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It's that time of the year again—time to fill out a performance review. Yes, I said I am filling it out, rubber stamp pending upon agreement. Whereas, in other experiences a manager may fill it out or sit down with you and check some boxes, adding a few sentences of evidence, feedback and encouragement, in consulting, this is almost entirely one’s own doing—for better and also for worse. The value of self-evaluation is, in my opinion, debatable, but it is the predominant process.
Whereas, for a typical corporation it would be conducted at midyear, in consulting, assessments are generally done by project, with a minimum of two required each year. In long-term software implementations, there wouldn’t be much difference, but other types of projects could well have many more.
In one typical example, the reviews are taken together and then your total rating for the year is rounded down. While we wouldn’t want to round up (punishing those consistently high performers), this downward rounding policy discourages growth. Obviously, a ‘mean’ score would be a lot fairer. Of course, your first project performance is not as good as your latest—isn’t that the point? In such a situation, if at all possible, I would recommend avoiding completing a review for a short engagement that won’t give you your best rating. It can only hurt you, so focus instead on long-term engagements where you can demonstrate your advancing performance. Each company is unique and their policies continually evolving, but stay critical (internally, to yourself) of instructions and advice.
In an ideal situation, you have a tough but fair manager who knows you very well, what you are working on and your performance, and has an eye on developing you to your fullest potential. This manager has your best interests at heart and guides you with constructive feedback. In this situation, listen, ask questions and follow up on the advice. Done.
However, I have found that consulting often puts you in less-than-ideal situations than most other careers. The managers are overloaded and, as such, a lot of this is seen as an administrative burden, and I don’t blame them. Your manager likely does not even reside in the same state as you, may not ever be on one of your projects and you may not speak to him/her for months. This makes it rather difficult, as he has to rely on your reports and feedback from your fellow team members and clients, and your opportunities to engage with them may be limited. As such, save your thank you letters from team members and clients as appendices to the review to help mitigate this risk.
The end result of all this ballyhoo is one number, the only other number that’s important other than utilization: your rating. The importance of this number cannot be overemphasized. Your raise and bonus are directly tied to that number (at least to some degree, combined with market factors, company and division performance—albeit iffy factors in this economy…). Also, the project assessments feed the annual assessment which feeds the eventual change in title, ”band,” and compensation. Not to mention, your rating is freely available to those staffing future projects. It's likely that most of the employee pool will get the same top 1 to 2 rating or in between (the top level being pretty rare, probably due to not wanting to encourage stagnation).
The number is the end result and part of the bureaucracy; like they say in school, one should focus on the learning, not the grade. Well, this isn't school, exactly, and I think it's important here to first understand the metric you are being measured on, and then determine how best to proceed.
Now that we’re done worrying about the number, in my next post I’ll shift focus to receiving feedback in a way that will enable your continued self-improvement.
--Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.
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