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Everyone dreads impact reviews!

Whatever your seniority level is, you report to a manager (or to the board as CEO). And in most organizations, the end of the year corresponds to the dreaded “impact” or “performance” review. The impact review is often a poor experience for the manager and the report alike. Why?

Truth be told, most managers don’t prioritize the impact-review process during their day-to-day activities (maybe because the impact reviews are somehow private and primarily impact only their reports?). If they don’t have a thorough process (taking notes of success/failures, structured 1:1, regular feedback loops, gratitude journal, identifying their report's strength/weaknesses, etc.) during the period, then the impact review relies on their short-term memory (21 days or so, if we’re being generous).

Your manager also operates in their own context, and some key factors will hinder the ability of your manager to conduct your impact review well:

  1. Changes: New org structure, new tools, new processes, etc. 
  2. Number of direct reports: I would say 3-5 is OK; more than 7 and things start to deteriorate.
  3. Seniority: If your manager is new at the company or new to the manager role, they may be operating with a limited frame of reference. 

As the person being reviewed, you have no control over these factors (in a way, your manager also has little control over these things!) but you should be cognizant of them and understand the context in which your manager operates. Your success depends on your manager's success.

The other key problem is that the impact review is rarely a conversation between two adults. I believe this is because of our education system. We are used to a very passive role—what I would call the submissive/student role. This is the default mode for many workers who just joined the workforce after completing their education. The education system from kindergarten (you get a sticker if you do things well…according to the teacher) has drilled in us the idea that somebody else has all the tools and knowledge to evaluate us. And, passively, we wait for the grades.

If you take one idea away from this article, please remember this one:

Instead of relying on others to tell you whether or not you did a good job, establish your own metrics and criteria.

Impact of self-reflection

Engaging in self-reflection is critical to transforming the relationship with your manager from a student-teacher type to a human-to-human egalitarian one. Product managers are knowledge workers with the tools and mental ability to self-evaluate. No need for a manager/boss to pass judgment on your accomplishments (or lack of accomplishments).

If this is your first time: this is most certainly scary! You may actually like the grading system that is so ingrained in our society. That being said, here is why this can help you know yourself better, transform your career for the better, and greatly increase your manager’s efficiency:

  1. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is liberating. Most companies hire for your strength or “super-power.” The sooner you discover it, the sooner you will be able to have a massive impact. How can you improve if you remain ignorant of your superpowers and weaknesses?
  2. You are the only one who can analyze the feelings you had during the impact review period. Nobody else is “in your head,'' and even with an open and transparent culture, you rarely share 100% of the negative or positive feelings that you experienced during the review period. Find the activities/responsibilities that are fun and engaging for you, and then find the ones that are sucking all your joy, motivation and enthusiasm. Try to change your role so that you have less of the negative ones and more of the positive ones.
  3. You can help your manager shine. You will enable your manager to produce a crystal-clear and helpful impact review by providing them with a detailed self-reflection. You are simplifying their job, and you will be helping them raise the bar of quality for impact reviews

So now that you’ve bought in, what’s next?

Here is a Google Doc template for your self-reflection. To use it, select File, then Make a Copy. You can then modify the document and following process however it works best for you.

Spend 1-2 hours reviewing the various sections and filling them in with your words using minimal analysis or judgment. You can also choose a single approach (or your own: this is really just a template to avoid “white-page syndrome!”). 

In my experience, the more you invest in your self-reflection, the more rewards you will reap. Knowing yourself deeply and identifying what gives you joy and what pains you will provide you with clearer priorities that you can share with your manager. Once you have shared your reflections, here’s what may happen next:

  1. If you both completely agree with your self-assessment: Your manager will complement your review with 360 feedback and his own information. They will also help you go deeper, as they will do their best to help you continue to grow and apply your superpowers. You will be on the same page (strongly aligned) for the next period and finding goals for your next period will be both fun and rewarding. Your manager will know exactly what makes you tick and they will help create more opportunities for you.
  2. If you are not completely in agreement (<40% misalignment): You may perceive yourself as super strong in one area, but your manager may only see you as “relatively strong” or even “can do better.” Dig deeper! Use this high-quality feedback to learn how you can improve and have more impact next time. Use the 360 information (or ask for a 360 review if this is not customary in your company) to dig deeper and align with your manager during the next period. 
  3. If they strongly disagree with your self-assessment (>40% misalignment): This will lead to a radically candid but super meaningful conversation. You will either define a shared truth with your manager or fail to do so.
    1. If you succeeded, you can now set realistic targets for the next period. 
    2. If you were not able to find a shared common ground with your manager, then you need to move on and either transfer to another team or change companies. This can be painful, but ultimately better for everyone involved.

The true value of self-reflection

Taking your self-reflection seriously gives you access to an incredible tool: self-actualization. In other words, you alone define your value, based on what is important to you. It is very liberating, as you will not dread your impact review. Self-reflection also has deeper effects, as most psychologists agree that measuring success according to your own metrics is critical to achieving long-lasting and sustainable happiness.

Whether or not your manager agrees with your self-reflections, your proceeding impact review will not destroy your self-esteem or value, but instead point toward areas you may have ignored. It will be entirely your choice what to do next: evolving to meet (and conform) to your manager's view of the world, or finding a new manager to continue developing what you believe is more important for you.

By Benoit des Ligneris

Benoit des Ligneris, Ph.D., is a product leader and geek with over 20 years of experience in open-source, start-ups, scale-ups, unicorns, platforms & product management. He is the Director of Product for, the second-generation Platform-as-a-Service built for continuous deployment.