Do you know what time of year it is? It’s not performance season. Given that I have no clue when you read 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 when 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, 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 are four sets of questions I think you should ask yourself multiple times a year. Furthermore, I highly recommend writing your answers to these questions so that you can review your answers later to see how your perspective about you, your job, and your compensation change over time.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. There is no grade. The exercise is meant to stimulate thinking about your growth, understanding your satisfaction with your current job, and perhaps considering the possibilities of a different role. I hope that when you are done writing your answers, you’ll have at least one unexpected follow-up for yourself or your manager.
- What are your strengths? How do you know that? When do you use them?
- What do you need to work on? How do you know that? How are you working on this area? How are you measuring progress? Is your company helping you?
- When was the last time you received helpful feedback from your manager?
- Are you learning from your manager? What was the last significant thing you know from them?
- When was your last form of non-monetary recognition? Did it feel natural or fake?
- What was the last piece of feedback you received from anyone that substantively changed your working style? Why did that piece of feedback have that effect?
- Who is your mentor1? When was the last time you met with them?
- When was your last 3602? What was your biggest lesson?
- How long have you been at the current company?
- How long have you been in the current role?
- What was the last thing you built at work that you enjoyed?
- What was your last major failure at work? What’d you learn?
- When was your last promotion? What work did you complete to earn this promotion?
- What is your current total compensation? Total compensation is base salary, average yearly bonus, and value of the vested stock. If you’re pre-IPO, you can use the last 409a3 of your company to approximate stock value.
- Do you feel fairly compensated? If not, why? What would you consider fair compensation for your current role? What data do you base that opinion on? Have you shared this information with your manager?
The Next Job
- When did you last change jobs? Why?
- When did you last change companies? Why?
- What attributes of your current job would you bring to a future role?
- 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?
- Is it time to look for a new job?
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? The problem with your manager is she’s your manager for two or three years, and you are you for, like, forever. You are the most informed person regarding your career path, meaning 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 types 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 how you’re doing in your current role and what you’re looking to accomplish next. While it is your manager’s job to provide growth opportunities, your perspective on this mental picture helps you both listen for opportunities and measure them against your goals.4
- 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. ↩
- A 409A valuation is an independent appraisal of the fair market value (FMV) of a private company’s common stock (the stock reserved mainly for founders and employees).
- Thanks to Rands Leadership Slack for editing advice on this piece. You are lovely humans. ↩