(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Annual appraisals are a broken relic of the past. A year is too long. Bosses rarely have the data or deep insight they need, while employees feel undervalued by supervisors who don't know what they've been doing. Honesty is difficult; everyone wants the process to work - but be over quickly.
The best advice I've ever encountered came from an executive at GlaxoSmithKline. Every Friday afternoon, she would note down in a journal what she had accomplished that week. At the end of the year, she'd review those accomplishments and sent the list to her boss, in preparation for the appraisal.
This simple journal routine had three powerful effects: It meant her boss appreciated the obvious but also the invisible work that she'd done, money she'd saved, projects she'd salvaged. A great deal of the work we all do isn't obvious and the best work often goes unnoticed; it is, after all, better to prevent a fire than put it out heroically - but the more subtle action often garners little praise. Gathering together a year's accomplishments at least lays the foundations for an informed appraisal.
The second effect of the journal surprised her: It turned out to be a huge confidence builder. High achievers often complete work, move on, and forget it. Failing to internalize achievements hurts them when it comes to annual reviews, applications for promotions or attempts to changing jobs. It's critical to any ambitious executive to be able to articulate and document their value - to their employers and to themselves.
The third effect can be the most powerful: It may allow you to discern patterns. If you find that the bulk of your year's work is concentrated in one area, you can ask yourself the question: Is this where you want your career to go - or is it a dead end? Are you getting landed with the same old work just because you're good at it - and therefore in danger of being typecast? Do you need some different assignments to develop new skills?
That's the basis for an appraisal that's worth the time it takes.