Dread the yearly review process because it feels like a waste of time? Listen up!

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I dread the yearly review process. It feels like so much work where we’re just checking boxes and it’s not actually helpful. Then onto of that, I know the compensation conversation is not going to be what I want it to be so what’s really the point. Listen in this week as I share what to do as an employee or manager to actually get something out of this process. And don’t forget to download the free one pager to use and ask your company to pay for your career development through coaching.

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Hey y’all, how you doing? I hope you’re surviving the holidays and having a good time. I’ve been enjoying some time with my kids. Everybody’s getting along, we’re having a good time. I almost hate to say it out loud; I feel like that’s going to jinx it, but we’ve been doing some fun stuff, and I’m learning to enjoy the little small moments of the day, and it’s really making a big difference in my overall mood. So I hope you’re able to experience some goodness as well.


Now today, we’re going to talk about one of my least favorite seasons of the year in a corporate setting: review time. It usually happens towards the end of the year, um, December, January, February, kind of depends on the cadence of your company. But I want to give you kind of two tips as an employee, two tips as a manager, and then two tips around the compensation stuff to make this a little less painful, a little less annoying, a little less of, like, the corporate BS we kind of have to go through to actually help you get something out of it. So fair warning, I’m not going to talk about, you know, tips and tricks of giving specific and actionable feedback and removing the biases and all that jazz. Like, there’s a lot of that out there. Go find it. I’m sure your company has some training all for it. But today, I want to talk a little bit more of how do you overcome some of the reality of the frustration that comes with yearly reviews because they are biased. No matter what we do, we are human with innate biases in us. There’s recency bias. Some managers don’t even look at feedback other people are providing for you before they enter in their feedback on you. Like, there’s just a million problems with the whole system. But I am pro-feedback. I do think it’s helpful. I personally just don’t love the formal operational part of a yearly review. It feels very check-the-foxy, and less is not my jam, okay?


But if you’re an employee that’s going through this process, here’s kind of my two key things I would offer to you to focus on and think about this year while we check the boxes, okay? The first is I want you to keep in mind the most important thing about this feedback and why I do think feedback is helpful. I don’t think it actually matters the feedback other people are giving you. Remember, I talk a lot about, like, it’s none of your business what other people think about you. That’s telling us way more about them and their brain and where they’re at than what is true for you. No one can actually be the judge of you except you, and you’re probably your own worst critic, so be nice to yourself. But I do think other people’s feedback is important. And here’s why, again, it’s not what they’re actually saying. The reason I think it’s important is because of the response you have to it, and that is very telling and very important to know because if someone gives feedback you don’t agree with, it doesn’t really bother you, you don’t feel defensive, you don’t get annoyed, you’re just like, “Yeah, I disagree. Agree to disagree,” and we move on. It’s very low emotion, you don’t think about it, it doesn’t kind of stew. It’s not like we poured lemon juice on your paper cuts. It’s not a big deal. It’s okay for people to be wrong about you. But what I want you to pay attention to is the feedback that stings a little, where your initial impression is to be defensive because what that’s telling us is there’s something in that piece of feedback, whether it’s what they said or not, I’m not saying that, but there’s something in that piece of feedback that you agree with isn’t how you want to be. If not, it wouldn’t sting, it wouldn’t bother you, there wouldn’t be an emotional response. It might even be, like, 2% agreeing. That’s okay. It’s really helpful to know because that’s telling us what are the things we want to go and work on as a human to keep growing and evolving and being a better person.


So let me give you a couple examples. Let’s say, um, you get some feedback that says you need to work on your executive presence, that you tend to ramble on, you’re not clear, you don’t appear confident when you don’t know something. If you get some feedback around that, and you feel defensive, and your initial response is to start defending yourself and explaining why, maybe in this scenario someone provided that feedback, it’s like, maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before, and so and so leader, they’re always pushing back on this, and they never like the answer we give them, even though it’s the reality, right? If your initial response is to get defensive, that’s telling us you’re in fight or flight mode, something was triggered in you that doesn’t feel safe, because you agree with them. Defense is the first act of war. We’re not at war, we’re especially not at war with ourselves. We just want to know, “Oh, that stung. Something came up for me there.”


Let’s say hypothetically you agree a sliver of that feedback, that you do tend to get a little defensive and frustrated when people don’t understand you or they don’t agree with you or you’re getting a lot of questions, you’re getting a lot of pushback. Guys, that’s a total normal response, by the way. But let’s say you do agree with that, which is why it’s kind of bothering you a little bit. Okay, what do you want to do? That person’s feedback on the specific situation doesn’t matter, it’s already happened, it’s in the past, we can’t go back and change it. Okay, let’s just acknowledge, yeah, maybe this year we want to work on being a little less defensive and trying to figure out how can we be more curious when people do disagree with us or we are getting a lot of questions? That’s really helpful, that’s really good information, that’s telling you, yeah, this is something I do want to work on as a human being. Love it. Feedback from other people’s really helpful when you pay attention to how it makes you feel.


Let me give you another example. Maybe you got some positive feedback, which we tend to skim over, and I hate, but I do the same, saying something like, “You were able to help unblock the team, you really helped them with a launch.” Maybe the principal engineer wasn’t showing up and wasn’t engaging or wasn’t helping unblock the team with a QA problem you had, and someone was highlighting a strength you had of your ability to step in and help and align the team and communicate up and really lead. Again, I want you to pay attention to how does that feedback make you feel? It’s important to pay attention not just to the negative feedback, but to the positive feedback as well. Again, if your initial response is to get a little defensive in that you try to justify it of like, “Oh it was nothing, it wasn’t a big deal, right? Like, it was a team effort. If that’s your initial response, what it’s telling us is a little part of you agrees with something they said. Focus on that. Let it be there. Allow yourself to feel proud and accomplished and valuable. That’s so helpful. That’s what we’re going for.


Okay, so I want you to pay attention to how you feel as you’re reading other people’s feedback. Less on the words, less on the details, and more about how you feel. And then get curious as to why.


So for us as individuals, that’s my tip number one. Tip number two is I would encourage you to write your feedback as if it’s already next year. So when I’m recording this, it’s 2023. So instead of writing your feedback for this past year of 2023, write it as if it’s December of 2024, as if it’s already happened. Assume you reached your goals, you grew, you got better at some things, you’re still struggling with some things. Get specific. What did you do?


And I want you to keep this in mind as you work. The reason this is really helpful is a couple reasons. The main one is you are more likely to accomplish and get there because you’re giving your brain real problems to go after and solve. We’re not worried about, “Oh, how am I going to get through January?” and planning things out for the whole year. We’re worried about how did I actually deliver on those projects? How did I figure out how to be less defensive and more confident in front of executives? And your brain’s going to work to solve those problems, even subconsciously when we’re focused and very clear on what we’ve delivered. When we imagine we’re writing this a year ahead of time, that’s us being our future selves today, and that future person is going to influence who you are today instead of the other way around, which is more likely to get you to where you want to go.


So let me give you an example. I did this for myself. Now, I work for myself. I am my own 360 feedback. I am biased for myself. I’m very aware of that. But as I was thinking, okay, if I was writing a review for myself and I’m writing it a year in advance, what would I want it to say? Okay, so here’s kind of an example for me. I would talk about my strengths. My strengths for this past year of 2024 were over delivering for my clients, for continuing to educate myself to become a better coach. My strengths were on being present for each of my clients on each of our coaching calls and figuring out ways to customize and help each of them individually. Right? I want those to be my strengths. My accomplishments were that I launched monthly training topics to my members in my coaching program, so every month we were diving deep on a different problem. My accomplishments were that through this change and diving deep on these different topics, I was able to help hundreds of clients reach their career goals even faster. Right? That’s what I accomplished in 2024. I have a waitlist of clients because I’ve grown so much faster than I projected because I’m helping people get results. It’s working. They’re loving it. They want more of it. They’re telling people about it. More people are finding out about these tools and resources and getting what they want. How did I grow in 2024? I said no to more of the random requests that I get that didn’t necessarily align with the goals of where I wanted to go. I didn’t work past 3 p.m. on days when my kids came home from school. I delivered things faster, and I didn’t worry about it being as good as I could possibly make it. I went and delivered it, and then I went back and updated what I needed to along the way. That’s how I grew in 2024. What are the opportunities I’m still working on? I’m still probably trying to figure out how do I spend less time worrying about what is the quote-unquote right topic or right next thing to dive into to help my clients with? I’m spending less time looking at the data and optimizing things kind of in silos, and I’m looking at the bigger picture and trying to find ways to make it more simple to help more people even faster in an easier, fun way. Right? So again, I’m just trying to think this is where I want to be by the end of 2024, as I keep my mental head in that space. Now I’m going to go to work and make sure I’m going to get those results.


Okay, so my two tips for you as an individual as you’re doing your kind of yearly review is one, pay attention to how you feel as you read feedback from other people. And two, write your review ahead of time for next year. Now, if you’re a manager or a leader working with people, this still applies to you. But if you’re a manager providing feedback to your employees, tip number one is to remember the purpose of this. It’s not just to check boxes. Your goal in providing feedback and a review to your employee is to help them grow. That’s it. To help them keep progressing in whatever direction they want to go. So, I want you to ask yourself, “Is the feedback you’re providing helping, or are you simply regurgitating and rephrasing feedback that’s already there? Is it adding value?” Let me give you an example. Here’s some feedback I used to give that I don’t actually think is very helpful.


I worked with an amazing team at Amazon, and a lot of them were really good at their jobs. It was hard for me to be like, “You should go work on this thing.” So, I would give feedback that isn’t very helpful, like, “I really want to see you think bigger. I want you to show up more. I want you to lead more. I want you to share more of your goodness with the team.” Essentially, I wanted them to realize they were doing a good job and to be more of them. But as I look at it through this lens, that’s not actually helpful as their leader or manager. Keep being you. Well, okay, I haven’t woken up as anyone else yet. More helpful feedback might be something like, “Be the leader in every room you’re in. Share your gut instinct; it’s usually right, and it will help you hone that instinct. Say no; protect your time and emotional energy. Ask for more; expect more from others. Call people out in an appropriate way but stop doing the work for other people that are lazy or missing their deadlines.” It’s just a little bit more specific; it’s a little bit more helpful than, “Keep going; you’re doing a good job.”


Here’s another piece of feedback that I don’t think is super helpful: “Make sure you double-check your work.” If this employee had a lot of quality assurance issues this year, okay, and as their manager, you’re probably expanding on it, but essentially, the message is, “Make sure to double-check your work.” If they do have a real quality problem with their work, telling them to double-check is like putting a Band-Aid on the problem. So, give them feedback that’s going to help them grow. Remember, they need to feel safe to make mistakes. If they’re worried because they know they’re making a lot of mistakes and leadership is aware of it, they’re probably freaking out, which is more likely to cause them to make mistakes. So, how do you provide them feedback that’s going to help them feel calmer and safer and know to do things like double-check your work? That’s like common sense. If you have to tell your employee this, you have a different problem. So, instead of giving that feedback, more helpful feedback might be something like, “Really be an owner of your project. That means you’ve got to take breaks and walk away from it. You may need to double-check your work, but you need to do whatever needs to get done to finish it, to accomplish it, to be proud of it, to put your name on it, and to do your very best. That might mean sometimes you need to say no; sometimes, you need to ask for help.” Give them feedback that’s going to help set them up for success, not just like pound them down on things they know they’re already struggling with. Okay, so that’s tip number one as a manager: Make sure what you’re telling them is actually going to help them grow.


The second thing I would offer to you as a manager is, as you go through this review cycle, what people notice in others is telling us a lot about them. When I was at Amazon as an employee, we would send out requests to other employees to provide feedback on us, and our managers and other leaders would be assigned to provide feedback for us. What I loved as a manager is I could see what feedback other people on my team were providing about each other on the team. It was so helpful for me to know where was that employee’s brain? Where was their mind? Yes, they’re giving me feedback about a different employee, and I will take that into consideration as I look at the 360 feedback. But it’s also so helpful for me to know how do I help that employee that’s giving the feedback grow. Let me give you a couple of examples. Let’s say you get some feedback from someone complaining about another employee, saying they don’t show up to their one-on-ones, they don’t really care about their team. I saw this in a couple of instances as I was managing managers, and their employees were complaining about the presence or lack thereof of that particular leader. Okay, and I’m not saying that’s wrong; I’m not saying there aren’t some things we need to do to make sure managers are showing up and caring about their team; I’m all in for that feedback. But it’s also really helpful for me to know and to be aware that the employee is feeling underappreciated. There’s also probably some beliefs in that employee’s brain of their manager’s required to be successful. Again, it’s just really helpful, and I like to get curious about it and talk with that employee. Not that their feedback is wrong; not that they’re entitled to their opinion; and not that they shouldn’t be asking for more from their leader, but I like to help just check in with that employee to make sure they know they have every opportunity to be successful even if their leader is falling short. And I want to make sure they know that and are feeling supported in that way, right? So, what other people notice in others tells us a lot about them.


Here’s another example. Maybe the feedback you see come through on someone else is, maybe hypothetically, once upon a time, I got this feedback. I don’t know; it’s feedback along the lines of needs to be more professional in presentations with the team in the work they’re doing. We have a lot to do and need to stay focused and driven. This is not social hour. Shocker. My whole life, I’ve always been that person that talks a lot. But here’s the thing: it’s not to say there weren’t times where I did need to be more professional, right? There’s a time and a place. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that feedback, and there weren’t things I could keep improving on. But what this is also telling me about the person that’s providing the feedback is that they’re taking things very seriously. They’re probably feeling a lot of pressure and stress and anxiety, and they don’t see there’s a place for both: for professionalism, for delivering results, for being focused and driven, and having fun. And that’s okay. That person may not want to, but it’s helping me understand how do I best work with that person, meet them where they are, and also maybe help support them to not feel so stressed and anxious about what’s going on. So, what other people notice in others tells us a lot about them, and it’s just really helpful for me to know and be aware of it as their leader and manager.


The third thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that a good review doesn’t mean you’re perfect. I remember this so clearly. I was at Amazon, and we would go through these review cycles. And I remember getting a really good review, like a really good review. And it didn’t feel good. And I was like, “Why doesn’t this feel good?” I was like, “I think I’m doing good work. I think I’m showing up. I think I’m delivering what I said I was going to deliver.” But it didn’t feel good. And what I realized is it’s because there’s no such thing as a perfect review. There’s always room for improvement. And that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. So, as you’re providing reviews to your employees, remember that a good review doesn’t mean they’re perfect. It just means they’re doing a good job. And that’s great. We want them to keep doing a good job. But there’s always room for improvement. And that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re growing. That’s why we’re learning.


The fourth thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that your employees want feedback. They want to know how they’re doing. They want to know how they can improve. They want to know how they can grow. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember that they want it. They want to know how they’re doing. They want to know how they can improve. They want to know how they can grow. And it’s your job as their leader and manager to help them do that.


The fifth thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that feedback is a gift. It’s a gift. It’s an opportunity for growth. It’s an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to get better. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember that it’s a gift. It’s an opportunity for growth. It’s an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to get better. And it’s your job as their leader and manager to help them do that.


The sixth thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that feedback is a two-way street. It’s not just about you giving feedback to your employees. It’s also about them giving feedback to you. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember that it’s a two-way street. It’s not just about you giving feedback to them. It’s also about them giving feedback to you. And it’s your job as their leader and manager to listen to their feedback and take it into consideration.


The seventh thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that feedback should be specific and actionable. It’s not enough to just say, “You’re doing a good job.” You need to be specific about what they’re doing well and what they can improve on. And you need to provide them with actionable steps that they can take to improve. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember to be specific and actionable.


The eighth thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that feedback should be timely. Don’t wait until the end of the year to provide feedback to your employees. If you see something that needs to be addressed, address it as soon as possible. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember to be timely.


The ninth thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that feedback should be ongoing. It’s not just a once-a-year thing. It should be an ongoing conversation that you have with your employees throughout the year. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember to make it an ongoing conversation.


The tenth thing I would offer to you as a manager or a leader is to remember that feedback should be balanced. It’s important to provide both positive feedback and constructive feedback. So, as you’re providing feedback to your employees, remember to strike a balance between the two.


In conclusion, providing feedback to your employees is an important part of being a manager or a leader. Remember to focus on helping your employees grow, pay attention to what others notice in them, understand that a good review doesn’t mean perfection, recognize that employees want feedback, see feedback as a gift, make it a two-way street, be specific and actionable, provide timely feedback, make it an ongoing conversation, and maintain a balance between positive and constructive feedback.


I hope you found these tips helpful and that they provide some guidance as you navigate the review process. Remember, reviews are not just about evaluating performance; they are also an opportunity for growth and development. Approach them with an open mind, and use the feedback you receive to continue improving and reaching your goals.


If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask. I’m here to help!

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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman

I spent the last ~12 years growing my career at Amazon. I’ve built teams, launched new products, and created my own jobs. As a certified coach, I teach people how to manage the noise in their head to feel motivated and valued at work again.

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