Race to the Top: Planning for a Great 2017

Q. I want to make sure that 2017 is a great year for me at work. How should I get started?

A. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to plan, so good for you – making a commitment to own your career is so important. Start the process by evaluating your annual review. By now (January), most companies have completed the year-end process from the previous year, which means you should have a copy of your year-end review. Read it carefully and use it as you plan your year.

Most reviews have at least three parts: a goals section, a leadership section and an open-ended section for your manager to highlight anything that was not covered in the other sections. The goals section often includes a numeric score; many companies use 1-5. One means terrible and five is reserved for exceptional performance. In my experience, the last rating is very rare. Review each rating and, importantly, look for any patterns. For example, are your strongest scores in, say communications categories? Are your lower scores related to quantitative analysis? Once you think you see a pattern, meet with your boss and seek support to address any numbers that you think are low and get as many details as you can about what you do well – and keep doing it! The leadership section is about “how” you do your job. My old boss told me a story once about how he had to fire his old assistant, which he did not want to do. When I asked him why he “had” to do it, he said that she just left too much “carnage.” He noted, “She was very efficient and effective, but she stressed a lot of people out the way she worked.” This is a tough area (leadership) to consider without knowing more about an individual review, but, like the first section, look at your scores and identify patterns. And if your review includes examples, read them carefully too. You might see, for example, that you score very high on short-term projects, but scores associated with your long-term projects are lower. That tends to indicate you need to improve your project management training or you might become more visibly irritated after you have been working on something for a long time. Again, discuss with your boss.

The last section of the review is often an open-ended section for your boss to add additional thoughts. Some of my previous colleagues would tell you that this is the most important part of the review because a message your boss really wants you to receive is likely to end up here. Keep in mind that your boss’s style will also drive how this section is used. Assuming he or she wrote a lot, make sure you review and discuss as needed. If he or she did not write that much, don’t worry, but do make sure to raise it with your boss when you meet next. As noted, this area (reviews and leadership) is a tough area to advise; it’s very fact sensitive. So, please, read this in the right context; as a basic guide.

A final thought: even if you don’t have formal reviews at work, you can still get ahead fast. A good friend of mine, who has had a great career, told me the other day that she has never had a formal review. And then she said something interesting: “But,” she said, “any given year, I asked my boss, what are the three things I am really good at and what are the three things I need to work on?” That simple question, the answer, and her willingness to do something with the answers were all she needed for a fantastic career. So, if you don’t have a formal review, adopt this simple approach.

Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs. She wants to answer your career questions, so you can get ahead at work. Email them to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com, rttcareers.com or your other connect at the Forward Times.