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The Power of Annual Reviews for Achieving Your Goals and Realizing Your Potential

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“Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations.” — Ralph Marston

Taking a look back is a great way to help plan your leap forward.

If you’ve spent any time in the corporate world, you’re probably familiar with the Annual Review process.  If Annual Review leaves a bad taste in your mouth (and for many people it does), then consider using the term Annual Retrospective, and I explain later in this post where this comes from.

Celebrate the Past and Shape Your Future

Annual Reviews are one of the most powerful tools you can use for personal development and setting goals.   If you decide to “own it”, and really embrace the process, you can use your Annual Review as a way to keep taking your game to the next level.

Game on!

Annual Review is that time of year when you look back over your performance and set goals for the year ahead.

It’s actually a powerful process to review your 3-5 big goals and achievements from last year, and to plan your 3-5 big goals for this year.  It’s a chance to celebrate your achievements, learn from what works and what doesn’t, and to take a step back and take the balcony view as you plan your year ahead.

It’s also a powerful thing to have this consolidated plan on paper at your fingertips to help you rise above the noise of the year and keep you centered when things get crazy busy.

Keep in mind, I’m not a fan of rigid plans.  I like to them to be easy to change and evolve as I gain clarity and as things change throughout the year.  It’s more like scaffolding, or, as my friend would say, “Idiot guards and bumper rails.”

What’s Going Well? / What Needs To Be Improved?

My Annual Reviews usually includes evaluation in terms of:

  1. What went well?
  2. What should I improve?

It’s varied over the years, but the main idea really is what should I START doing, STOP doing, and CONTINUE doing, if I want to improve my results and enjoy the journey more.

Results from Last Year

My Annual Reviews also consist of evaluation against my 3-5 big goals for the year.  The goals change throughout the year, as I gain clarity, but they establish a baseline for the year.  For each of the goals, I would effectively reflect and write down:

  1. What were my results?
  2. How did I achieve them?
  3. What was the supporting evidence?
  4. What was my analysis of my performance?

Note – That’s not my actual Annual Review template.  It’s my personal approach to structuring how I write about the results of each goal.   I developed this approach over a lot of trial and error until I found a process that really illuminates and tells a story about my performance for each goal.  It’s a super simple process but insanely valuable.

Planning for This Year

After taking a good look back, you tend to find things that you want to work on.  Maybe you didn’t achieve the goals you really wanted to.  Maybe you shot past your goals and surprised yourself.

Either way, it’s feedback that you can use to set the stage for this coming year.

Because I make it a habit to live my value at work, and to be more me, I use a two-fold process:

  1. 3 Win for the Year.  For my life goals, I take a big picture view and I identify 3 wins that I want for the year.  They may or may not have anything to do with work.  They are the 3 things that, if this next year was over, that I want to look back on and have under my belt.  Usually, one of them is an epic adventure.  This helps me guarantee that I really plan to go on some wild adventure and add new experiences to my life.  I find that if I don’t make this one of my 3 wins for the year, and I don’t plan for it, it doesn’t happen.  It’s all about making room for the big rocks.
  2. 3-5 Goals for Work.   At work, I really hone in on 3 wins for the year.  I want 3 high-impact stories that I can tell when the year is over that help tie all of my effort together into meaningful and significant impact.  And, I have to enjoy the journey as I go.   And, because I know my bigger life goals, I try to find a way to align my day job back to my bigger picture.  Nothing helps me flourish like having goals that align for work and life.   To put it another way, nothing works against me more than having conflicting goals between work and life.  There’s always a way to find leverage here and amplify impact and get synergy (in a Stephen Covey kind of way.)

One great guiding question to help everything hang together is:

“Who do you want to be and what experiences do you want to create?”

Keep in mind that all we really did at this stage was goal setting.  We figured out what we want to achieve.  We haven’t done the heavy lifting part of goal planning, where we figure out how we’ll execute and achieve our goals.

A good move at this point, without getting bogged down, is to identify 3-5 sub-goals (objectives, accountabilities, or whatever you want to call them), for each of your 3-5 bigger goals.  This is how you chunk your bigger goals down into stepping stones.  If this were an outline or hierarchy of goals, sub-goals, and tasks, all we want to do is get to the goals and sub-goals level.

Enter Annual Retrospective

As I mentioned up front, Annual Reviews might have baggage for some people.  Consider using the term Retrospective.  A Retrospective in Scrum is a time for the team to reflect on how they team is doing and to find ways they can improve.  (Scrum is an Agile methodology for project management.)

So instead of an Annual Review, think of performing your very own Annual Retrospective.

You can actually use Retrospectives whenever you wish.  In Agile development, Retrospectives are usually performed at the end of an iteration, and in SCRUM, a Retrospective is performed at the end of a Sprint.  It’s simply a time for reflection and learning so you can identify things to START doing, STOP doing, and CONTINUE doing.

In fact, one of the simplest ways to conduct a Retrospective meeting is to focus on exactly what:

  • START: What should you START doing?
  • STOP:   What should you STOP doing?
  • CONTNUE:  What should you CONTINUE doing?

Believe it or not, using that language can help you get a lot more precision in your thought, and in your action.  It helps turn mushy ideas, issues, and complaints, and turn them into actionable behaviors.

Mastering behavior change and adaptability are the keys to your success.

Nature favors the flexible.

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Image by J. Aaron Farr.

2 Comments on "The Power of Annual Reviews for Achieving Your Goals and Realizing Your Potential"

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  1. Vidya Sury says:

    :-) As I read this, I couldn’t help smiling and thinking of my Mom. You know, I believe I inherited the habit of making lists from her. And, she gently nudged me forward to make these lists useful. New Year resolutions were also a happy habit, because we used “retrospection” as well as “review” This was not painful, because she also inculcated in me the habit of maintaining a journal.So it was easy to simply turn the page and look at things.

    But what really was “gold” in my process was – the habit of reviewing on a monthly basis. Which made the annual rather fun – and delightful to set new goals.

    Every day, I realize how fortunate I was – and that life indeed has a balance. Your posts simply endorse this belief, for me.

    I remember when I worked in sales, my colleagues always laughed at me for taking the training sessions seriously. I used to be so excited about the fantastic sessions we experienced (Xerox) I would innocently script what I would say for different situations and practice them. And I was even more excited when they paid off. :-)

    Thank you, JD. (I believe I just birthed a post :) )

    • JD says:

      Your Mom has given you beautiful gifts.

      And, it sounds like you’ve truly developed a healthy and skillful process of planning, doing, reviewing, and refining.

      Like so many things, we get out, what we put in. I’m glad you used training sessions to challenge yourself to new levels.

      Way to go!

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