Everyone can benefit from a career portfolio whether your industry requires you to keep one or not.
A portfolio is a sampling of your work. Samples might include reports, spreadsheets, slide presentations, results of team projects--whatever best highlights your role and skill set.
4 specific items to include: achievements, failures, goals, and lessons learned. You are not limited to these four things--purpose statements, results of personal assessments, and copies of past performance evaluations are other items to consider. But documenting work successes and failures, goals and lessons learned helps you track growth.
Example of success: an email where someone recognizes your efforts, thanks you for the completion of an assignment, or acknowledges your strong team contribution.
Example of failure: an email that expresses disappointment for an assignment not completed on time or to the level expected + your response to it. This is not a defensive response, but a positive action response. Did it change one of your work processes? Did you learn a valuable lesson?
The point is not to call attention to shortcomings, but to track growth that resulted from the shortcomings.
Documenting achievements and failures, goals and lessons learned not only helps you track growth, it prepares you for performance evaluations. Acknowledging failures, in particular, keeps you from being caught off guard if your supervisor raises the issue and gives you time to consider the lesson learned.
Annual conversations around these four areas allows you and your supervisor to develop strategies for how you’ll perform stronger next time, and gives you a chance to ask for advice. “Tell me how I can do better with this next time.” Employees receptive to learning are refreshing, and they lift burdens off their supervisors’ shoulders.
Have a 90-day plan for new jobs. When in job transition, another item to consider as part of your portfolio is a 90-day plan--an outline of how you would tackle the first 30-60-90 days in the new role. Having a 90-day plan can really set you apart and set you up for success.
Consider creating an electronic portfolio. An electronic portfolio, like a website or a robust LinkedIn profile with sample attachments can be a powerful tool in the job search process, giving potential employers easy access to your career achievements and samples of your work.
Keeping a portfolio not only empowers you for strong performance evaluations, it sets you on a more successful career course.
Well-managed organizations conduct annual performance evaluations as the most fair and equitable way to make decisions about pay and advancement (or termination) after someone is hired.
A good performance evaluation is a discussion of 4 things:
The goals set at the last performance evaluation (or at the time of hire)
Whether you met these goals
What you learned
What your new goals are going forward
Good performance evaluations are growth opportunities. A good manager applauds your achievements and helps deepen lessons gained from the pursuit of your goals, whether you actually met them all or not. He or she helps you define your strengths, improve your weaknesses, and strategize for improvement by giving you stretch assignments and pointing you toward appropriate new goals.
If you find yourself in an organization that doesn’t have performance evaluations or doesn’t do them justice, seek mentors willing to give you personal feedback to simulate performance evaluations so that you can continue to grow.
Sometimes performance evaluations are corrupt. Evaluations fail to live up to their potential if they are treated only as a checkmark to satisfy HR requirements or as a power trip for the manager who enjoys making you squirm.
Cy Wakeman says in her book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace, that both employers and employees can contribute to corrupt performance evaluations. Managers contribute when they deliver feedback poorly or dishonestly. Employees contribute when they receive feedback poorly and refuse to be honest with themselves about their true performance and value to the organization.
The value of each employee differs. The reason there is so much disparity in compensation is that each employee's value level is unique. Each brings a unique skillset, each has a different growth rate, and each has differing leverage at the time of hire.
David Cottrell writes in his book, Monday Morning Mentoring, that there are three kinds of performers in every organization:
super stars (30%)
middle stars (50%)
falling stars (20%)
Some of have an inflated view of our true worth to an organization. Wakeman says your value is based on the formula below, although few supervisors would state this explicitly:
Your Value = Current Performance + Future Potential – 3x Emotional Expensiveness
Every employee is hired not only for current performance levels and skillsets, but on the promise of potential growth, and emotional expensiveness is a big drawback. Anything from addiction to a poor attitude, drama, absenteeism, over-sensitivities, and not contributing solid work or contributing it on time to team efforts which leads to high stress levels for others are all examples of emotional expensiveness.
A good manager does not adjust for or accommodate the lowest performers to make it look like they belong in the middle. They raise the top by rewarding and recognizing the true star performers. This is the truest and most efficient way to motivate everyone to higher performance levels. If you lower the standards at any level, you demotivate employees at every level.
Compensation is based on value. Wakeman says compensation should be based “on the value you add, not the needs you have.” It's not effective to ask for a raise based on personal financial needs or cost of living increases. Fair compensation is based on performance. So arm your portfolio with evidence-based examples of specific ways you add value to the organization when broaching the subject of a raise.
You should also research pay through resources like payscale.com prior to any conversations about compensation, whether at the time of hire or in preparation for performance evaluations. Most salaries are negotiable and fall within a range. The more they want you, and the more rare and in-demand your skillset, the more leverage you have.
360s. One type of performance evaluation is a 360. Rather than relying only on feedback from the manager and an employee’s self-evaluation, this type of review includes feedback from a variety of other sources like peers, subordinates, superiors, external clients, internal colleagues, etc. A 360 offers a more complete picture of your overall performance, but it is also a time-consuming review process that only large organizations may have the resources to conduct on an annual basis.
Ask for what you want... If you’ve been with a company 1-2 years and have performed well enough that you feel ready for a promotion and/or pay increase but no one has brought it up or had a performance evaluation with you, request it in writing. Be direct about what you want in the opening, then follow with evidence of your value and support for your request.
...but don't confuse efforts with results. It’s not a strong evidence statement to say, “I’ve worked hard; therefore, I deserve…” Wakeman says many of us “confuse efforts with results. Your organization gets no return on investment for effort.” Something like, “Sales increased 15% after the social media marketing campaign I created was implemented” is more effective. Measurable, quantifiable achievements, especially those that increase revenue for an organization, are strongest.
If your career seems to have stalled and you’re not progressing at the rate you think you should, a mentor, reading Wakeman’s book, or simply taking a good, hard look in the mirror might get you moving again.
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