How to get the most out of your end of year review

Annual reviews can sometimes be seen as a box-ticking exercise, a chore to be prepared for, endured and then set aside – but what should be on every employee’s mind is how to get the most out of your end of year review. 

The usefulness of end of year reviews is of course dependent on the culture of the organisation that manages them; while it’s true that in some companies, annual reviews can feel like a waste of time and just a paper exercise, but,  if they’re handled well, they can be incredibly useful.  

While traditionally conjuring up thoughts of a one-way conversation, where an employer pronounces how well their employee has performed in their role over the past twelve months, end of year reviews can give both you and your manager a chance to reflect on the  successes, learning and growth you have achieved as well as identify areas for development and highlight what you’d like to focus on and achieve  in the following year.

Think of it as a two-way process, which needs as much input from you as from your manager. It’s a unique opportunity to focus on you and to make sure you’re on your boss’s radar, so future opportunities do not pass you by.

I think it’s vital to see end of year reviews as a positive opportunity, rather than a necessary evil. I’ve put together some ways to make your end of year review work for you.  

Be strategic about how you approach your annual review 

Ask yourself what you’d like to get out of your review. This will help focus your thoughts in a more strategic way, which will help your discussion become more focused in turn. Often, employees ‘go with the flow’, making the conversation manager-led and ultimately potentially less productive from their own point of view.  

Avoid that feeling of emerging from the discussion with nothing having changed by considering what you actually need from the review beforehand. It will make the process more fruitful. 

Look backwards to go forwards to get the most out of it 

It’s called a review, so looking backwards is an absolute must. Take the time to consider what you have achieved in the past year. What things have been a success for you? Write a list of the good things and use them to prepare your ‘highlights of the year’ to take with you. Ask yourself what you are most proud of, what has been your biggest learning or where you feel you have made great strides/moved forward. 

You can also learn from what didn’t go so well. What did you struggle with this year? What did you find tricky? What were the obstacles to your success? Make a note of these too – they’re useful learning tools. I’ve blogged before about failure being a critical skill to help us succeed. Working out what your barriers to success were will help you to identify areas where you might need more help in future. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager for help and support. It’s all about encouraging even more success in the future.  

Keep it real(istic) 

Be realistic with your expectations. Don’t ask for something that you know cannot – or will not – be actioned. If you notice something you’ve asked for has been on your review paperwork for years without ever coming to fruition, ask yourself why. Tailor your requests for something that is in your manager’s power to give. For example, I’ve seen people asking for expensive courses that for whatever reason – cost benefit or relevance to role, maybe – have never been fulfilled by the organisation. Think more widely about your growth and development and what you want learn and experience over the next year. 

Remember, learning can – and should – be lifelong. I’ve talked here about the different aspects lifelong learning can take. Consider the many ways your personal development could be supported: being mentored, becoming a mentor, taking a secondment, access to industry events or conferences, buying relevant books, opportunities to work on different types of projects to give you new experiences, volunteering…  the list is endless. The key is to consider what might be achievable and ensuring it is relevant. 

Build on your strengths for continual growth 

Part of building a personal development plan is analysing your strengths and focusing on developing those, rather than dwelling on your weaknesses. As part of an annual review, it’s worth considering what could inspire you to improve in the next twelve months. That may be expanding your experience and skills in a new role or promotion; but if you don’t plan to move jobs, you still need to consider how to build on your strengths to remain relevant in your current role, look ahead to anticipate how your current role may evolve in the future and what you need to maintain your high levels of performance, knowledge and skills.You may be happy with your performance now, but if you don’t invest in your own growth , this could change as the world moves on. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind future progression, no matter how far off you feel that might be right now. Expressing what your aspirations may be in the future means you’re setting down a marker and your manager may bear you in mind when it comes to opportunities that might crop up at a later date.

Use your annual review to be your own advocate 

A review is an opportunity for you to remind your boss of your capabilities. It’s all too easy for busy leaders to focus on the here and now and not think in a more strategic way about their people. You need to become your own PR agency. Remind your manager about what you have to offer: your current skillset, and what you need from them to flourish in the future. Share your aspirations and ambitions. Ask for your manager’s help to get you where you want to be to fulfil those. Explore the boundaries of what might be possible for you. 

Take your chance to speak out and tell your manager what they need to know about you and what they might have missed. Managers are not mind readers, so if something has changed that’s made you shift your attitude to work or what you want out of your life, the onus is on you to communicate that. Don’t pass up the chance to reset your manager’s expectations. They can only work on the information that you give them; it’s up to you to keep them informed!

Transfer your development goals into a Personal Development Plan (PDP) 

Be proactive, not just reactive.

Writing down your ideas for your personal development and sharing it with your manager is a brilliant way of keeping your plan in the forefront of your mind; you’re more likely to remember – and act upon – your self-set goals if they’ve been formally noted.  As Greg Reid said in his book The Secret of Happiness “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true’. 

After your review transfer your development goals into a PDP and created a detailed action plan of how you will work on achieving it so at your next 1-2-1 , you can report back on how you are progressing with your plan – and ask for more help to boost your goal, if you need it. This way you will already be preparing your evidence and examples of your next review too! 

Prepare properly to get the most out of your end of year review  

As ever, the key to success is preparation. Your review will be more effective if you’ve done the prep and have researched the opportunities you want to ask for.

Plan what you need to say to get the most from the review. You need to ensure your voice is heard; this is a conversation, not a lecture. The process is two-way, which requires you to do as much, if not more, work beforehand as your manager. This is your review and ultimately you can drive it to achieve what you want – but you need to own that by working hard to research and prepare.  

If you’d like some help and support in getting the most of out of your end of year review, email me to book a first free session.

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