure they know that.