Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Running Diary: Preparing for my performance evaluation, Part 1

I had a recent post based on an article on another site touting how best to prepare for your performance evaluation, so I thought I'd write sort of a retroactive piece on how I prepared for my last evaluation. I say "retroactive" because I'm telling it in present tense when really, I'm just remembering it as best I can since I didn't take notes, which is my usual Running Diary habit.

Knowing the process

In my first post on this subject, I stressed how important it is to understand the performance evaluation process that your company uses as it will shape how you interact with your boss (yes, that's a picture of mine at left). In my case, every employee that reports directly to my boss will get their evaluation at the same time. That means that, in addition to my grade, my manager will be filling out forms for around 6 other people at the same time. Most of my peers that also report to the same supervisor as me have a staff of their own that they must evaluate as well. While I don't have any formal subordinates, I interact with theirs on a daily basis and will be expected to provide feedback on as many people as possible.

Every employee is given a grade on a scale. Although I'll intentionally leave out how many points there are on that scale, there is a corporate mandate that a certain percentage of employees should fall within each part of that scale, within a reasonable amount of variance. Each manager is typically held to that percentage so that when all the grades for the entire company are rolled up, it meets the desired company-wide distribution. So, if you are on the cusp between two grades, you might artificially get moved one way or another not because of your performance, but because of the manager's requirement to fit the distribution a certain way.

The deadlines for submitting the evaluations are notoriously tight and the more of them someone has to fill out, the worse the workload gets. Plus, there are the normal projects to track and issues to keep track of while the whole process is going on. This is the primary reason I've avoided direct reports my whole career.

Starting with others

I start my performance evaluation process in what might be considered an unusual way: by collecting my thoughts on other people. There are three reasons for this:


  1. I know I'm going to be asked for feedback on others, so I might as well get it over with.


  2. By commenting on others first, it forces me to think about what all I've worked on during the year and who I've interacted with. In order to intelligently comment on someone else, I have to take good stock of what I've done too, so it ends up laying the groundwork for my own accomplishments list later in the process.


  3. I get "in the mood" of writing about accomplishments by constructing statements about others first. Just about everybody is uncomfortable writing nice things about themselves, so by starting with nice things about others, you get some vocabulary and wording momentum going.
For fiscal year 2006, I filled out feedback on 23 people before being prompted, which was more than I ever did before in previous jobs. A few were a page long, most were a paragraph or two, and others were as little as two sentences. I completed this exercise over about a week and a half and it definitely got me in a good frame of mind to work on my own accomplishments list.


In Part 2
, I'll go over approaching your accomplishments list as a resume and show a version of the one I filled out in Fall '06.

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