Why have a performance review only once a year and make yourself a nervous wreck? Instead, arrange for more frequent informal reviews. You can improve continually, get feedback as you go along in your job, and let your boss know that you take your job seriously. Ed Koch, the former Mayor of New York, famously asked, "How'm I doing?" He asked it all the time because he wanted regular feedback, and so do you. Here are a few hints to help you get frequent informal reviews to prepare for that annual review:
• Create your own "hero file." When you have a great accomplishment or finish a task well, just jot it down on a piece of paper, date it and throw it into the file. It's hard to remember all of the important things you've done when it comes time for the review. When that formal review time comes around or you ask for an informal review, you are armed with your own personal "hero" file.
• Ask to meet with your boss regularly, perhaps once a quarter if things are smooth and predictable in your organization. If there are dramatic changes, you may have to meet more often. Just say, "I'd like to do better in my job. I was wondering if you had any feedback on my performance — both positive and negative."
• Even if your boss has noticed something negative, you have the chance to remedy the situation if you know what it is. And you can entice positive comments out of your boss too. From time to time (not continuously), say — half jokingly — "Did you notice that I finished that 100-page report in record time?" You have to point out the things you did well — when they're worth noting. Don't depend on your boss to notice.
• Take notes at the meeting. If your boss sees you writing things down, he or she is more likely to take the meeting seriously. As soon as your meeting is over, write a thorough report — recap the feedback and develop a plan for yourself of how you plan to improve. Show it to your boss and say, "I just want to make sure we're on the same page." This plan becomes your constant reference point so that you can track your progress against your boss's expectations.
• For your annual review, do all of the above, but also have your long-term career in mind. There should be no surprises as far as your performance is concerned, but this is an opportunity to discuss your career vision — where you are hoping to go — and what you have to do to get there.
• If salary is part of the annual performance review, prepare with this in mind. Remember, most people are unhappy about the raises they get, but you can still stand up for yourself and make sure you are treated fairly. Here are a few steps you can take if you feel you are underpaid:
• Step 1: Get serious. Prepare to justify why you should get a raise. One way of doing this is by making a list that clearly states your accomplishments. On an 8-1/2 x 11" sheet, draw two columns. The left column lists your job responsibilities. The right-hand column, which should be considerably longer, lists what you have actually accomplished in rank order. It could be — if you really do deserve a raise! — that column 2 goes on for another page.
• Step 2: In your formal meeting with your boss, state your case using the chart you developed in Step 1.
• Step 3: Prepare yourself for rejection. Your boss will almost certainly tell you "no" but keep your head up; this is to be expected. To give you a raise your boss must ask his/her superior, which is probably just as nerve-wracking for your boss as it was for you. Sometimes it is no more than mere inertia that bars your boss from asking for a pay increase on your behalf. You must offset that inertia. Remember, the raises for the entire department have already decided and you are upsetting the apple cart.
• Step 4: Develop a mantra. When pressed, simply respond: "I just want to be treated fairly." Tell your boss you would like to meet again in a week or two. It's not over yet...
• Step 5: Keep on plugging — to deserve a raise. Ask your boss what you should be doing to get the raise. For example, suggest handling additional projects or participating in task forces. Also suggest a salary review in a few months. Remember though, keep repeating your mantra, "I just want to be treated fairly."
Your boss is important to you and it's up to you to keep the relationship a good one. As we say at the Club, "If you don't like your boss, chances are good your boss doesn't like you either." You're on the losing end of that one. Bottom line: If you're in a good relationship, you can help yourself to get better reviews by keeping your boss continually informed.
Kate Wendleton is the president of The Five O'Clock Club, a national career coaching and outplacement organization. • www.fiveoclockclub.com