How To Level Up Your Annual Plan with a Performance Review

Everyone has a different idea of what to do to mark year-end:

These all have their place, or they work for a certain psychology. Try them on for size.

I’m here to argue for a performance review. The reason for this is because when people seek to level up their businesses, they tend to externalize the process. They look at the metrics like hits and revenue without thinking about, “How do I need to level up?”


Give Yourself a Hard Look (But Not Too Hard)

Now, I realized that examining the ways you are falling short is a fraught process, even when (or especially when) it’s only you doing the evaluating. But look at it this way — eventually you’ll be forced to level up anyway.

Leveling up is a necessity, because you’re not baller at everything. Even if you’re killer at product design, you could probably be better at other key skills, like financial management, timelines and planning, or client communication.

You might as well start identifying places to level up in order to meet future needs.

Here’s how to start the process

List your accomplishments over the past year. If you’ve been doing quarterly reviews, pull those out.

Otherwise, think about:

  • results you got for your clients
  • benchmarks you’ve hit
  • products or services launched
  • events you’ve hosted or participated in

If you feel like this list is thin, start listing of the stuff you accomplished in your personal life. Once you realize that you moved, or were ill or something, it puts in perspective how much you accomplished – just not in the professional realm.

Next, list your progress. This might be progress on a metric that falls short of an official threshold, (grew your mailing list from 500 to 800,)or some soft skill like “got better at making the ask” or “raised my prices, and stopped discounting.” These are worthwhile things to note even if they don’t have hard metrics associated with them.

Tell the tale

Now pretend that you’re catching up with an old friend who wants a blow-by-blow account of your year. Pull out your calendar to refresh your memory if you have to. Tell her all about the plans, the derailments, the tech snafus that took you off-line for a week.

Talk about how you planned to do a project in four weeks and it really took four months. Talk about the surprises, both pleasant and not. Talk about the cool new people you met or worked with. Talk about the things you bought and whether or not they were worth the money.

You can do this in a long, long bullet point list or you can ramble to the recording app on your phone. The point of this exercise is to remind yourself of the weird reversals of fortune that beset us. It resets your expectations for the next part…

Where are you going?

Now, that same friend wants to know what’s next for you.

The great thing about friends like this is that they care more about the deep reasons for why you do things, not your SMART goals. If you tell her you want to topple Danielle Laporte from most-loved-Internet-guru throne, she’ll get you.

If you really, sincerely wants to spend your winter skiing and completely incommunicado, or if you want to get your custom jewelry on the red carpet, that’s the kind of honesty and vision we’re going for here.

You can talk some about the short term too – the new client, the new product line, the 2017 goals and benchmarks to beat. You can talk about the investments you plan to make (that conference you always wanted to attend) or the stuff you are definitely going to start outsourcing.

Remember, this friend isn’t going to hold you to any of this. She just wants to hear what’s on the horizon for you.

Now for the come to Jesus talk.

Okay, real talk. What held you back in the past year? Were you disorganized? Did emails languish for weeks? Did you get backed up with too much work, then, because you stopped marketing, you had a dry spell? Did you have a client from hell? A health scare? A few weeks where you inexplicably couldn’t bring yourself to do work at all?

All these are places where, potentially, you can insert fixes or level of your skills or systems.

(These ones you’ll have to write down, so you can analyse them later.)

After you’ve written down the problems you had, Part Two of the process is to write down what you do need to learn, or figure out, to pull off your plans.

If you hire someone to create graphics for your products, you would have to stop doing last-minute launches. If you want a TED talk, you need to brush up those presentation skills. If you want to be a ski bunny four months of the year, you need to have both a budget and a plan to keep your client pipeline full.

It can be helpful to frame this in the following terms: stop, start, continue.

How to Use the “Stop, Start, Continue” List

Once you start looking at the list of things you want to do alongside the list of things that tripped you up, you will notice that some things you’re doing are incompatible with the things you want to be doing.

For instance, you might have to stop making your own travel/scheduling arrangements if you want to spend more time deep in the creative zone.

You might need to let go of certain clients in order to focus on parts of your business that are more lucrative.

You might need to get over your perfectionist tendencies because you’re micromanaging your assistant.

Likewise, when it comes to starting things, you’ll note that if you want X, you need to start doing Y. If you want more visibility you need to start accepting interview requests. If you want to create products you’ll need to survey your audience. If you want to grow revenues you’ll need to spend some time on your systems. And so on.

And don’t overlook the continue category. This is the stuff you’re doing right, and you don’t want to accidentally drop it in favor of all the other stuff you want to pay attention to. Continue trying to replace yourself in your business, continue focusing on physical health, continue being engaged with your community, and so on.

Where To Go With The List

Once you have the Stop, Start, Continue list, there will be somethings that will be easy to implement, and some that take time.

If they’re easy (truly easy, don’t lie to yourself here), put a star next to them, and do a them in the next week or two.

Next, underline the ones that will have the biggest impact. Maybe it’s firing the life-sucking client. Identify them and prioritize 2-3 of the biggest wins. Figure out how to get them done in the next month.

The rest? Let them be. You’ll most likely phase them out (or in) instinctively, now that you’re aware of them.

That’s It; You’re Done!

That’s your annual performance review in a nutshell. What’s done is done; there’s no point in castigating yourself for whatever you did or didn’t do in the last year.

Instead, not you have a practical list of interventions that will help you move forward on your future plans more effectively.

And that’s what we really want in a plan, isn’t it?

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