Annual reviews bring up a mix of complicated feelings.
Doubt, guilt, fear, frustration, indignation.
Hope, pride, appreciation, gratitude, compassion.
The emotions rise to the surface one by one or all at once—and then we must put on a brave face and push through our feelings so we can string sentences together and advocate for ourselves during the dreaded conversation. No matter whether the overall tone of the exchange is deflating or empowering—it is typically one of the tougher dialogues we experience in our careers.
While I haven’t had one of these reviews in a few years, I remember the internal conflict I would feel when it came time to hand my self-assessment (the part I could control), over to my supervisor who had the final say on my performance, compensation and professional development. In essence, I was relinquishing ownership of my own learning and growth.
Now, with distance from the experience and a boatload of new leadership tools, I know the way to avoid this uncomfortable scenario: Get ahead of it.
I work with clients to complete their own super secret annual reviews and professional development plans for the year to come. Here’s how we do it:
1. Start with an organizing principle—your values
In order to evaluate yourself, you need to know what you’re shooting for in your career. If your life and career are driven by a certain set of values—this would be a great place start. My personal values are courage, connection, inspiration, peace and fun, and to stay on track I make a list of all of the ways I’ve been in action around each of these values and the results that have come from these actions.
2. What did you learn and where can you improve?
This is my favorite part of the secret review. If you’re a human being, there are always things you can do better. Where in your career are you not living your values? Where are you not getting the results you want? Because nobody will ever see this document and it will not impact your compensation, you can feel free to be 100% honest. Plus, you’re evaluating yourself based on what’s important to you and not what’s critical to your company. Of course, if you’re in the right role these two sets of criteria would likely align. If they’re vastly different, that is data that can inform how you move forward.
3. How will you follow your curiosity in the coming year?
Start by asking yourself: What are the things that energize you, that bring you into flow? The things that when you’re doing them make you feel most like you? How can you add another dimension to that expertise? What are the things you want to learn that are disconnected from your current role, although your intuition is driving you there anyway? When generating this list of learning opportunities, note which items on the list feel like a "should" and which give you butterflies just imagining the possibilities. Next, map out the months of the year and note your curiosity focus for each month being sure to strike a balance between aspirational and practical. January will be storytelling while February could be sharpening public speaking skills. With a loose map, you can set your targets and allow yourself to flesh out the details at a later date.
When it comes to timing, I highly recommend doing your Super Secret Annual Review before you complete the self-assessment for your role. This way, you can allow your own review to inform the document for your company. Know that for your own review, you can throw around sentence fragments and simple language. There’s no need to spend extra time dressing it up. It’s for you, and only you know what you mean, at least most of the time. If it seems like an unnecessary step that you don’t have time for, remember that the one person responsible for driving your career forward (in the direction you choose) is you. Your boss and your company and your mentors may provide guidance and valuable input, but you are the only one who can put that data through the filter of what’s meaningful to you and decide on your best next move.