PM Life — performance review season
If this emoji represents how you feel about this magical time of the year, you’re not alone. Once a year in September, October, the yearly planning cycle collides with performance reviews and promotion conversations. To say it’s stressful would be an understatement. Here are a few tips from me dealing with this magical time of the year for over a decade :).
1) Find time to think
Whether it’s taking time to do self reflection or give thoughtful feedback or to reflect on longer term product strategy for the next year, you need time. We go through a big chunk of life in an interrupt driven state with emails, slacks, and meetings. To do a great job with a self assessment or peer reviews or vision/strategy doc for the next year, you need big chunks of uninterrupted time. I recommend 2 hour chunks at least a couple days a week.
One way to find time is to say no to things. This doesn’t just mean prioritizing your meetings. Think hard about business trips during this time of the year. Finally, peer reviews can become overwhelming. My record was 35. It took me years to learn to say no to peer reviews at the detriment of my sanity and the quality of the feedback I was able to give my coworkers.
2) Talk to your manager
Ideally your and your manager have an open dialogue with real time feedback about your performance. However, that doesn’t always happen. So if you have not had a recent conversation about your work or career, this is a good time to have a candid conversation with your manager before the formal review. Make sure to send your manager a note with at least couple of days in advance so that they can prepare. This is a good way to make the process less stressful, to set personal expectations early, and to avoid surprises. It’s also a good time of the year to talk about your expectations for your manager. Here are some good ways to start the conversation depending on your goal.
- Strengths and growth areas: “It’s that time of the year and I’ve been thinking about my work. Can we take our next 1–1 to talk about how the last 6 months have been. What are things that are going well? Where do you think I should focus on improving/growing? “
- Promotion: “We haven’t talk about this but I’ve been thinking about what it would mean to be at the next level. I would love to understand how you are thinking about this and what your experience is with the process.”
- Planning and growth: “I am starting to think about 2019 planning and I would love to understand how you’re thinking about the team and product growing in the next year.”
- Management: “I would love to talk about people management. It’s something that interests me and I wanted to see if what I can do to learn more about this and whether there are upcoming opportunities for me to help?”
These examples all start with questions and focus on growth and the future. It gives everyone a good focus for the discussion.
3) Don’t obsess
Finally, for all my perfectionist Type A PMs, just like every decision is not life or death, this is far from the your last perf cycle. Take this as a chance to reflect and to get great feedback from your peers. Don’t agonize, don’t write an 20 page term paper for your self-assessment, and remember to focus on growth.
Finally, be empathetic.
This applies to everyone but I want to emphasize this for all the people managers out there. Lead with empathy, feelings are running hot this time of the year. Your team needs you to be your best, most empathic self.
May the force be with you during this review and planning season.