Making The Most Of Your Performance Review

Despite recent headlines suggesting that the days of conventional performance evaluations are numbered, it seems that performance reviews are alive and well, at least in the legal industry. And, it’s that time of year.

Oftentimes it can feel like an appraisal meeting is something that happens to us rather than being a constructive career management conversation. Earlier in my career, I went into formal appraisal meetings with no agenda and certainly no sense of ownership as it related to the conversation. Later in my career, I realized that these were so many lost opportunities. While my evaluations were generally very good, the truth is, I didn’t own the conversations the way I now advise coachees to own them. Increasingly it’s rare to have a solid half hour or more with a senior colleague focused on you and your career so, if you haven’t already made the switch, it’s time to embrace your annual review.

But, how can you make the most of it?

  • Whether or not your firm requires you to complete a self-evaluation, be sure to take time and reflect. Do an inventory of, and be ready to talk about, the period under review. For example:

  • What were your achievements over the last year? What did you work on? What were the challenges and opportunities? And what were the outcomes?

  • If you were updating your resume (and it’s good practice to update it regularly), what would be the key bullet points derived from your achievements this last year?

  • How did you fare in relation to any specific development goals you agreed at your last evaluation?

  • If you didn’t accomplish your goals, why not? Did you receive the support and resources you needed to do so?: Training? Mentorship? Coaching? On-the-job opportunities to develop your skills or learn new areas?

  • What additional skills or experience did you gain that may be hidden from view for the people reviewing you?

  • What are your goals for the next year?

Be ready to share fact-based observations on any gap between what you intended to do and what you did. This is not about being defensive or looking to blame others, this is about being realistic about the reality of your performance and acknowledging to yourself what was good and what, if anything, wasn’t.

All this said, aim to keep the bulk of your evaluation meeting future-focused. Be prepared to ask questions and ask for the information you need to determine how you can and want to develop your career over the next year. Use this time to think about long-term objectives and short-term goals. You may not want to share your longer term career ambitions at your performance review but this is a great time to be thinking about how what you are doing now sets you up for the role you aspire to further down the path.

When you are in the room, there are questions worth asking. For example, where do you stand? How are you seen relative to your peers? Why and how are you being rated the way you are? How do you move to the next level? What should you do more of? What, if anything, should you stop doing? And what do you need to differently? How will all that be judged when it comes time for your next evaluation? And, what resources and support are available to you at the firm?

By being straight with yourself (rather than simply hoping for the best as I did) and with your reviewer, you can more effectively participate in a conversation about your performance and your career.