Annual Reviews


Last week I got that dreaded e-mail from my boss-you know the one-saying that it's time for my annual performance evaluation. I do good work and my boss lets me know she appreciates it, so it's not as if I'm afraid of being graded. What I really hate is the part where I have to evaluate myself. What did I set out to do this year? How well did I do it? "Keep my job," and "you tell me," are not acceptable answers. And maybe because it's the end of the calendar year, or maybe because I'd rather think about anything else than my job performance, this led me to ponder New Years resolutions.

My company has gotten smarter as they've gone along, and they have finally realized that making us set annual performance goals only makes sense if we are graded on how well we achieve them. And to make things even easier for us, the company now conducts an informal mid-year review. This gives those of us who haven't accomplished much a heads-up and time to save our hindquarters before the year is completely over.

Last December, with some assistance from my boss, I set goals for the year. Some of these were derived from a set of "common goals" that everyone in the company had to strive for. For example, one common goal was to work on a cross-functional team. To meet that, I said I would be part of a team to review project deliverables, documents created by a project team that must meet specific criteria and are delivered to the customer. Other goals were related to my job responsibilities and professional development. By the time we were done, my boss and I had created a moderately ambitious, but achievable set of goals. I signed my review, took the copies back to my desk, filed them, and promptly forgot the whole thing.

Six months later I had to dig out my list of goals for the mid-year review. Some of them looked vaguely familiar, others were a complete surprise. I managed to put together something convincing about how I was working on all of them, vowed to myself that I'd do just that, and survived the meeting with my boss. At the end of the day, I put all the paperwork back in its file folder, and within the week I'd forgotten most of my goals again. And everything was fine and dandy until I got that dreaded e-mail.

The problem with New Years resolutions is that we forget them. We have high hopes and good intentions. We know we are sorely in need of improvement (and if we forget, we have any number of significant others, family members, and coworkers who will be more than happy to remind us). We really do want to do better. We'll diet, exercise, stop kicking the cat. We'll call our mother once a week and take out the trash without being asked. It's all very clear and straightforward--we don't know why it's seemed so hard up 'til now. We make our list, we tell our friends, we pat ourselves and each other on the back for making this brave new start. Then we go back to living our daily lives and forget. Some of us hang on for a few days or a week, but eventually we drift back into the old and familiar. And when another new year comes around, we make the same list all over again, except for those of us who've given up because it never works.

Maybe what we need to do is make fewer resolutions and remember them. Write them on yellow stickies or the backs of envelopes and tape them on our bathroom mirrors. Stick them to the front of the refrigerator with magnets. Tape them to the dashboards of our cars. Put them somewhere, anywhere, that we'll have to look at them at least once a day. And when we see them, ask ourselves, "What are you going to do today to make that happen?" At the end of the day, as we squint past the taped up note to watch ourselves brushing our teeth, ask, "What did you do today that got you closer to your goal?" Maybe then, they'll work.

December 2003 by Paula