Dec 8, 2021 • 32M

Finish this Checklist Before the End of the Year - Issue #335

16 tasks to boost your performance review, promotion request, or job search

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Larry Cornett, Ph.D.
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Right now, you may be dreaming about your holiday break, but thinking about how much you still need to get done in the next few weeks. I know the end of the year is busy, and it’s not easy to stay focused.

However, spending some time on this 16 task checklist is a worthwhile career investment to make. “Future you” will thank you later for making the effort.

In the early days of my corporate life, I thought my career growth would naturally sort itself out. Step up, do great work, and my manager would notice it and compensate me appropriately. Right?

However, that will only happen when you have an exceptional boss. If you’re lucky enough to have a manager who is on top of things and focused on developing your career, your hard work will be rewarded.

In other words, it rarely happens.

I discovered that it was more common for my manager to be too busy to notice everything I had accomplished. I learned that I had to take charge of my career development and advancement. No one cares more about your professional growth than you do.

I had to build the case for my raises and promotions. I had to be ready to make a significant change if things weren’t going to work out for me in the company.

I had to be prepared before the performance review cycle began. You should be, as well.

You still have the month of December to wrap things up before the big New Year’s Eve countdown. The list I created below will remind you of areas that might need your attention.

Plus, it will be a lot easier to get some of the required information and data before everyone slips away for their vacations. If you wait until January, it might be too late.

The 16 tasks focus on:

  1. Priorities

  2. Goals

  3. Accomplishments

  4. Failures

  5. Projects

  6. Additional responsibilities

  7. Success metrics

  8. Requesting feedback

  9. Testimonials

  10. Team contribution

  11. Industry involvement

  12. Professional growth

  13. New priorities

  14. New goals

  15. Personal goals and plan

  16. The Business of You

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1. Priorities

What were the corporate priorities for the year? How did those priorities trickle down to your organization? How did they translate into your priorities at work?

Some organizations have a formal process for identifying and communicating priorities. They require that you commit to your personal version of those priorities at the beginning of the year.

If that sounds like your company, you’re in luck. You already documented them.

If not, you have a little more work to do. Maybe you created them for yourself. Perhaps you didn’t. You may need to dig through a few emails or other communication channels to uncover what they were supposed to be for the year.

If your priorities changed during the year, this is the time to document why they changed. You don’t want your performance judged on past priorities that were made irrelevant at some point and for some reason.

Hopefully, you have a record of why the old priorities were dropped to focus on new ones. Regardless, be clear that things changed and what your real priorities were for the remainder of the year.


2. Goals

Your goals for each quarter — and the year — should have been directly related to the above priorities. What specific outcomes did you commit to so you could support those priorities? What were your overall goals for the year?

If you achieved or exceeded your goals, congrats! Document those accomplishments for the next task.

If you failed to achieve some of those goals, that will be captured later too. You will want to document why that happened. What was under your control, and what was not.

Were there other professional goals you wanted to achieve this year? If you haven’t entirely completed those yet, you still have a month to go. There is still time.

Be sure to capture these, as well, to have a complete picture of everything you accomplished.


3. Accomplishments

Create a full list of everything you accomplished professionally this year. You may need to go back and skim your calendar and message inbox to jog your memory.

If you keep a projects directory organized by date — something I highly recommend — you can browse that as well.

Obviously, your accomplishments are related to your committed priorities and goals for the year, as mentioned above. But, we all know that the one constant in life and business is change.

This is especially true as we are more fully embracing what it means to be an agile organization.

“Change is the only constant, and to turn one’s back and pretend that it is not coming is an exercise in futility”
— Anthony Carmona

I remember creating one of my earliest self-reviews for a manager and being disappointed by the small list of completed accomplishments for the year. Only a fraction of the commitments made at the beginning of the year had survived.

Of course, this was because our priorities had changed almost every month. It was quite a turbulent time at Apple (right before Steve returned).

I learned that I had to take ownership of this situation and clearly explain how things had changed and pivoted. Then, I created a complete list of all of the other accomplishments that resulted from the change in focus.

Don’t be shy about what you claim as an accomplishment. They don’t always have to be formal projects that were tied to corporate priorities and goals. Include other professional and personal achievements that demonstrate your creativity, productivity, and growth.


4. Failures

Own your failures before they own you. This is your opportunity to control the narrative.

I learned this lesson early in my career, and it has always served me well. Own your story and tell your story the way you want it to be told before someone else does.

If it is genuinely your fault that you failed to accomplish a committed goal, step up, and own it. Don’t deflect responsibility. Don’t unfairly blame others. This only makes you look weak.

This becomes even more important as a leader. Your team will fail to deliver on commitments and miss targets. There will be myriad reasons this happened. But, as the leader, you own that responsibility. 

Never blame your team.

That being said, if there are circumstances that made failure inevitable, clearly state that. We never have 100% control over the outcomes for complex goals.

  • Partners fall behind schedule.

  • Competitors release products that steal your launch thunder.

  • Market conditions affect consumer behavior.

Do your best to understand why the failure occurred. Explain the factors that impacted the outcome. Most importantly, document what you learned from all of this that will increase your chances of success next year.

Failure is inevitable. What separates the best from the rest is that they aren’t destroyed by failure. They learn, evolve, and grow.


5. Projects

Document every project you worked on during the year. Some of these will be planned projects that were tied to your goals and commitments. But, many will be unexpected projects that were put on your plate later.

Even if it was only a small contribution to help out a coworker, document it. Those efforts add up.

I know some people who were such great team players that they were always helping coworkers out but, sadly, were never recognized for it. Their formal list of projects was mediocre, but the value they added to the organization was tremendous.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Document everything you worked on so your manager understands how much you are contributing overall. Great leaders will have noticed your involvement, but most managers are so busy that they need to be reminded.

This is also an excellent time to keep adding to your portfolio of work. Portfolios aren’t just for designers. Everyone can benefit from documenting their project-based work and accomplishments.

I’ve worked with so many people who have struggled to build their portfolio long after the work was completed, or even after they had left the company. It’s hard to get the data and information you need later. Much harder.

Create a simple one-pager per project that explains:

  • What the project was

  • The role you played

  • The problem statement

  • The goal of the project

  • The desired outcomes

  • What work was done

  • What was actually produced and launched

  • What the actual results were

  • The lessons learned

You can also document trade-offs that had to be made. This can help explain why a project didn’t turn out as you had hoped, and what you would do differently next time.


6. Additional responsibilities

It is all too easy to forget the little side projects and tasks that came up during the year. As you look at your list of formal projects, you might be thinking, “Is this all that I did this year? I sure seemed a lot busier!

You feel that way because you were busy. But, you most likely took on additional work without thinking of keeping track of it all.

Go back and skim through your calendar of appointments. Scroll through your email and other messages. Browse your project directory.

There is often a good deal of work that a great employee performs that doesn’t neatly fit into a “project” definition. I mentioned assisting others with their projects in the previous section, but we often have fuzzier contributions that we make to our organization and company throughout the year.

Obviously, it is much easier to capture this long list of little things weekly or even daily. That’s something for you to remember next year. Keep a running list of all of the small tasks, activities, and contributions you make.


7. Success metrics

This is directly related to your project work for the year but focused on what actually launched. Documenting all of the success metrics is not just helpful for your performance review or making a case for your promotion; it’s also critical for constructing a more powerful resume and Linkedin profile.

Recruiters and hiring managers love to see examples of what you accomplished in your past jobs.

It’s pretty weak to have fuzzy statements that only speak to your job activities (e.g., “Created lots of spreadsheets”). It’s much more powerful to have examples of tangible success (e.g., “My project increased sales by 23%”).

I was a designer for almost nine years before I became involved in metrics, instrumentation, and analytics at eBay. Part of that was due to working on OS software before the rise of the Web. Part of it was due to corporate focus. eBay, for example, is a very data-driven company.

However, I still meet designers who don’t know what “needle” they are trying to move with their design work. This is a career-limiting mistake.

My move into leadership and Product was highly correlated with understanding how Design can help drive product and business success. Know your data!

If this is all new to you, it’s time to learn. There are so many resources available now, from free to paid courses.

In the meantime, work with a product manager, analyst, or business owner to get the data you need for your projects. This will be a lot easier now than later.


8. Requesting feedback

Proactively identify coworkers who can provide feedback on your work performance for the year. It might be tempting only to ask people for input when you are confident they’ll have great things to say about you. But, that’s not how you will learn and grow.

Also, your manager is sure to solicit input from the people who have worked most closely with you, whether you enjoyed interacting with them or not.

As with the Failures task, get ahead of the feedback. Reach out to the people you worked with and schedule a quick 30-minute meeting to ask for their input on how things went.

Some people will be comfortable doing this, but some will not. That’s ok. Meet with the folks who are willing, and let the others know that a few notes in an email would be helpful.

The very act of soliciting feedback and input on how you can improve yourself is a sign of professionalism. People will notice and appreciate it.

I always had the utmost respect for people who would sincerely ask me if there was anything they could do to improve our working relationship.

It’s not always possible to avoid negative interactions at work. You shouldn’t expect that everyone will be happy, want to be your friend, and never have any complaints about you.

However, we can all be professionals, realize that ultimately we’re on the same team, and want to help each other become the best at what we do.


9. Testimonials

So, this one is going to feel a bit strange for most of you who have always been employees. But, consultants, solopreneurs, and independent business owners are quite familiar with asking clients and customers for testimonials.

Why do we do it?

We seek them out because the opinions of 3rd parties tend to carry more weight than your personal assessment of your performance. Your manager will assume that you do have some bias, of course.

For the previous task, you asked a variety of coworkers for feedback. Some of it probably contained constructive criticism. You may have even encountered some negative feedback or complaints.

However, a few probably spoke glowingly about your performance and how you interacted with them and their team. Don’t be shy about asking for a few positive testimonials.

Ideally, you would do this throughout the year upon the successful completion of a project, big task, or other activities when you delivered value. Put this on your to-do list for the future.

But, it’s ok to ask for a testimonial or recommendation later. Believe it or not, I asked one of my managers from over 20 years ago to provide a testimonial on Linkedin.

Guess what? He gladly wrote one. I should have asked him for it two decades ago, but Linkedin didn’t exist then.


10. Team contribution

When I was a corporate manager, “contribution to the team” was one of the factors I evaluated when considering someone for a promotion. It’s a sign that someone is growing professionally and adding value to the organization above and beyond their primary work performance. People who do this regularly help everyone get better at what they do, and it elevates the entire organization.

This is similar to the previous points about the contributions you made beyond your assigned projects or work responsibilities. For example:

  • Did you share useful research with your team?

  • Did you acquire a new skill and teach others in the company?

  • Did you learn something at a conference or workshop, and then share that knowledge with your colleagues?

Basically, document the times you made an effort to help others get better at their craft, mentored more junior employees, helped onboard a new employee, or invested your time and energy in improving the organization. It probably happened more often than you think.

Again, look back through your calendar and messages to jog your memory.


11. Industry involvement

When I used to discuss potential promotions with other corporate leaders, we talked about “expanding spheres of influence” for high-potential employees. If people consistently had influence at a level above their current role, it was one sign that they might be ready to move up.

When someone is just starting, their focus and influence are usually only with coworkers they collaborate with on projects. Over time, this sphere of influence expands to include their immediate department.

Later, they start having influence within the broader organization. Then, they start getting noticed and having an impact across the company. Eventually, they might become known at the industry level.

We all know a few people in our chosen professions who are known by almost everyone in the industry. You mention their names, and someone says that they attended one of their talks or workshops, read their articles, or watched one of their videos.

Document all of the times that you demonstrated your expanding sphere of influence. How were you involved with other members of your profession beyond the company? What did you contribute to the broader industry (e.g., articles, talks, panels, podcast interviews)?


12. Professional growth

What new skills and knowledge did you acquire this year? How did you invest in your professional growth? This could include conferences, talks, workshops, online courses, etc.

The beautiful thing about this type of investment is that it’s good for the company and it’s great for you. Everything you’ve done to grow professionally will make you more effective in your job, position you better for a promotion, and make you more desirable in the job market.

One area of professional growth you will always hear me recommend is to become comfortable with public speaking.

Warren Buffett once told a class of business students that he would pay anyone in the room $100,000 for 10% of their future earnings. If they were good communicators, he would raise his bid by 50% because public speaking would make his ‘investment’ more valuable (source).

As you look forward to the coming year, think about where you would like to continue investing in your professional development. Look for opportunities for your employer to either provide the training or pay for you to seek training outside of the company. Companies usually have a budget for this, but you will need to ask.


13. New priorities

Now, it’s time to look forward. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you understand what’s important to your manager. It should also show that you know what’s important for the company.

What do you believe are the company’s new priorities? What will your organization focus on in the coming year? How does that translate into your new priorities?

A performance review is a look back, but making a case for a raise or promotion requires that you look forward. Junior employees tend to focus on priorities that personally affect them and their projects (e.g., “One of my priorities for the coming year to is to be a lead on a bigger project”).

However, senior employees and the ones who are operating at the next level — and are ready for a promotion — tend to see the big picture of what the organization needs and what the company thinks is critical.

For example, “In the coming year, my priority will be to successfully launch project XYZ, which will add $12M in recurring revenue for the company.


14. New goals

Given these new priorities, what goals do you want to commit to for the coming year? What do you plan to accomplish?

You’ve learned a lot over the past year about making commitments, creating stretch goals, and the likelihood of achieving them. So, now you’ll be better at identifying goals that you have a higher likelihood of meeting and exceeding.

As with the priorities, your goals should reflect that you are thinking and operating at the next level. You will want to commit to goals that are meaningful for the company and your manager. More importantly, you need to translate these into goals that you are personally able to commit to and know can be measured.

Early in my career, I made some mistakes in choosing goals that weren’t entirely under my control, which meant that I could fail to reach them despite my best efforts. I also made mistakes with goals that weren’t easily tied to a quantitative measurement. That left the success or failure open to interpretation by my manager.

Do your best to commit to goals that are meaningful and ambitious, but you know you have a high degree of control over achieving them, and there will be no uncertainty about your success.


15. Personal goals and plan

You may not want to share this specific task with your manager, but you should definitely do it for yourself. What do you personally want to achieve in the coming year? This may or may not be aligned with your current role.

For example, your personal goal could be to get promoted to the next level, but that is impossible within your current company. So, you might make a plan to find a new job that will give you the growth opportunity you need.

I often ask my clients to create a 10-year goal, a 5-year goal, and a more focused goal for the next year. Over time, longer-term goals will evolve and change. That’s to be expected.

However, knowing where you ultimately want to land with your career and life will help you make tough decisions in the coming year. You may be faced with a few options that all seem like reasonable paths.

But, when you consider where you want to be in 10 years, one will emerge as being more aligned with that objective. Planning in reverse like this can be very useful.

A goal without a plan is merely daydreaming. It’s fun to think about, but not likely to magically come true on its own.

Map out what you need to do over the coming months to achieve your goal for the year. Create a plan for making progress towards your longer-term goals. Identify the weekly activities and daily habits you need to stay focused and on track.

Plans are more effective than goals. Daily habits are more powerful than plans.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
— Will Durant


16. The Business of You

I often rewrite and tune my elevator pitch that explains who I am, what I do, and who I help. Your personal life is certainly not static. So, you shouldn’t be surprised that your professional life evolves as well.

I call this “The Business of You,” and you may have noticed that phrase mentioned in a few of my past articles. It’s basically your professional value proposition.

  • What value do you add to the company for your employer?

  • Why should a new employer hire you?

  • If you’re an entrepreneur or solopreneur with your own business, why should a customer purchase your products or services?

This statement shouldn’t be a long essay. Try to boil it down to one to three sentences at the most. Here are some one-sentence examples:

  • I ensure that young couples never forget their wedding day by creating a stunning visual keepsake of their most magical moments.

  • I help mobile app companies virally grow their customer base by designing uniquely addictive experiences.

  • I help smart business owners save money when they acquire new customers by teaching them how to reduce their dependence on traditional advertising.


Be ready to hit the New Year running

Note: this exercise will be so much easier next year if you check in on these tasks at least monthly. Get into the habit of updating a document with your changes in priorities or goals, new and completed projects, and other notes you think will help you prepare your performance review.

In the old days, I used to keep a Word doc handy for this purpose. Now, I’ve switched to using Evernote so that I can easily make updates from my laptop or phone on the go, wherever I am.

Many companies kick off their performance reviews at the beginning of the year. Budgets are allocated. Decisions are made about investments, raises, and promotions.

You want to be ready to take advantage of this opportunity.

If you have your goals, plans, and data prepared, you’ll be better positioned to make a case for what you want out of the coming year. This might be a promotion, a raise, some training, conferences, or even getting ready to make the jump for a more significant opportunity somewhere else.


A quick tip

If you have a copy of your performance review from last year, you can use this as a starting point for writing your review this year. The structure of the review shows you what is important to capture.

However, if you’re new to the company or you don’t have a copy of last year’s review, ask your manager for a copy of the review template. If the process is all online (some of my review tools were), then ask for an overview of how your performance will be assessed.

Past reviews are also useful to measure your progress. For example, if last year’s review indicated that you had difficulty running productive meetings, you can demonstrate how you’ve improved your meeting management skills this year.

A “levels and expectations” document is also incredibly helpful when writing your review. If you are seeking a promotion, take a look at the performance expectations for the next level. Then, write your self-review to highlight examples of how you are meeting those expectations, thus illustrating that you are already performing at the next level.

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This week’s office hours topic

⭐ Capture Your Achievements for the Year

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Ok, we knew 2020 would be a rough year. But, I think many of us hoped that things would turn around in 2021. Well… it’s been another long year that didn’t go quite as planned. Many folks felt their motivation and drive dipping to new lows as work and life continued to feel…
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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for ambitious professionals with weekly challenges, office hours, and 24x7 support. If you’re interested in starting your own business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching in 2022).

Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.


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