Dr. Robert Wiley

Counsel for work and career challenges

Succeeding in Year 1 – Owning Your Performance Plan


Your Situation or Challenge:

I started a new job two weeks ago.  This job is kind of a change in career direction for me because I have moved from a creative role to an account management role in advertising.  I think this is the right thing for me since I really like working with people most of the time.  But, I’m concerned about being successful in this new assignment, particularly since my new boss has a reputation for being very demanding.  When she hired me, she told me to take a few weeks to see how things work in the firm and bone-up on the two accounts I have been assigned to.  She said that I should come and talk to her any time if I have questions, but she’s constantly booked with appointments and emergencies.  I’ve talked to several of my co-workers who say that you’ve got to get a good performance review in your first year in this firm or you are history.  They tell me that my boss is tough to work for and can be unpredictable.

Your Question to Dr. Robert Wiley:

How can I make sure I get a good performance review in my first year?


Congratulations on your new job and change in career direction!  From your comments, it seems like you put a lot of thought into what your key career skills are and what you are most passionate about.  Good work!

Most of us in the working world have been where you are right now with your new job.  It’s exciting and scary at the same time!  You want to do really well, get your career on the right track and make the big risk you’ve taken pay off.  There’s a lot riding on this!  Lots of people around you have advice and “war” stories.  How do you sort through it all and chart a direction that will work for you?

Drivers for First Year Success

In my experience, there are four key drivers of success in your first year:

1. Fully meeting or exceeding the measurable performance objectives of your job

2. Effectively adapting to your manager’s performance expectations

3. Building influential relationships with your manager and others

4. Learning how to contribute to the business and organization

In this blog, I am addressing the first two of these drivers, and here are the key action steps I will cover:

• Make sure you have a good job description

• Get input from co-workers, especially those with similar jobs

• Draft 6-8 key performance objectives and measures/indicators

• Negotiate clear, realistic performance goals

• Manage your performance plan like a project

• Keep your manager abreast of your progress

• Write your first draft performance review

Make sure you have a good job description.  If you missed the opportunity to get a current job description when you were interviewing for your new position, now is the time to make up for that.  Understanding what results you need to produce in your first year must start with a solid grasp of your job role, scope, accountabilities and related measures of performance.  These are usually contained in a standard job description for the position.  Many companies make sure they have these from the beginning of one’s employment, as a guide to their hiring, compensation and performance management processes.  But, some companies may not have them because they are much more informal or emerging as organizations.  Whether your company has provided you with a job description or not, you will be doing yourself a big favor by getting one even if you have to write it yourself.  Once you have it, you need to review it with your new manager, point by point, and make sure you understand his/her specific views and expectations about the job.  If you’ve drafted the description, then ask for your manager’s input for modifying and finalizing it.  If you have been given the description, then your questions should be directed toward understanding what it means in terms of key responsibilities and expected results.

Get input from co-workers, especially those with similar jobs.  Once you have reviewed and finalized your job description with your manager, it is usually a good practice to get further input from your co-workers.  You may have co-workers who do work that is very similar to yours, in which case their experience working with your boss and delivering results in the past can be very helpful.  You will want to ask they about your manager’s preferences about work approach as well as his/her expectations about the specific results you must produce.  If you have co-workers in different functions or job roles, they can help you better understand how your responsibilities need to contribute to a broader team effort.  Often, the greatest value to be gleaned from co-worker discussions like this has to do with “how” things are done with this boss, in this department and in the company overall, rather than “what” you may do functionally.  These discussions can give you a distinctive sense of the organizational culture and “how things really work.”  Usually, this information is just as important as the specifics about your formal job accountabilities.

Draft 6-8 key performance objectives and measures/indicators.  Don’t stop once you have a finalized job description.  While essential, the job description tells you only what your job involves on a regular, overall basis rather than what you must produce in the coming year.  Virtually every successful business organization works with its employees to set annual performance objectives that are tied closely to their job descriptions and fully reflect annual business objectives for the company, business unit, function, etc.  Your new manager may have your annual objectives defined for you when you start your job, but that is not always the case.  Many managers invite their employees to draft their own objectives as a way to ensure personal understanding and ownership.  In any case, your manager should be able to provide you a copy of his/her own annual objectives as a guide for alignment.  Your performance plan draft should include not only concise objectives but also milestones that will show progress during the year as well as measurement targets or indicators that reflect the final results expected.  Your company is likely to have its own preferred format for annual performance objectives that you will want to adapt your draft plan to.

Negotiate clear, realistic performance goals.  A broadly embraced mantra for annual performance goals is that they should be “stretch” goals but also realistic and achievable.  As you draft your performance objectives for the first year and negotiate them with your manager, “realistic and achievable” are particularly important.  Your first year in the new job, especially in a new company, requires a lot of learning in several directions at once.  Most managers understand this and are willing to be somewhat less demanding toward performance results for the first year.  But, as you recommend your draft performance objectives and negotiate them with him/her, take the time to fully understand the details, performance measures and resource requirements (time, skills, knowledge, people, money, equipment, etc.).  Make sure you have the resources you will need to deliver the expected results.  If you are uncertain whether you can, you might consider getting input from others such as co-workers.  If you continue to have misgivings about your ability to deliver the expected results for the first year, ask your manager to help you set realistic performance objectives and measures.

Manage your performance plan like a project.  To lay the foundation for a strong performance review at the end of your first year, you should manage your performance plan like a project.  Good performance management should not be viewed as something your manager or company do to you and your co-workers.  At its best, it starts with each employee drafting or otherwise taking ownership of their performance objectives, key milestones and results measures from the beginning of the performance period (usually a year).  Once your objectives and measures are approved by your manager, taking a project management approach to the performance plan can be extremely beneficial.  For each objective, this means further breaking down the milestones and measures into useful action steps and key activities for each month across the full year.  You will then need to frequently review your action plan steps and key activities, ensuring on-time execution as things move along toward the completion of each goal.  To the extent that your performance objectives involve coordination with co-workers and contributions from them, you should initially review your performance project plan with them.  This will help ensure effective teamwork and create good opportunities for you to understand where they need contributions from you.

Keep your manager abreast of your progress.  While most managers have learned the value of delegating authority and latitude for employees to get their work done, it would be rare for a manager to lack interest in staying abreast of their employees’ performance progress during the year.  Many managers will habitually initiate regular progress review meetings with their employees.  Whether your new manager does this or not, it is a good idea to consider this primarily your responsibility and not wait to be asked.  A relatively easy way to always be prepared for these progress review discussions is to keep an organized progress log for each of your performance objectives each month and throughout the year.  With a little bit of extra effort to summarize the key details from your log, you can present your manager with a concise summary of your performance progress and be ready to discuss any issues.  This will go a long way to impressing your manager that you are staying on top of your performance objectives and getting the right things done.  Monthly and/or quarterly progress discussions will ensure that your manager has no “surprises” about your performance toward the end of the year, which is almost universally a good thing!  If you also extend these regular progress discussions to include co-workers with whom you need to collaborate, you will be maximizing your chances of great success.

Write your first draft performance review.  While annual performance reviews are ultimately the responsibility of managers, virtually all of them are likely to welcome well-organized input from you regarding your performance results for the year.  If you have kept your project log for your performance objectives and kept your manager abreast of your progress with a concise monthly summary, it will be relatively easy for you to prepare a performance review draft for your manager around the end of the year.  To prepare your draft, it is a good idea to request from your manager or an HR professional a copy of the company’s annual performance review format and guide.  With this in hand, you can present your own performance review draft in a way that maximizes its usefulness to your manager and aligns to company policy.  For many companies, the annual goal setting and performance review process is supported by helpful information system tools that make the process easier for everyone.  In any case, make sure you stay ahead of the schedule and demonstrate early initiative with your performance review draft for your manager.  In most cases it will be greatly appreciated!

The above recommendations add up to taking ownership of the plan for your first year’s successful performance – that is, knowing what direction you are going, owning your specific objectives, having a detailed roadmap for achieving your objectives, and following that roadmap using a project management approach.  If you want to ensure your job success in your first year, there is no substitute for this kind of approach.  In today’s competitive world, no employee can afford to approach a new job like the proverbial “deer in the headlights.”  Your new manager, like every other employee, usually has more than enough work to do.  You will make his/her work life easier and greatly increase the probability of your first year success if you show the initiative and follow-through I’ve discussed above.

In my next blog, I will address the third and fourth key drivers I mentioned for success in your first year:

3. Building influential relationships with your manager and others

4. Learning how to contribute to the business and organization

In the meantime, build that performance plan with your manager’s and co-worker’s full knowledge and support!  You will be well on your way to a superior performance review by the end of the year!

Dr. Robert Wiley

December 19, 2011 Posted by | Career Advancement, Career Success, Co-worker Relationships, Gaining Recognition at Work, Job Description, Job Goal Setting, Job Objectives, Manager Relationship, MBO, New Job, New Job Success, Performance Management, Performance Measures, Performance Review, Realistic Job Goals, Relationship Building at Work | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment