Every legal recruiter and professional development professional understands the importance of planning for significant initiatives. Operating by the seat of one’s pants simply does not work within this industry. In the days that precede your performance review, consider the following:
Before you think short, think long
By definition, any annual performance evaluation must include a review of your key undertakings during the previous 12 months. That review, however, should only consume a fraction of the time that you spend with your supervisor. As quickly as possible, move your conversation from a focus on wherever you were a year ago to wherever you hope to be at some future stage in your life.
This means that you must invest time developing your long-term professional goals before your evaluation begins. If you are less than certain as to what your next career move might be, as soon as possible, do the following:
- Set some time aside and let your imagination go wild. Create a virtual or actual whiteboard and post every work and career possibility that tickles your fancy. It doesn’t matter how crazy any one option now appears. Post all options somewhere and give yourself permission to seriously consider them. Eventually, narrow your focus to your two or three best choices.
- Once you’ve identified your best options, move from thinking to doing. Research your top three options and identify the skills, talents and experiences that you need to develop or acquire for you to make your dream position a reality. Engage in “radical collaboration”—reach out to valued colleagues and peers as well as experts in a particular field. Inquire about the benefits and costs that might be related to any career shift. If it’s possible for you to gain hands-on experience, by all means do.
- Reframe problems. Be prepared for naysayers, the people who will suggest a multitude of reasons that should keep you from imagining a future that is different from your status quo. When others point out potential obstacles, welcome their feedback. Then, go off on your own and carefully consider whether a perceived obstacle is a proverbial mountain or a minor molehill.
- Realize that we are all on a journey. All of the knowledge and experience that you have acquired thus far in your life has helped you arrive at exactly the position where you are right now. But your journey is not over. There’s nothing wrong with a periodic pause to consider whether you should turn left or right. But just pause; don’t come to a complete stop. Every experience that you have, every piece of knowledge that you acquire today will help you arrive at your next resting point.
To the extent that you invest in this effort before your performance evaluation, you can make the limited time that you have with your supervisor more useful and valuable.
[Two resources that might help you jumpstart your thinking include Start with Why (2009) by Simon Sinek and Designing Your Life, How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (2016) by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Both books are thought-provoking, and the authors have created workbooks that can help you think through your general purpose in life and where you may wish to venture. Burnett and Evans are responsible for the term “radical collaboration.”]
At your performance evaluation
Be prepared to address your performance during the previous 12 months, including activities in which you know that you exceeded expectations. For activities in which you met or fell below expectations, be prepared to:
- Analyze what you did well;
- Analyze what did not go as well as you had hoped and why;
- Identify what you could do better; and
- Suggest what you plan to do next.
Throughout your evaluation, listen deeply to your supervisor’s perspective regarding your performance, which may be completely different from your own. In a world in which we are all moving at the speed of light and distracted by a million-and-one requests, I am increasingly amazed at how frequently two people participate in a singular event and yet experience it very differently. Your performance review should move you and your supervisor toward a shared understanding of the past and give you the opportunity to collaborate on creating your future.
If you’re blindsided
If your supervisor blindsides you—brings up some issue(s) about which you are totally unaware and unprepared to address—do not respond immediately. Instead, give yourself the opportunity to participate in a future thoughtful and responsive conversation by stating the following:
- I appreciate your feedback.
- Can you give me one or two specific examples when I didn’t hit the mark?
- I’d like to take a day or two to process this information.
- May we schedule a follow-up meeting?
Be prepared to self-promote
Muhammad Ali once famously said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” If you’ve retained appreciation emails from firm partners or key firm decisionmakers that recognize your good performance, bundle these and carry them to your performance review. If you’ve had numerical targets that you were challenged to meet during the previous 12 months, gather your quantifiable verifiables and be prepared to share them.
If your next professional move involves your current employer, be prepared to document that you have the natural talents to succeed in this new capacity. The Top 5 CliftonStrengths assessment tool is an easy, affordable instrument that will help you confirm your unique talents. Given your understanding of your employer’s wants and needs, be prepared to show a match … how you and your talents can help your supervisor and your employer accomplish their strategic missions.