Do you know what time of year it is? It’s not performance season. Given I have no clue when you are reading this piece, how do I know it’s not performance season? For many of the companies I’ve worked at for the past three decades, performance season is three weeks once a year. More progressive companies have a major performance cycle per year with a minor one six months after the major to capture one-off promotions for exceptional, errors in job leveling at hiring, and other performance housekeeping tasks that can’t wait another six months.
Three weeks. It’s the time where you write your self assessment, gather peer feedback, perhaps build a promotion packet, and finally receive feedback from your manager in written and verbal form. The minor cycle is perhaps slightly less work. Let’s call it two weeks. This means if we have a major and a minor cycle that we’re talking about five weeks when it is actually performance season.
Five weeks out of 52. Chances are when you’re reading this, it’s not performance season.
It’s always performance season.
The Growth Questionnaire
The following is a set of questions I think you should ask yourself multiple times a year. Furthermore, I recommending writing your answers to these questions so that you can review your answers at a later date because how you answers change over time is as interesting as your answers.
I’ll follow-up this piece on framing for this questionnaire, why I included this set of questions, and what I personally look for in my answers. However, there are no right and wrong answers to these questions. There is no grade. The exercise is meant to stimulate thinking about your professional growth, understand your satisfaction with your current gig, and let you consider the possibilities of a future role. My expectation is that when you’re done writing your answers, you’ll have at least one unexpected follow-up for yourself or your manager.
The Current Gig
- What are your strengths? How do you know that?
- What do you need to work on? How do you know that? How are you working on this area? Is your company helping?
- How long have you been at the current company?
- How long have you been in the current role?
- When was your last promotion of role? How was this communicated to you? What is the one thing you believe you did to earn this promotion?
- When was your last compensation increase? (Compensation = Base salary, bonus, and/or stock)
- Do you feel fairly compensated? If not, why? If not, what would you consider fair compensation? What facts do you base that opinion on? Have you told this to your manager?
- When was the last time you received feedback from your manager?
- What compliment do you wish you could receive about your work?
- Are you learning from your manager? What was the last significant thing you learned from them?
- What was the last thing you built at work that you enjoyed?
- What was your last major failure at work? What’d you learn?
- What was the last piece of feedback you received (from anyone) that substantively changed your working style?
- Who is your mentor1? When was the last time you met with them?
- When was the last 3602? What was your biggest lesson?
The Next Gig
- When did you last change jobs? Why?
- When did you last change companies? Why?
- What aspect of your current job would you bring with you to a future gig?
- What is your dream job? (Role, company, etc.)
- What is a company you admire? What attributes do you admire?
- Who is a leader that you admire? What are the qualities of that leader that you admire?
How often should you review and revise these questions? Four times a year? Five? Your call, but it needs to be more than the dates written on the official company performance calendar because professional growth occurs every single day. Most days that growth is not obvious, it’s the daily set of work on your plate that is predictable and understood. No surprises. The lessons are subtle and small. Perhaps mere subtle enforcement of already discovered lessons and values like:
- “I appreciate when others are dependable.”
- “I am bad at estimates. I should always pad my estimates by 25%.”
- “People… are confusing.”
Other days are special. These days present an opportunity to significantly change the course of your career. It lands smack dab in the middle of your 1:1 with your manager when she unexpectedly suggests, “Do you want to be the tech lead on this project?”
Your answer to this question – to this opportunity – isn’t a simple yes or no. The answer is, “How does this opportunity fit into my broader career plan?”
Career plan? Isn’t that your manager’s job? Yeah? Kind’a? Problem with your manager is that she’s only going to be there for two or three years and you are you for, like, forever. You are the most informed person regarding your career plans which means both your analysis and decision regarding this opportunity are critical.
If you’re going to say yes to this opportunity, you need to understand why it’s a yes. What is it about this opportunity that will allow you to grow?
It’s Always Performance Season
These type of hypothetical career altering moments can be frustratingly infrequent. First, they are tightly correlated with that company approved performance calendar which is just lazy management. The thesis that a predetermined performance calendar is the correct forcing function for growth opportunities is absurd.
Answering all of the questions above will paint a specific mental picture regarding both how you feel you’re doing in your current role as well as what you’re looking to do next. While it is your manager’s job to provide growth opportunities, having this mental picture both helps you listen carefully for opportunities and gives you a better rubric for quickly assessing them.3
- My definition of a mentor is a human you meet with on a regular basis who does not work on or near your team. They are usually a more experienced neutral party who serves as equal parts sounding board and sage. ↩
- A 360 is a process where a neutral party gathers feedback from all the humans in your working sphere. Your managers, your peers, and if you’re a manager, your direct reports. I try to do a 360 every three years because the synthesized feedback is always revealing. ↩
- Thanks to Rands Leadership Slack for editing advice on this piece. You are lovely humans. ↩