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Want to conquer your 2020 performance review? Do these 4 things

In an unprecedented year, here’s how women can effectively communicate their value at work and set the stage for success in 2021.
Alexandra Carter, professor at Columbia Law School and world-renowned negotiation trainer for the United Nations.
Alexandra Carter, professor at Columbia Law School and world-renowned negotiation trainer for the United Nations.Nick Onken / Nick Onken

This year has been an extremely difficult one for women in the workplace. They are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who remain frequently suffer from stress or burnout as they work harder than ever before, both at their jobs and at home.

Right now, many working women are looking ahead to their upcoming performance reviews, wondering how to communicate about their work during this unprecedented year and set the stage for success in 2021.

Are you facing a performance review? Read on for four tips to walk in with confidence – as well as advice on what to do if your organization tries to cancel it.

1. Set the date…but don’t wait to set the stage.

When I train diplomats at the United Nations to negotiate, I tell them to picture that they’re in a kayak headed for a beach. You know how you need to paddle a kayak consistently in order to reach your destination? In the same way, you want to be steering your most important relationships year-round.

In other words, don’t wait until the performance review to start teaching people how to value you. Start now by sharing your wins and lining up your allies.

Especially in a remote environment, it’s important to keep track of your accomplishments and make them visible. Write them down, create a file that you keep year-round – and then share them. For example, in an email to your manager: “Hi Bonnie, I wanted to share this terrific client feedback I just received. Glad we were able to deliver on this project. Thanks for your support!”

Create a list of the people who are important to your career progression – your manager, other decision-makers and other champions at your organization. And make sure they know what you’re doing. If you’ve been doing this all year, great! If not, start now.

In this way, you’ll enter into that performance review way ahead of the game. Imagine yourself just a few paddle strokes away from the beach, as opposed to back at the starting line.

2. Review your actual work against your job description.

I’ve heard from many women who have taken on additional job responsibilities at work this year. Whether due to layoffs, co-workers facing difficulties or simply just that your manager knows you’re a proven performer, you may be doing more or higher-level work than is in your original job description. So what to do?

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Get that job description, write down everything you have done and are doing, and then line the two up next to one another. Create a comparison document so your manager can see everything you’ve done for the organization this year, and specifically how you’re going above and beyond your job. Another helpful tip is to write down everything you do for one week and bring that to your review. In this way, your manager can see exactly what you’re contributing, day in and day out.

3. Make your “office housework” visible.

Fact: women, and especially women of color, are more likely to be asked to take on what’s known as “office housework” – otherwise known as institution-building work you’re not paid to do. Serving on that diversity committee that takes up 10 hours a week of your time? Recruiting top talent of color? Mentoring the dozens of women who seem to know you give the best career advice around? All of that is critical work and you should make it visible to management.

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Keep a list of all of the institution-building work you do. Then report it regularly to your manager or allies. For example: “Dear Bonnie, I’m so glad to have represented the company at five recruiting events for women of color this month. I spent 20 hours of time in total, and wanted to send you the results. Would love to report on this at our next meeting!”

For your performance review, make sure you’re armed and ready with a list of your institution-building work for the entire year, and everything that work contributed to the company: candidates recruited, people mentored, comments from happy members of your department. Then ask: “What can our organization do to value this work, so that we can keep our teams and culture strong?”

4. And if they cancel your performance review…negotiate for it!

Finally, some companies are canceling formal performance reviews, either because no salary increases are available or they worry about stress to employees. But having a review, or other career-related meeting, can be critical to discuss your career progression, growth opportunities, and create a record of what you’ve accomplished for the company.

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So, if they say, “No performance review this year – there aren’t any raises or promotions on offer,” simply reply, “I hear that salary or title changes are off the table. At the same time, a review would greatly benefit us both. It’s important for my professional development to hear what’s been working – and I know we both want to ensure I can produce even better results for the company next year! So with those parameters, what’s the best time for us to sit down?”

And remember: once you do sit down for that review, there’s so much you can negotiate for that goes beyond money – including work hours, childcare assistance, mental health resources and more. Advocating for yourself is about more than just salary; it’s also about creating the kind of work life that’s sustainable and fulfilling through this pandemic and beyond.