Making Performance Reviews Work for You

by Joe Conklin

With rare exception in the course of my work life, I have been fortunate to have reasonable and fair supervisors. One thing they tended to agree on was that performance reviews should be a two-way communication process. For this to succeed, both sides have to do their part.

Over the years I have interpreted my part to include sending my supervisor a brief memo highlighting accomplishments and plans ahead of the scheduled review. This usually helps supervisors complete the official document that goes to HR.

When a supervisor has many staff who report directly to him or her, it is sometimes hard to remember all the useful contributions a person has made in the course of the current report cycle. The brief memo cures this problem.

A well-prepared advance memo can contribute to a positive image of a well-rounded, quality conscious professional who is willing to take initiative. For me, well-rounded indicates accomplishments in four categories:

  1. Performing current and ongoing duties. This is covered by most of the text in my official job description.
  2. Improving department operations. This includes the things covered in the official job description by the phrase “other duties as required or assigned.”
  3. Supporting needs across departments. This may include needs identified by senior management or through my own initiative.
  4. Personal and staff development. The personal part includes the training and professional development activities I undertake for myself. A sign of initiative and of looking out for the organization is identifying similar opportunities for co-workers and suggesting them to my supervisor when appropriate.

Sample Advance Memo

The following shows the basic pattern for the advance memo I like to send to my supervisor. It reflects the influence of my work as a statistician with quality related duties.

I. Accomplishments

A. Concerns from last review. In response to a concern in the last review about not keeping back versions of documents long enough, I increased the retention period for old documents by two months.

B. Current ongoing duties. I submitted our department’s data for the annual management review. I added a new interaction term to our main prediction equation. This has the potential to eliminate tedious importing of external variables from another department.

C. Improving department operations. I tested a spline strategy for a key modeling equation. It did not improve accuracy. I saved the computer program for possible future use in another application. I converted the department training manual to an electronic document so readers can search it faster and more easily. I tested and published code to streamline and automate aspects of the year-end adjustment process.

D. Supporting needs across departments. I created a customized format for each type of file delivered to central processing staff members so they can more quickly locate the type needed at any given moment. I helped an interdivisional team sort and edit our final recommendations to management on how to improve shop floor control.

E. Personal and staff development. I attended a one-day training course on statistical techniques for continuous processes. I presented a paper on auditing Six Sigma projects at an annual ASQ section conference. I identified convenient outside training classes to keep staff skills up to date.

II. Plans:

A. Current ongoing duties. I will complete testing of a new interaction term for our main prediction equation. I will respond to any management concerns about our data after annual review.

B. Improving department operations. I will assess how well the electronic version of the department training manual is serving readers. Time permitting, I will resume work on automating aspects of year-end sampling for next year’s mailing list.

C. Supporting needs across departments. I will assess how well the customized format for files is working in central processing. I will work with an interdivisional team to present our final recommendations on how to improve shop floor control to company management.

D. Personal and staff development. I will apply to renew my ASQ certifications. I will sign up for refresher first-aid training needed to serve on the emergency response team.

Personal Philosophy

The arrangement of this example reflects a larger personal philosophy of managing your performance and reputation in an organization.

The first item under accomplishments responds to concerns from the last review. This is a way of saying to your supervisor, “I am trying to respect what you think is important.”

Under “accomplishments,” for “current ongoing duties,” the item about adding the interaction term is something with a possible but unknown future payoff. Besides including accomplishments for which results are known and complete, documenting effort in something that might prove itself tomorrow is great practice if you want to fill senior management shoes someday. Acting for the future is part of what they are paid to do.

The spline strategy under “improving department operations” did not work as intended. This might seem at first an admission of failure and not suited for a performance review. But a reasonable supervisor will understand not everything you try will succeed. Part of tomorrow’s answers tends to be found in yesterday’s ideas that did not quite pan out the first time around. Preserving them for reference is a sign of growth, maturity and wisdom.

Some of my accomplishments reflect what I was hired to do—statistical analysis. A lot of my work is in other areas. The most successful, secure professionals can contribute in more than one narrow arena. To the extent you can, cultivate variety.

The items under “plans” reflect continuity with those under “accomplishments.” The point of reviews is not to show you can solve all challenges and problems by an arbitrary calendar date and start the next day with a completely blank slate. It is better to show you can tell the difference between what can be fixed quickly and what has to be attacked in stages over time. Your work is guaranteed to be a mix of both things.

Good luck in your next performance review.

JOSEPH D. CONKLIN is a mathematical statistician at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, DC. He earned a master’s degree in statistics from Virginia Tech and is a Senior Member of ASQ. Conklin is also an ASQ certified quality manager, quality engineer, quality auditor and reliability engineer.

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