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At my company, we have annual performance reviews and also a process where we set goals for the year. When it comes time to set goals, we are expected to create them on our own. I'd like to use them when the performance review comes around as something to point to and say "see, I did important and valuable things, give me a raise/promotion". However, I don't see how I can do this if I'm just making my own goals and I can't get any input on what management thinks is important to focus on. I've tried expressing this multiple times to multiple managers, but they always say they'll get back to me and then seem to forget the conversation ever happened, even when I bring it up multiple times.

I guess what I'm struggling with is my goal is "become a more valuable employee so my salary goes up", but the "more valuable" part is up to them to decide, and I cannot get any guidance on what I should be doing to achieve that. Last year I was told to create three goals:

  • One that was not work related just to improve myself as a person (example was to take up painting if you're a technical person),
  • One to make myself more valuable to the team (I think the example was to learn a new skill)
  • One to make the team more valuable to the company (such as improving a process)

Even if I do the first one perfectly, obviously I'm not going to get a raise or promotion if I stuck to my new painting hobby or whatever. Maybe it will improve my performance indirectly by making me more well-rounded, but it's worth nothing on its own. The last "goal" is really just fishing for ideas, because I have no control over what the group does. My "goal" for that this year was for our group to spend more time getting feedback from our users on applications we develop, which everyone agreed was a good idea, but I doubt anybody did it and it's not like I can force them to.

The middle goal is the only one possibly relevant to judging my performance and value, but even then, if my manager doesn't think what I picked is worth a raise then I'm still stuck. If I were in a position like sales, then it'd be easy to come up with goals we both value, but as a software developer, it's less clear. Even when I suggest specific goals, I can't get feedback on them, and they get ignored at review time.

So how do I use this process to help me get promotions and raises? Am I being unreasonable in expecting guidance from management in creating my goals? Am I completely missing the purpose of setting annual goals and I need to think about this whole thing differently?

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I can't get any input on what management thinks is important to focus on. I've tried expressing this multiple times to multiple managers, but they always say they'll get back to me and then seem to forget the conversation ever happened, even when I bring it up multiple times.

The annual performance review that many large organizations go through are almost universally loathed by all save for the HR department and a few high-level but out-of-touch execs. This tiresome grind is tolerated annually because it's seen as the means for giving people raises and bonuses in a way that appears objective and "by the book".

If your managers are like most, they've already decided how to cut their bonus pie for distribution among their staff and have some raises in mind. They almost certainly have NO expectations about each person's "SMART" goals, any of which could vaporize in seconds as new priorities slide into place several times throughout the next year. That's why they're not eager to discuss these things.

The best thing you can do as an employee is to keep in touch with your boss throughout the year, share goals, discuss performance and expectations frequently-- not just just during annual review. That's what really matters.

The annual review is just one of the necessary evils of working in a large org. If your boss cannot shield you from the searing banality of the process, then you'll have to go through motions of it. Just pick sufficiently vague and easy to hit "SMART" goals allow your boss to edit/change as needed and move on with your life and job.

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    Model answer. Can't think of any way to improve it.. – BittermanAndy Aug 22 '20 at 23:26
  • THis is so well said. Like so many large company setups it is actually a SJW level moronig game. It makes ZERO sense, particularly in the light of changing requirements in the business world. It is a HR game, a show, and nothing else and I have yet to see it being used in a sensible manner. Never seen a goal that was sensible as a goal - and not either required or invalidated before the ink was dry. – TomTom Aug 23 '20 at 12:24
  • @TomTom, not sure how/why you're relating so-called "SJW" stuff to annual reviews. Also, it's not the case that these reviews make "no sense", they make sense from the point of view of HR and their attempt to "objectively" justify raises, bonuses and promotions. I just wanted to give a pragmatic perspective for the OP. – teego1967 Aug 23 '20 at 13:12
  • Because this all is a HR scheme. They make no sense. Development goals? What the heck. I have employee a. He is good. He wants to stay good. Now he has to come up with some phony actionable goals? What about being good? Since when is doing the job not good enough? – TomTom Aug 23 '20 at 13:14
  • @TomTom, I agree the annual reviews and SMART goals are ridiculous and it's true that it's a game. As such, you can play it as a game. Each letter in the SMART acronym is a fungible negotiable item between employee and boss. Moreover I've never heard of anything bad happening because someone slipped on any/all of their baloney SMART goals. But bad things do happen to people that refuse to play the game or take it too seriously. – teego1967 Aug 23 '20 at 13:27
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Build your goals around the SMART model. Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Relevant and Tmely. Look for a small number of goals - if you turn up with a list of 10 different goals, you'll miss most of them. Three is good - maybe one Professional, one Company based, and one Personal (oops - I've just seen that they've asked you to do that... I'll carry on anyway).

Specific: Make the goal a very specific item that you can tick off; e.g 'Become certified in Blue Widgets'.

Measureable: 'Pass the Blue Widgets Advanced Practitioner Exam'

Achievable: 'I already have the 'BW Associate certificate', so I can do this with only 40 more hours of studying

Relevant: If you work with Blue Widgets, it's relevant. i.e, don't study for the Yellow Widgets exam just because it's there.

Timely: Set a date by when you'll have this done - e.g 'In three months'.

For a Company based goal, you're looking at skills that will help you get to the next level; e.g 'Take on a project which involves management of three people'.

For a personal goal, they don't really want to know that you're good at painting. Look for something which will translate across - e.g take a course on public speaking, and present a talk on painting to a local Women's Institute, or similar - that will show that you can talk to groups, and you have good communication skills.

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Not sure why your management does not become invested in this rather common process. So perhaps asking a more senior employee who goes through this same routine for their advice would help. In writing performance reviews and performance goals, the general advice I received over the years is to focus on items which improve your value to the company and contribute to the overall company's performance. Create a file folder and email folder labeled as Kudos or some such. Save items which document how you have contributed. How well you do over the course of a year is something to be recording over the entire year. Don't pencil whip your year in review. Make it as detailed as you can. If they don't read it all, that is on them (leading horse and water issue). If you have a personal review session with your manager, then reference specific items from your detailed review.

If your company has sponsored volunteer programs like Habitat for Humanity, then use those programs for your personal development. Oftentimes, upper management also participates. So make those valuable contacts while also contributing to your community and company image.

Taking more responsibility rather than waiting for it to be assigned is also something to consider. Rarely will promotions come to those who wait, grab opportunities when they are available.

Specifically as a software developer, there are always other skills to learn. Find sources of good "stuff" and share them around. Depending on why your company doesn't value your contributions is very important. If they are more of a sweatshop, polish up your resume (should always do this annually and best if done at review time when it is fresh in you mind). Then see what other opportunities are available. Most large jumps in salary do not take place in your present employment, but rather when changing companies.

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First and foremost we need to make the goals SMART. They should have an explicit completion date and a black and white, yes or no way of measuring if it was achieved.

In terms of what the goals should be this is very business-specific. In some businesses that are heavily KPI driven this can be quite easy. However, if there is no real KPI other than "be better" you could look at pyramiding the goals.

Essentially this requires looking at your own goals, projects, business developments. Then look at what units of work are required to achieve that. You should be looking at using those to form at least 50% of your team's goals. This ensures that individuals goals are contributing toward the department and companies goals and are not just "learn X because I fancy the look of it". For the other half of their goals, usually centred around personal development try and tie it to a deliverable, for example, attend a course to learn a skill and action it in a particular upcoming project.

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