Monday, June 11, 2007

Top Ten Tips for a Better Performance Appraisal

Appraisal is the process when your yearly performance is under microscope. Your work achievements in the last one year are examined and investigated. It is the time when the organization evaluates your contribution, initiatives, training needs (informal and formal), deadlines you met or missed out and so on.

If you got a bad performance appraisal, don’t worry. There is always next time provided you like your work, the organization and plan to stay a bit longer.

Get on with the job mate: It does not matter whether you are experienced or inexperienced just get on with the job and start contributing to the company immediately.

To quote Guy Kawasaki (Software Evangelist and Venture Capitalist), “Think Plug and Play. You should always be answering the question: How can I immediately help this company? For example, someone straight out of college (or high school) can help by testing software, answering the phone, answering tech. support questions, whatever. But don’t expect the luxury of a long training program before you start contributing to the bottom line.”

Your manager is sure to notice the time you took for the royal ramp-up. The time you take to get acquainted with your work costs huge money to the company. For example, the cost of the trainer, the cost of the training programs itself and the cost of your time. At the end of the day, the biggest loser is none other than you. So make sure you shorten the ramp-up time or better still get on with the job mate.

Start early: Make a plan how you are going to ‘grab’ that stellar performance appraisal. Keep aside time to evaluate yourself, as if you were your own boss. Document every work you do with date, time and other important details. Be honest with yourself. If you have not met any deadline, please include the same. Also, mention the extra time you took to complete the work. Honesty is not always rewarded, but it is still the best policy to have. When in doubt, tell the truth.

Bring in all the printouts of appreciation mails, notes or any documents that show the work that you have done in a brighter light. Make a file of all printouts of important mails regarding the work you have done till date.

Make an email folder specifically for Appraisal mails. Set aside those appreciation mails from your boss, counterparts outside India, peers or from anybody for that matter who has appreciated your work or your contribution.

Figures and Numbers: Managers are like number-crunching bots. They love their math. Figures and Numbers conveys the exact message to them. Write tangible statements. Do not write ‘Trained a large group’ instead write, ‘I trained a group of 30 technical support executives’.

Alternatively, state specifically how long you have managed it. You have recently copy-edited a huge document, many presentation files, write the page numbers or the number of slides. Moreover, if you managed to do this all well within the given time, make sure you write that too.

Involve yourself: Actively involve yourself throughout the year in projects of repute and high-visibility. Get to know yourself and the skills you posses. Find where, when and how you can contribute to the organization.

My technical writer friend Harshala states, “My Company was going through a huge program of revamping the ‘User Experience’ of one our many software products. I convinced my Manager that being a technical writer I would be able to contribute to the User Experience project. He included me in the project and it was one of the most successful projects. Needless to say it paid rich dividends to me when the time for performance appraisal came up.”

Be Specific: In most companies, self-appraisals have specific categories like communications skills, teamwork, problem-solving skills and so on. Make sure to give specific examples that match the category; otherwise, they lose their power. Be detailed in writing your self-evaluation. If you saved the company money by suggesting and implementing a ‘Download Center Usage Guide’, add the fact to your list.

Start something new: Keep a close eye on things at your work place. Discuss with your colleagues, peers or seniors about the work they do, the challenges they face. Find out a way to ease their work.

Anil says, “I work for Technical Support group and while working we have to follow ‘n’ number of processes. We used to get regular mails from our Manager about process defaulters and replies of the so-called process defaulters that how they did know the process existed or what was to be followed. I found out an easy way out both for my manager and my peers. I documented all the processes with their individual importance, contact numbers if in trouble and so on. My Manager and my teammates appreciated my efforts; the same reflected in my appraisal.

Let the world know: Believe me, no one’s ever going to know what the heck you are doing in your cubicle. So when you do the good work, make sure that your manager knows that as well. It is definitely not crazy to blow your own horn; it is crazy to think that someone else will do it for you.

Also, make an effort to spread the good word about your work or accomplishments in the technical writing fraternity. For example, spread the good word if you are being interviewed, your article is published, your technical writing blog is being applauded and so on. Your manager is surely going to notice that spark in you and give you more responsibilities and projects.

Be the SME: Try to shed the over-dependence on Subject Matter Experts (SME). Get to know the product you are documenting as much as possible.

Arvind says, “I started off as a technical writer for one our software products. I went deep into it and studied it very carefully. Today, there is no wasting time in asking for the appointments of the SMEs and running after them for information. I have become ‘A’ level user and subject matter expert in the software.”

The bottom line is, the more time you take to learn the product; the less is your manager impressed. Moreover, you never know when the senior members in the company, the so-called SME leave the company.

Future Perfect: Gerard Rego (MSC Software, VP and GM India Product Development) has this wonderful theory. He says, “The future belongs to those who would be able to save or earn money for the organization. If you are able to do that, you will stand out from the crowd.”

As Technical writers, we can make sure that we have clearer documentation, which means fewer support calls. In addition, if the documentation is translated, the consistent documentation means fewer billed hours spent translating.

Do not think that your manager is going to miss these points, if you are going to put them forth.

Show Your Value: Align your yearly achievements to that of your company goals. For example, as a lone technical writer you prepared an ISO- standard technical writing process. It fact sounds impressive, but what does it mean? Is there any connection between your ISO-standard technical writing process and a reduction in time for editing or improved quality in documentation?
Make sure that you show your value of handwork into results your manager will value.

When the self-appraisal is complete, ask your friend to review it for you. You would not want to slip in a typo or grammatical error. In addition, your friend might be able to suggest you a few points you might have missed out.

Appraisals come every year and we wait for them anxiously. However, I am sure the next time it comes; we would be well prepared for it.

Best of Luck for your next Appraisals!

~ Vijayendra Darode