How to prepare for your annual performance review

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gangplank HQ

(MoneyWatch) Unlike the holiday season, full as always of hope and joy and friendship, it's the time when many businesses schedule their annual performance reviews. Although this season isn't as much fun, by putting your best foot forward, you can have a good review -- one that's relatively stress-free and that pays off for you with a great score. Here's what you need to do to have a good review season.

Understand the review process. First and foremost, it's essential that you internalize how your company conducts its annual review. Pay attention to the mechanical details -- when you need to write your self-assessment, for example -- but also be sure that you understand how you are scored and what the scores mean for you. For example, your company might give you more than one review score and use them to separately assign you a bonus and stock award. Know the details so you can better prepare yourself.

Maintain a journal through the year. It might be too late for 2012, but get started today for the new year. It's simply not possible to remember all the awesome stuff you did in March when it comes time to write a self-assessment in January. In Word, OneNote or some other kind of document, track your projects and accomplishments as they happen.

Understand your impact. It's not enough to cite what you did through the year -- closed the Jenkins account, say, redesigned the e-commerce auditing tool -- you need to be able to cite the impact that your work has had on the business. This is where it comes in handy to have a good relationship with folks in other departments who can help you assess the effect your work has had on the company's bottom line. Whenever possible, be able to explain your work's impact on the company's business goals or revenue. A "tough love" side-note: If you don't understand how your actions affect the business, you're probably not ready for the promotion that might come with a high review score.

Make your boss's job easier. It's not really your manager's responsibility to know everything you've done over the course of the year. Sure, a great manager will know your projects and accomplishments pretty well. But as I've mentioned many times before, it's your job to make your manager's job easier. So before your manager sits down to write your review, put together a bulleted list of your accomplishments and send it to him or her. It should be a streamlined version of what you write for your self-assessment. Your boss will appreciate the reminder, and that'll make it easier for him or her to make you look great on your review.

Be honest about yourself. Don't lie, or even exaggerate. Your manager (probably) isn't an idiot. If you take credit for someone else's work or inflate the value of what you accomplished, odds are that your boss will notice. And from that point on he or she will second-guess everything you write in your review. Your review (and the list of accomplishments you submit in advance) should be clear, honest and squeaky-clean. Moreover, you should call out challenges that arose during the year. It's OK, and probably even a good idea, to highlight one or two things that went wrong, especially if you can cite ways you grew as a result.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gangplank HQ