How To Get the Most Out Of Your Annual Review

For many workplaces, March is the end of the financial year and a time when that dreaded annual review comes up, where you rake over the last year and discuss what went well, what didn’t and what your goals are for the coming year. Although in some organisations this annual review could be a time to get a pay increase, there are many organisations that have a standard across the board pay rise and the chance to ask for more isn’t there.

As a consequence, I always used to hate these reviews and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

That was before I started really thinking about what these reviews were giving me an opportunity to do – say what I wanted to change and voice my way of getting there.

However, for many, it’s hard to put that into words and so we procrastinate and don’t prepare properly. In the end, we get shoved down the manager’s route for us, and that doesn’t make for a happy review or work-life.

Unlike personal goals, work goals have to have more structure. They have to have a deadline and be clearly defined – the outcome has to be measurable.

As my current workplace has an October to September financial year, I’m headed into a mid-year review this week and I thought it might help to share what I usually consider as I prepare for it because that really is the key – preparation.

Read on for five tips on how to prepare for your annual appraisal.

5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Annual Review

Focus on Each Role or Responsibility

Although you may think that your job has just one description, that can be broken down, no matter what you do. Here are some examples:

Store Assistant

  • Customer service
  • Cash handling
  • Goods handling
  • Maintaining Workspace

Management Accountant

  • Preparing Budgets
  • Reporting
  • Business Partnering
  • Financial Reconciliations

Production Manager

  • Managing People
  • Quality and Compliance
  • Stock Management
  • Training

Whatever job you have, you should be able to come up with at least two distinct areas that could be used as a basis for your goals. And don’t forget that role you have as a colleague.

Review Previous Objectives

Some objectives can be difficult to get away from and will likely be set by your manager. They are usually a few key metrics that let them know how you compare with your teammates on an objective level. These could be things like throughput numbers or speed, quality returns or time spent on projects.

However, you may look at those objectives and fell like none of them really felt like you had influence on them. I’ve been there! They were too driven by the top down objectives, using the language of the organisational goals and not aligned with the roles that you hold.

For each one, think about how they could be better approached to make them more achievable. Which role do they fit into? If they don’t fit into any role, this is something that you could discuss with your manager. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion – the likelihood is they don’t want to see you fail and not least because it doesn’t look good for them and they will in turn feel like they haven’t achieved much. Instead, explore the aim of the objective with your manager and see how it can be more aligned with one of the roles you have identified. They may reveal another role that you hadn’t thought about, which again only helps you to understand better what part you play in the organisation’s success.

Review Previous Performance

For each of those roles or responsibilities you now need to think about the following:

  1. What went well in the last year?
  2. What could have been better?
  3. What tasks could be carried out to improve my performance?

This is probably something that we all struggle with because once the moment has passed it can be easy to forget what happened in each good or bad moment. The preparation for the annual review should start as soon as the last one has finished. This is where a weekly review comes in handy.

If that feels too structured, then try one of these strategies throughout the year:

  • Use different coloured post-it notes to record good and not so good events and lessons learned and stick them in the back of a notebook or journal;
  • Use a notes app to quickly note things that might be worth bringing up in an annual review
  • Create a folder to store emails that highlight feedback from projects or allocate them to a category that can be easily filtered on when annual review time comes around

Once you have a method for collecting items of note, it will be easier to bring up significant events that you feel you have learned from or highlight good performance. You don’t have to bring them all up in the review, of course.

It might be a little late for these strategies so you would want to look back through your calendar or email inbox and see if anything springs to mind. If you don’t have these for work, perhaps your social media accounts could give you an idea of the good and bad that happened.

Whichever method you are able to use be sure that you don’t go into that meeting with nothing at all. If you want to leave that meeting smiling, be your own PR representative and be sure to promote your value.

What Could Next Year’s Objectives Be?

If there is one thing you should prepare for before the meeting, it’s objectives. You want to be able to offer something up that fits with the roles or responsibilities that you have identified, and perhaps also fits with your values, as well as those of the company you work for. There’s nothing worse than being asked to meet an objective that you feel is unachievable or outside your area of expertise and therefore this is where the SMART system of goal setting could be used.

  • Specific – it identifies what the actual outcome will be
  • Measureable – the outcome can be measured
  • Achievable – you have the skills and opportunity to be able to meet the objective
  • Relevant – to your role that you currently hold
  • Time limited – there is a deadline for achievement

Think about ideas to improve the company’s performance or projects that are coming up. Whilst thinking about these objectives, it isn’t necessary that these should be big, year-long goals. If there is a short term project that you would like to work on then perhaps that can be completed in 3 months or less.

Link to a resources page to download a guide to goal setting, prioritisation matrix, habit tracker and 28 day challenge template

What Does the Longer Term Future Hold?

The final thing that pops up is that question about where you see yourself in 1 / 3 / 5 years, isn’t it? My own thoughts have always been to keep learning and then consider opportunities as they arise.

If you aren’t interested in becoming a team leader or department head then say so. Not every manager will understand this as there are many out there that think everybody has to want to move up the career ladder. There aren’t enough manager roles for that and there would be no-one left doing the work.

The other aspect of this is that if you really enjoy your work, and you put effort into doing the best you can, then teams need this. Emphasise to your manager what value you bring to the team and the benefit of continuing to do so. Perhaps you could instead offer to take on responsibility for bringing new team members on board, or train them up for specific tasks? Is there something that you hold in your values or priorities that you could lead on in the team, such as organising learning opportunities, or promoting well-being? There may be plenty of ways that your work or personal strengths can be used without you having to push for a manager role.

Naturally, if you are interested in progressing in the organisation, be certain to let your manager know and discuss what steps you need to take to get there. What support might you need or training courses could you enrol in? If you are keen, do your own research and put forward suggestions.


Do you dread your annual review? Will you be able to use any of these strategies to get more out of your meeting? Share in the comments below.

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Until next time, remember, if the excess baggage is weighing you down, you can always leave it in lost luggage.

Best wishes,

Ear Worm: Best Years of Our Lives, Modern Romance


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