The Ultimate 30-Day Plan For Acing Your Annual Review

SUMMARY POINTS

> Annual reviews are your opportunity to get a leg up in your career
> Preparation is KEY to acing your annual review
> Review current goals and accomplishments for the year
> Scan through your archives to remember other achievements
> Highlight all the big “wins” on the internal company forms

Heads up - if you’re annual performance review is this week (hell, it may even be tomorrow!) and you’re scrambling, read this article instead. It’s our emergency action plan. It’s an ultra-condensed version to support you asap.

You see it on your calendar. It’s way off in the distance - a month away. But, you know that it’s gonna come up real quick.

It’s the dreaded annual performance review.

It’s not something most people get excited about - including us.

You know you do great work and often stay late to get shit done but when it comes to these reviews, you don’t exactly dazzle 'em with your achievements.

Not because you don’t have any, it just feels hard to articulate what you’ve actually done. You really should create a method or system of saving all the “wins” during the year.

Plus, you’re not really one to blow your own trumpet. It feels awkward and weird to be all like “Look how AH-maaaaaazing I am...now give me mo’ money.”

We know how you feel. So, we put this 30-day plan together to help you organize your thoughts and position yourself in the best way possible.

The Importance Of Your Annual Review 

Whatever your mindset, totally freaking out or confident AF, there are a few reasons your annual review should be one of the most important dates on your work calendar. Second only to the Christmas party.

Your Opportunity For A Pay Raise Or Promotion
While it's not always the case, your annual review is usually the time you’ll be told if you’ll be receiving a promotion and or pay raise and your chance to show exactly why you deserve one.

It's Your Turn To Speak Up
Annual reviews aren’t just a one-way street. It’s not just your boss delivering news and feedback be it good, bad or ugly. This is your opportunity to speak up on any worries, ideas or questions you have for your boss.

Receive Praise Or Constructive Feedback
If you’ve had a great year, your annual review is a great time to recognize your achievements and soak up any praise from the boss. The meeting is also a space to receive constructive feedback. This type of feedback is important to improve your performance, even if it kind of sucks hearing it occasionally.

Some people thrive in performance reviews while others languish, nervously jitter or completely disconnect. The employees in this funny video represent some of the ways we react during these annual evaluations. Which one are you?

VIDEO: What really happens in a performance review
YOUTUBE: Khorus Software
LENGTH: 5:43

Basically, your annual review is your chance to have a productive conversation with your boss, motivate your performance and get a leg up in your career.

And remember, it’s not a one-way dialogue. This is your chance to share your thoughts and plans as well as ask your boss about your future with the team and other advancement opportunities.

By sharing what's going in your head and finding out what's going on in your boss' head, there'll be a bit more clarity than before and hopefully, better alignment of what your boss expects and what you want to gain.

Preparing For Your Annual Review 

Maybe you’ve been waiting for months for this one-on-one with your boss - the chance to show what a rockstar you are and land a sweet promotion or pay raise.

Or maybe you’ve been kinda dreading the day.

Like, you know you’re great at your job but it’s always so hard to think of what to say in those damn meetings. You always leave feeling frustrated that you didn’t articulate what you’ve actually achieved very well….and that was reflected in your evaluation.

However you’re feeling, preparation is absolutely key to acing your annual review. The good news is, preparation is totally in your control and we’re going to walk you through exactly what to do before, during and after Judgement Day.

We’ve broken this down into the following segments:
* 30-Days Before: Review Current Goals
* 14-Days Before: Research Industry Pay Scales
* 7-Days Before: Draft New Goals
* 4-Days Before: List achievements & Complete Internal Forms
* 1-Day Before: Putting It All Together
* Judgement Day: Pre-meeting and in-meeting tips
* Post Review: Setting Up For Next Year

At each milestone segment, we’ll guide you through some tasks that you’ll need to do. None of the tasks require extensive in-depth work that will take you away from your normal day-to-day tasks for long periods of time.

Ok, let’s get started.

30 Days Before: Review current goals

What goals did you set with your boss in your last review? Find the goal setting document that you and your boss developed and read it again.

It’s time to go through the list and see how you’ve tracked against them in the last 11 months.

To help you organize your thoughts, open a new blank Word document and save the file as “Annual Review Info” or whatever filename floats your boat.

Next, type “Goals Achieved” up at the top and then, on the second page, type “Goals In Progress.”

Met all your goals?
If you totally kicked ass and met all your goals, write down each one under the “Goals Achieved” section and then, answer these questions:

Which one was the most significant to the company and why?
Which one are you most proud of and why?
What key challenges did you overcome to reach the goal?
How does accomplishing them impact the company?
What did you learn?

Didn’t meet all of your goals?
Don’t stress, we’ve all been there. Except if the goal is to take a longer lunch break on Fridays, most of us manage to ace that one.

For the goals you didn’t meet, jot them down in the “Goals In Progress” section of the document. Then, answer these questions:

How much progress did you make on the goal?
What held you back/was there a change in priorities?
What is your plan to accomplish the goal for the next year?

This is why it’s a good idea to review your goals a month before your annual review. It gives you a little wiggle room to check off or at least start on goals you may have missed throughout the year. If there are any smaller goals that can be realistically completed within 30 days, get started on those now.

If it’s not realistic to get those unfinished goals done in time, it’ll sound much better to say “Ok, so that goal hasn’t been completed but I’m halfway there” than just a big fat “Nope. Didn’t do it.”

14 Days Before: Research Industry Pay Scales 

If you know that your current salary is competitive and/or above the market average, you can skip this step and jump to the 7-day milestone.

If you feel your role is under-compensated and plan to hit up your boss for a sweet pay raise, you need to do some market research ahead of time. Doing this 2 weeks beforehand will allow enough time for you to get all the current market values from various sources.

Check out what other companies are paying in similar positions to your current one. This will involve internet research, scouting the major online job boards and company job listings.

And, don’t be shy about contacting a few recruiters directly and asking for their professional opinion on the pay scale for your role. This will do three things:
1) Expand your employment network
2) Introduce new job opportunities to consider
3) Validate your true market value

You need to do your homework and gather all the current market data and build your case for a salary increase. It’s gotta be based upon your accomplishments, skill set, experience and current market salaries.

Or, if you want to take a bolder approach, you could follow some of these alternative strategies instead.

VIDEO: The Best Advice For Getting A Raise
YOUTUBE: Fast Company
LENGTH: 2:40

Summary points:
> Ask for more money in a “happy voice”
> Bribe your boss with desserts
> Take the money and run!

If you do your homework and get accurate, real-world data on other competitive salaries for what you do, you'll be that much more prepared to justify and prove your case for a bump in pay.

7 Days Before: Draft New Goals

On the “Annual Review Info” document, create another new section titled as “New/Carry-Over Proposed Goals.”

Now is the time to think about what new or carry-over goals you’d like to achieve over the next fiscal year. Be sure that the goals align and/or support the company’s objectives and your career direction.

In addition to improving company output, professional goal setting is intended to challenge you to grow and advance your career.

Depending on your company performance review system, it may be up to you to set the goals or between you and your manager during the actual review meeting.

Either way, it's important to arm yourself with a list of potential, well thought out goals - this will prove and show that you’ve done your homework. 

Career-Development:

This is your opportunity to really think about your current career direction. It’s time to broaden your perspective beyond the projects and tasks occupying your inbox and think at a higher level.

Here are a few ideas on how to come up with professional goals for your self-development, no matter what your position is in the company.

What role would you like in 3 years time?

What professional development or experience do you need to get you there?

What new responsibilities would you like to take on in the next year?

What kind of skill sets do these new responsibilities require?

What courses can you take to expand on your professional knowledge and training for these new responsibilities?

Optimizing Your Efficiency:

Now, bring your focus back to your roles and responsibilities. This is your chance to add on projects that will make your work life easier. Think back to all the really tough moments during the past year.

What current processes can/should be streamlined?

What tasks can/should be automated to free your time for more strategic projects?

What on-going projects or tasks that are not part of your direct responsibilities should be taken off your plate?

What ideas could you implement within your job scope to improve the company’s bottom line?

No matter what goals you decide on for the coming 12 months, they must be SMART goals. No idea what a SMART goal is? Check out this quick 4-minute video and take your goal planning and achieving to the next level.

VIDEO: SMART Goals - Quick overview
YOUTUBE: Decision Skills
LENGTH: 3:57

Summary points:
> SMART - Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time-bound
> Getting ‘specific’ is arguably the most important part of setting a goal
> Only pursue the most relevant goals
> Goals need a date to be achieved so progress can be monitored

4 Days Before: List achievements & Complete Internal Forms

Boss - Why should we give you a raise Sam?

Sam - Because I’m awesome

Boss - How so?

Sam - Because of all the awesome work I’ve done in the last year

Boss - Like what?

Sam - Well, you know. Awesome stuff, in general. Like that account I won. I can’t remember everything. But I know it was awesome.

Boss - That’s awesome. But not enough for a pay raise.

If it’s a pay raise you want, you need to be prepared to justify your worth in terms your boss and/or the company will value.

In most cases, your boss needs to build the case to get approval from upper management and HR for your salary bump. So, give him or her all the supporting information about your contributions and accomplishments to make it easier for them to do so.

But, maybe you’re like Sam. You know you’ve done some amazing things. You just can’t actually remember them.

Your projects are all over the place, on the desk, electronically filed and on email. You hunt and dig through your hard drive but eyestrain is holding you back. 

A bunch of your projects were part of your responsibilities but others weren’t - usually extra tasks from your boss and other managers that didn’t really fall within your job duties. Thanks guys.

The key here is to identify only the larger projects and tasks that weren’t included as part of your official goals. These are the ones that you want to get in front of your boss.

On the “Annual Review Info” document, create another new section “Other Achievements” for the items here.

How To Rustle Up A List Of Achievements When You Can’t Remember Shit

1) Weekly/Monthly Reports
Well, those “pointless” weekly or monthly reports aren’t so pointless afterall. If you’ve been required to complete periodic reporting of your projects, this is your first go-to source.

Review the reports from the start of the working year and copy/paste all the completed projects into the “Annual Review Info” document.

Put the official goal projects in the “Goals Achieved” section. For the other unofficial projects you completed, put those in the “Other Achievements” section.

As you work your way to the current time period, you should have a healthy list of accomplishments.

2) Flip Through Your Notebook
Not all requests and tasks are tracked in your reporting. There’s always impromptu mini projects and assignments that get dropped in your lap from time to time.

And, if you’ve been good about taking notes during your meetings, you can refer back to your notes and catch the worthwhile items to include on the list.

3) Review Your Emails And Project Files
Starting this task a few days before the meeting, not the day of, gives you time to comb through your files and old emails.

The key is to scan through the major project folders on your email to trigger your memory of key projects and tasks.

Don’t read every single email.

What you need to do is scan the email subject lines only.

When you spot a significant project worth noting on the review, then you can dig a bit deeper.

Look for projects you worked on and tasks you successfully completed on time and how you did it. These don’t necessarily need to be huge, groundbreaking projects. Add the good ones to the “Other Achievements” section.

4) Look Back Through Your Calendar
This is another method to trigger your memory and help you uncover those unofficial projects.

Open your work calendar and jump back to the start of the working year.

Revise the calendar view on the screen to a one week view. This will allow you to see your meetings in better detail. You should be able to visually scan through each working week in less than a minute.

Again, it’s the same deal here. Scan for the more meaningful projects and include those in the “Other Achievements” section of the document.

5) What Company Related Activities Did You Lead?
It's not always just about your specific work projects.

What about other company related things?

Did you help organize the company’s 5k run, fun activities, holiday party or 4th of July cookout?

While these might not have contributed directly to the bottom line, it proves your eagerness to be part of the company culture and the team.

6) What Courses Did You Take?
These don’t have to be big ass MBAs. It can be other directly related courses or classes that have immediate impact to your skills.

Spent half a day at a workshop on how to create better looking PowerPoint presentations? Or, leveling up to become an Excel power user? 

Get those on the list.

7) Diffuse A Difficult Situation With Co-workers?
Great interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are incredibly important skills in the workplace.

If you’ve diffused and/or negotiated any particularly tricky situations with co-workers and landed a positive result, let your boss know.

Communication, mediation and negotiation skills are paramount to both personal and professional success.

Complete Internal Forms

Most all mid-to-large companies have standardized annual review processes. This process almost always uses pre-developed internal forms for you and/or your boss to complete and review separately as well as together on one-on-one’s.

Open the internal review forms on your desktop and review each section. As you read through each section, copy/paste any relevant and significant completed goals and other unofficial projects from the “Annual Review Info” document.

Since you can’t include everything, pick-n-choose the gold nuggets and gems from your self-research that are fitting and ideal for each particular section on the form.

By the end of the form, you should have a well-populated internal document. After your first draft of inputting the info, step away from the document for a bit of time (a day of you can spare). Then, re-visit the document with a fresh set of eyes and see where it can be further polished.

1 Day Before: Putting It All Together 

Now, you’re only a day away from your scheduled review meeting with your boss. It’s time to get everything in order and lined up. Don’t leave things to the last minute. You’ll just end up scrambling and putting yourself in a bad spot.

If you’ve completed each of the major prep milestones, this is what you should gather up, review and combine into one folder:

1) Completed internal review form(s)
2) Annual Review Info document
3) Industry Pay Scale Research (if seeking raise)

In addition to these items, you should also prepare questions for your boss. Your one-on-one annual review gets you air time with the boss and, depending on the type of boss you have, this may be pretty rare.

It’s a good opportunity to ask some questions around the organization’s progress, big projects in the pipeline and potential for career growth. You’ll come across prepared and personally interested in the big picture. 

Judgement Day 

If you’ve followed the timeline we’ve outlined above, you’ve begun prepping for the big day 30 days ago. You should be feeling pretty confident with your goals review, goal setting, list of achievements, competitive salary data and some questions for the boss.

Now, Judgement Day has arrived there are a couple of final things you can do before the one-on-one to ensure a productive conversation.

We’ve also got some tips on handling the meeting itself!

Pre-Meeting

Don’t just jump into the review meeting all willy-nilly. This isn’t like the hundreds of other “meetings” where you’re just a semi-involved stakeholder. This is game-time.

Mentally prepare for some constructive or negative feedback
Even if you’ve had an amazing year, no one is a unicorn and it’s likely you’ll still receive some kind of constructive or negative feedback.

It’s a good idea to mentally prep yourself for this so you can keep your head straight and respond calmly. Nobody gets a pay raise after telling their boss to go screw themselves because she mentioned you’ve taken a few more sick days recently.

Look the part
Even if you’d normally roll up to work in a pair of old jeans and scuffed Converse, your annual review is time to step it up a bit. Style your hair and wear something a little nicer, but don’t go overboard here and do a total outfit make-over ‘cause that’s waaay too obvious. Just kick it up a notch.

Don’t think it matters? According to this survey by PayScale of 32,400 employees “If you want to make the big bucks, you’re likely going to be wearing an outfit that leans a bit more on the dressy side.”

Get all your shit together
Don’t arrive to the meeting with random post-it notes, a million papers and a coffee stained notepad. Shuffling through all that crap trying to find your list of goals or the exact sales dollar figure you generated for the new account is just messy and unprofessional.

Have all your documents and internal evaluation forms completed, spell-checked and ready-to-go. Have two hard copies printed out - one for each of you.

In The Meeting

It’s finally the moment. It’s you and your boss, one-on-one. It’s time for you to shine and share your thoughts on all the good things you did.

It’s also the time to be open-minded and listen attentively to feedback. These are opportunities for improvement and advancement.

Present all your awesomeness
Now is the time to confidently present everything you’ve prepared. Your wins, new goals, hopes and dreams for the future. Keep calm, cool and confident.

If there’s a company evaluation form, follow the form structure and discuss each section with your boss and ask for their input and feedback.

Salary negotiation
It’s fair to say not every annual review is only about a salary increase, but if salary negotiation is at the top of your list of outcomes, check out this video on exactly what to do. We’ve covered a few of these already during our prep session.

VIDEO: Salary Negotiation: 6 Tips on How to Negotiate a Higher Salary
YOUTUBE: Linda Raynier
LENGTH: 9:56

Summary points:
> You need to know how to articulate your value to your boss
> Do market research so you know your value
> Give your ideal number, not a range - biggest mistake you can make
> Highlight the contrast between you and the rest of team
> Be humble and polite, not aggressive and greedy

Explain the type of projects you really want to work on
This should be reflected in your goals but reiterate the projects you’re excited to work on or the type of tasks that make you feel most fulfilled. This puts you in the light of an enthusiastic, positive employee who is excited about the year ahead.

Provide context when needed
Your boss can’t possibly see or know about every single thing you do every day. With this in mind, sometimes it’s a smart idea to provide some context.

You don’t need to get down to the nitty-gritty of your daily grind. But if there’s something missing in the history of events that your boss has been told, then enlighten him or her as professionally as you can.

Post-Review Activities 

When your Judgement Day has come and gone it’s tempting to think Yeshhhhh, thank goodness that’s done. What time does wine o’clock start? and literally not think about it until next year.

But if you want your review to be even better next year, there are a few things you can do after the meeting. 

Set An Action Plan For Your Goals

In the week following the meeting, make it a priority to create an action plan based on the feedback you received and goals set for the following year.

Take each larger goal and break it down into smaller manageable chunks, steps or sub-projects - maybe, one for each month over the next year.

Schedule in regular check-in meetings with your supervisor as a way to measure progress and stay accountable for each milestone. 

Figure Out Where You Need Support

Big goals almost always require that we learn something new and it may well be the case that you need extra training to achieve it.

For example, if you set a goal to deliver two client presentations every quarter but your a nervous public speaker, you’re gonna need help.

This might mean signing up to a course or asking a more experienced colleague for tips. It may also involve putting together a proposal to support your request if it’s training on the company dime. 

Keeping Track For Next Year’s Review

If you were scrambling around at the last minute trying to remember and list all the ways you totally kicked ass during the year, don’t make the same mistake for the next review.

Here’s our simple guide to keeping tabs on your awesomeness and tracking your wins throughout the year. 

Benefits Of Keeping Tabs On Your Achievements

You’ve realized by now the importance of keeping a record of achievements for the annual reviews but there are other benefits too:

1) Easier to update your resume for new opportunities
2) Helps build your online presence in your professional field
3) Reflecting back on what you’ve achieved is motivating
4) Keeping track gives you a sense of progress
5) Proof of your performance for others to recognize 

Ways To Track Your Achievements

Tracking your progress is not a one and done kind of thing. The whole idea is to keep on top of it regularly so it’s not all tumbleweeds at next years review.

This means you need to figure out the least stressful, uncomplicated way to record stuff that works for you. If you choose some complex method, you won’t be inspired to update the list regularly.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Incorporate into existing reporting
This is perhaps one of the easiest ways. If you’re required to complete periodic progress or status reports for work, then consider adding in these wins or achievements in this document. Hey, the extra exposure is a good thing.

Handwritten notes
Keep a journal specifically for tracking purposes. Jot down the date and important details of the accomplishment.

Digital tracking
Maybe you’d prefer to track your achievements in an app like Evernote which is easy to update on a tablet or phone. Inkpad is also a good option and both apps are handy because they sync with email.

Word or Excel document
Add notes to one master achievements document in excel or word is a simple way to keep everything in one place. Save it to your desktop and open it up on a weekly or monthly basis to update.

Calendar
Marking up your calendar with work project deadlines and meetings can serve as memory prompts for accomplishments. 

What Types Of Achievements Should You Record?

We’re all for you blowing your own trumpet but not all achievements are created equal. It’s great that you won the tequila shot competition at the happy hour last Friday, but it’s best to leave that one off the list.

Here are the types of things to include:
> Official and personal goals you’ve achieved
> Contribution to team and organizational targets
> Key actions that saved time, money or resources for the organization
> What you did to directly increase profits or sales
> Systems implemented to improve efficiency for your own and others
> Challenges you faced and how you overcame them
> Any awards or commendations

Three Words: You Got This

Between this gameplan and your focused effort, you’ll start building the confidence to really make yourself shine and get the recognition you deserve.

It’s not going to happen right away, but with each review, whether it’s monthly, quarterly or annually, you’ll get better and better.

It’s like any new skill. The first few times, it’s gonna be hard. But, you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

So, stop dreading the annual performance review and see it as your window of opportunity to show your incredible value to the team and company.

And soon enough, you’ll have the proof, knowledge and confidence of being really awesome and be able to walk into the review meeting and say, “Look how AH-maaaaaazing I am...now give me mo’ money.”

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]