“Never say never.” That’s what they always say. But, as hard as I try to adhere to that message, there are a few things I swore I would never do again. Yet last week I found myself doing just one of those things. Even worse, it was my idea. And to my surprise, it was a good one.
Corporate America is a bastion of minor annoyances; The nosy co-workers, the office mini-fridge that hasn’t been cleaned in months, the constant micro-management of an overactive supervisor, “team building” exercises that seem more to exist to justify someone’s role in the human resources department than to actual generate genuine team camaraderie, and one of my own personal least favorites, the mandatory annual performance review.
Once a year, sometimes more often, your manager is forced to have you in their office for a one-on-one session to evaluate your performance, usually with a list of standardized questions from the HR department in hand covered in arbitrary multiple choice scores. You find yourself peppered with questions like, “How do you feel about your performance this year?” “Name three specific goals you have for the coming quarter?” “What areas do you feel you need to improve on?” Clearly, your manager has as little interest in hearing your responses as your have in giving them. You both know you are only having this meeting because your boss’ boss demanded it. Because your boss’ boss’ boss demanded it of him. Because corporate HR thought it would be a good idea.
It is of little matter that the specific bullet points on the questionnaire have nothing to do with your actual job. No one seems to be bothered by the fact that filling out the 20-page self-evaluation document you had to prepare prior to the meeting takes up an entire workday to complete, putting a major dent into your so-called productivity which the meeting itself portends to try and increase.
You may have guessed by this point that I don’t exactly miss my days in the corporate cubicle. Aside from the weekly direct deposit into my checking account, I’m not completely sure I miss anything about it at all. But the one little action item I was most pleased to be leaving behind? The complete waste of time known as the annual review.
So how on earth did I find myself just last week sitting down to once again do the one thing I hated most?
As an entrepreneur, especially one in a creative business, the vast majority of my day is spent generating ideas. Either generating an artistic approach to a new client brief or generating a marketing approach to produce new clients, it is all about problem solving. Unlike the corporate world, there is no such thing as a 9-to-5 day. Weekends? What are those? I am constantly on the clock looking for ways to generate new business and develop the best ways to service my existing clients.
But before you think the previous paragraph to be a complaint, I can affirm to you that I wouldn’t want it any other way. There is absolutely nothing like pouring your entire self into something you care about. There is nothing more worthwhile. In fact, when expressing my utter detestation of my corporate performance review, I failed to mention one obvious point not really captured by the standardized questionnaire.
Quite simply, I didn’t give a… well, let’s go with “flying hoot.” This is a family site after all.
The reason those questionnaires seemed so pointless to me is that I truly couldn’t have cared less what my performance was. I hated my job. I worked hard. I believe, as a matter of honor, you should do all things to the best of your abilities regardless of your interest level. But, it was really of no concern to me whether or not my boss noticed. I wasn’t looking for a promotion. If they had decided to fire me, there would have been a rather large part of me that would’ve considered that a blessing. In short, it just didn’t matter.
But when you actually care about what you do, when you put your whole heart and soul into building a business of your own, it definitely does matter. Those seemingly arbitrary questions now have more relevance. And even though you are busier than ever, it is absolutely essential to find time to access your performance, look for areas of improvement, and develop very specific action items for ways to improve your business.
All of which last week led me to sit down in front of my computer and formulate my own customized performance review. Taking those corporate questions as my cue, I tried to formulate questions that would be specific to my business, would lead to specific actionable answers, and, preferably, not take all day to complete. I’m still quite busy after all.
To that end, here are the questions I came up with:
- What accomplishments are you most proud of from the last year? It is important to acknowledge your successes. What are you doing right? What are the habits associated with those successes that you need to bolster in the coming year?
- What areas of the business are you most happy about? Again, where are your strengths at the moment? What is your competitive advantage in the market place? How can you reinforce it?
- What areas of the business could use improvement? We all have room for improvement. What are the business tasks that you need to work on the most? Cold-calling? Accounting? Networking? Where do you stand to improve?
- What creative areas could use development? I know we are all already creative geniuses, but how can we up our game? Do we want to try out a new style of lighting? Do we want to add motion to our skill set? Improve our Photoshop skills?
- How do you plan to improve on those areas? Perhaps the most important section, this is where I laid out specific actionable steps to address the questions above. It’s one thing to know you have a weakness. We all have them. This is where you state specifically how you are going to overcome that weakness. Have trouble with Photoshop? How about taking a class? Need help with styling? Maybe make a point of reaching out to five new stylists this week to discuss forming a partnership. Whatever it is that you feel needs improvement, this is where you state emphatically how you plan to address the issue. Without a specific plan, the problem will persist.
- Potential new revenue streams? Because, yeah. Growing a business requires constantly finding ways to grow your business. You’ve already identified your strengths. Here is where you come up with new ways to capitalize on them and create new forms of revenue that will keep you afloat and move you forward.
- What are the biggest hurdles going forward? Running a business isn’t easy. Like setting up a photoshoot, it’s important to try and identify any potential obstacles beforehand in order to put yourself in the best possible position to overcome them.
And that was it. Thankfully, filling out my self-evaluation didn’t require me to be locked in a room with middle management. But it does require an honest self-evaluation. At the end of my meeting with the man in the mirror, I emerged with a better understanding of my business and fresh ways to try and approach the market. Hopefully when I come back for the next round, I will have seized on the opportunities I identified, and continue to build on a strong foundation.
How would you answer your own performance review? How can you take steps to improve your business and grow for the future?