Stop dreading performance reviews and set powerful goals
Do the work you love and the rewards will follow
Work performance reviews, school grades, Lyft ratings, and test scores are a source of some dread. These externalities where other people assess how well you’re doing all matter.
Performance reviews are data points around how others view you and how good you are at your job. Often they also correlate to financial success.
Your performance rating will affect the promotion, the size of your bonus, or the number of new customers who try you out. Your high school grades and SAT scores directly affect which college you get into.
Yet what happens when your self-accomplishment doesn’t map to the performance review you’ve received? What matters more, the internal sense of satisfaction or someone else’s validation that you are doing well in their system? They both matter, yet many of us fall into the trap of passively awaiting our grade with a sense of dread.
I’m sharing a different perspective, where you as the heroine of your professional accomplishments can work through 5 points and set powerful goals in service of your own accomplishments.
- Do the work that you love and the rewards will follow
- Understand the company’s context
- Know your context
- Common fallacies
- What matters most for you
Do the work you love and the rewards will follow
I worked at Facebook for over four years. I’ve written countless performance reviews, and had even more conversations with individuals wanting to know how to be successful at the company.
I helped to run a process of product design calibrations where each half, all the managers would assess each designer’s accomplishments to determine what is a fair rating for each person, especially compared against how their peers are doing.
The consistent piece of true advice that’s often considered a trope is “Do the work you love and the rewards will follow.”
What this is intended to do is to have the designer focus less on the grade she might receive and focus instead on the work itself — the people and the products, plus the craft of the work that she’s creating. I
f you do this well, you will get your positive rating. If you do this well over a period of time, you will get your promotion. Yet often this advice feels trite and a brush-off.
It requires a longer term patience and investment in your career, and it also requires trust with your manager and the company that you’re working at. I’ve been at multiple ends of the performance review spectrum of delight & disappointment—I’ve had halves where I thought I excelled and received a Meets Most.
I’ve also had halves where I had so much going on personally that when I got a promotion and a Greatly Exceeds, I realized how little it meant to me in the overall balance of life.
Most importantly, my various coaches and mentors have taught me that valuing my own sense of powerful goals and being able to reflect on my learnings matters more than an external rating. If I am able to do the work I love, serving the designers I care about, then I am successful.
Understand the company’s context
To understand your performance review, first understand the rubric by which the company values success. Hopefully you have access to a written guideline for expectations and skills in your role. If not, it’s something you should co-design this understanding with your manager.
For Facebook product design, there are 7 core skills covering hard design skills as well as collaboration and leadership skills that each level of product designer should exhibit. For assessment in each half, managers write a brief outlining what each designer has done in the last 6 months.
This is split into 1. individual impact on the team’s product goals, 2. strategy impact which may include visioning design work for the future, and 3. leadership/culture impact on the product team or elsewhere within Facebook.
While a written rubric is a good starting point, it’s a guideline, which means that it’s open to interpretation and individualization.
The most important conversation is the one between you and your manager around shared understanding of the success guideline and how it applies to you individually. This conversation and shared understanding will ideally be based on a mutual relationship of trust and respect.
I’ll dive more into how to create that ideal relationship in a future blog post.
Know your context
What matters to you professionally or at your work over the next six months or year? What would you like to do personally to help your team achieve their product goals? What new skills do you want to develop? What would you like to learn? What relationships do you want to nurture?
For example, a designer who wants to work on building his prototyping skills may focus on 1. learning framer, 2. setting up a base prototype to match his product structure, and 3. committing to showing every single design in a prototype, and 4. sharing his learnings with others via a post or a lunch & learn talk.
Another designer who wants to improve relationships with her product manager and key engineers chooses to 1. invest time in informal coffee meetings & 1–1s, 2. organize team events to build a sense of team culture, and 3. deliberately schedule whiteboard sessions to co-create requirements with her PM.
Your goals should be self-driven and personal. You may also choose to work on feedback received from others, either about your passions & strengths, or areas of growth.
Ultimately, they should be personal and powerful, mapping to what matters to you in your life, not simply driven by what your work needs from you.
Also be aware of what else is happening with your life in this period. Are you dealing with health issues? Do your immediate friends and family need extra support from you? How much of yourself are you able to bring in to work? There is no shame in choosing to hang on at work for a period of time and not have big stretch goals. Your whole self has to look at work and non-work together.
If you have a draft of your powerful goals and what success means to you for the upcoming period, bring them as a conversation point to your manager.
She can provide additional company context and help map these goals back to what the company needs. She can provide feedback for you, and the two of you can co-create these personal success metrics together.
You can check in over the period to see how you’re doing, and then at the end of the period, you will have a a sense of accomplishment or learnings about your powerful goals.
- If I work more hours, then I will be more successful.
I grew up in a school system that equated hours of rote practice with achievement. If I spend 5 hours reviewing biology terms on flashcards, then I will do better in the test. If I put in 3 all-nighters in service of this project or client, then I will be more successful at work. This is a fallacy. Hours do not equal success. First, identify what impact means for your company and for you personally, then work on those items. For people in a creative field, the gestation time away from the continual grind allows for ideas and inspiration to blossom.
- Once I get that promotion, rating, etc. then I will be happy.
We are a culture of achievers, and can live in a mindset of scarcity. Right now I don’t have X, so I am unhappy. X can be a stand-in for a raise, a promotion, a rating, a grade, or closing a certain number of clients. Have you ever strived so hard for X, then managed to achieve it, and felt a sense of hollowness or emptiness because simply achieving it wasn’t enough? Did you immediately move to create a new Y that was an even bigger goal?Instead, celebrate the powerful goals that you’ve set that you’re moving towards. Savor the feeling of achieving X and congratulate yourself for the learnings.
What matters most for you
Each year of your life is different. You will have different energy and a different balance of personal/professional life. There will be years where professional achievement is the #1 thing — you want to devote the time to climbing the ladder, getting that rating, achieving that title and promotion.
If you’re in that state, also consider some other questions:
- How much fun am I having?
- What relationship do I want to cultivate with coworkers?
- How much energy do I have at the end of each day?
- What am I intentionally saying “no” to in order to say “yes” to work?
There will also be years where life comes first. Yes, you will show up fully at work and do a more-than-competent job with your responsibilities.
Yet you are also choosing to spend more time with your kids, your side hustle, or supporting your community outside of work. If you are choosing “yes” to these options, be gentle to yourself about your performance review and know that’s the important choice you are making with your time and energy.
Finally, in an atmosphere of continual learning, perhaps the most useful question you can ask yourself at the end of each period of assessment is:
What learning can I take away from this?
That question will generate the most powerful goals to sustain energy and provide long-term fulfillment.