Words from an executive coach, James Stanbridge. Let’s be honest. This moment, ‘The Annual Review’ has been on our minds for the past 11 months in one way or another. For some of us it is the major factor in deciding some of our biggest life decisions: If I apply for a new job now, how will that effect my annual review?

I’ve been through many. Some really depressing, some exasperating, and some really inspirational. I’ve delivered many, many more and no doubt delivered similar emotional impact on the recipient. So I’ve asked around and collected the best tips for acing the annual review.

1. Conditions of satisfaction determine your annual review outcome

Should be so obvious but like many obvious things the most often overlooked. Setting clear conditions of satisfaction and negotiating them successfully during the delivery period is the single most important thing. The devil really does live in the detail though, “drive stakeholder engagement” would be typical of a dreadful condition of satisfaction, and if you accept this, you will lose out.

The best advice I have seen here is that conditions of satisfaction are well formed when they say, “I will do x by time y with quality z.” Remember I said negotiating them successfully during the period? This means that x, y or z may be altered with good negotiation. You never break a promise if you renegotiate the conditions of satisfaction.

But that said, remember that the cost to your credibility gets higher the closer to the time y that you attempt to renegotiate. Renegotiate is another way of making a request and the rules here are that a sincere request can only be made when someone can say “no”. If you bully your way to a reduced target, don’t be surprised if the tables are turned on you in your annual review.

2. Your annual review is not the time to get a ‘pat on the head’

From our earliest experiences of hierarchical systems (mine started when I was about 5 and with my parents – yours will be similar), I got this terrific boost when I was praised or received a pat on the head. The review is NOT a substitute for validation or praise that you may feel you deserve or need.

Think about the peers you work with or indeed the teams that you may lead; while we all know people who do operate this way, we don’t want them to do or tell us the things that will get them a pat on the head! We yearn for colleagues that will bring us new questions, great insights, diverse opinion, move us all forward, have impact… not just be busy.

This means that despite everything I said in ‘1) Conditions of Satisfaction’, this is just the beginning. No one fares worse than the coin-operated who took a bunch of ‘commitments’ or read their ‘goals’ as a task list and then turn up to their review with a checklist. The response from me would be “ah-ha, that was necessary, but not sufficient”.

To win here embrace the business context as your context and show what you have done that is really important. Let’s contrast Jo with Joy — Jo is task oriented, and has the review goal of making toast for customers; he orders enough bread, toasts it in time and shows up for his review with a complete check list. Joy had the same goal, but her curiosity led her to the insight that customers liked a boiled egg option and some even liked coffee with their toast. Joy embraced the business context, made it her own and went way beyond the checklist to bring an impact to the business.

3. Your annual review really IS all about you

So often as a coach I find myself helping clients realize that not everything is about them, so (most) things happen independent of any directed intent to the self, yet, this annual review is absolutely about you. The more you make it about your personal conditions of satisfaction for yourself, the more rewarding it will be.

If you find yourself wanting to make comparisons with other people or teams or wanting to be reviewed relative to someone else, you are on the ‘stack rank’ slippery slope. I have worked in places and for people who believe it possible to ‘stack rank’ human beings. Everything I know about the complexity of human ontology tells me this is naïve, but that’s a different post!

Think about that a little more, what would it take for you to be reviewing you where your supervisor is more of a facilitator than judge and jury? It will take you building a really honest baseline of who you are and where you are on your own journey. Take input from colleagues, friends and family alike and get the baseline spot on.

Now plot your journey of growth realistically. Vision is about almost out-of-site objectives and inspiration – they are useful –  but in your review, goals boil these back down to goals that, while a stretch, are none-the-less achievable for you. You can always extend them if you set too low. “I will do x by time y with quality z” — keep repeating this formula until you have a set of statements, declarations, promises that are an inspiration and motivation FOR YOU. Now you are ready to share these with your supervisor in the role of him/her being your mentor and facilitator.

Looking forward to your next review period, check that you embrace the context of your business, map your conditions of satisfaction to specific business goals where appropriate but most important of all, take back your annual review as a gift to yourself in achieving your goals and purpose.

(Are you on the other side of the table dishing out review feedback? Read my recent blog post “4 tips on how to give great review feedback”)