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It’s end-of-year review time! 5 top tips for getting the most out of it

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Learning, General
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It's not just what you've done, but how you've done it

Until recently, I was an HR Business Partner (HRBP) in DWP, working with various operations and policy teams across the department.  This means I’ve been involved in the end-of-year review system in a number of different ways - as an individual, a line manager and in my HRBP role.

The process can feel formal and sometimes a bit intimidating. But don’t forget it isn’t a tick-box exercise - it’s about you, as an individual, and your development. So, how do you make the most of it? A few things really stand out for me - whichever side of the table you’re sitting on.

1. How do you fit in?

First, think about your role. If you met someone in a lift, how would you articulate what you do in 30 seconds? This isn’t just about your position within your team - think about how you fit into the bigger picture. This will help others understand the impact that you have made.

Your ‘corporate contribution’ - the things you’ve done for the wider good of your team, business area or department beyond your individual work objectives - is important. It could be anything from organising the venue for your team away day, to sharing your expertise in a particular area with others, or being part of a cross-department project.

2. Self-assessment tool

This was mentioned in Jo Sheppard's blog at mid-year review time - but if you haven’t done so already, complete the Self Assessment Tool on Civil Service Learning. It only takes 15 minutes or so and it will help you focus on the things you are already doing well, and the areas to concentrate on in the future.

3. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it

The moderation panel will not just be discussing what work you’ve done throughout the year - far more important is how you have done it. You need to be comfortable with talking about your behaviours as well as your tasks. Take another look at the Civil Service Competency Framework. It will help you to frame your thoughts.

When panels look at how people have succeeded in their roles they will consider things like how they have dealt with challenges, celebrated others’ success, and offered helped to others. These don’t have to be big examples - it’s the behaviours themselves which will make you stand out, so don’t forget to consider these softer skills, as well as your actual work.

4. Don’t be shy

It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but talk about your strengths and achievements. You will help your manager by being clear on where you think you’ve been successful this year. If you’ve collected any evidence through the year, bring it with you. We often forget about our contributions, so it can help to start keeping a log to note your evidence.

5. Get talking, get networking!

Whether you are preparing yourself for the review, or reviewing others, sharing ideas with your peers can mean it becomes more than just a yearly process. It can also help to think about your role models - the people you admire both in and out of the workplace. What behaviours do they display that you would like to emulate? Learning from the people around you can give you new perspectives, both on what you’ve achieved over the past year, and what to focus on in the year ahead.

Good luck! If you have top tips of your own, please post them in the comments box below.

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  1. Comment by Vicky posted on

    Who should really be writing these assessments, we are told to write them as the 3rd person which suggests that a manager should be writing them initially and then discussing them with ourselves with us given the opportunity to add or disagree with anything. If I was wring about my self I would not refer to me by name I would say "I". Also why do we need to do these we are basically just proving we are doing our job correctly which obviously we are or I assume we would be sacked. People do not deliberately go out of their way to not help customers or colleagues and only do what everyone else would. It does feel like you are being set against your colleagues which does not help create a happy team working environment

  2. Comment by Danny posted on

    I'd really like to know if the new competency framework has achieved its objectives of setting direction, engaging & delivering results at departmental and individual people level. We are all working to the same standards now but what are the benefits and disbenefits? It seems ever harder to evidence the achievement needed during performance appraisal as well as when applying for jobs!

  3. Comment by John posted on

    Can I please have a written explanation of why my comment of 18/3/15 has been "under moderation" since 18/3/15. Just because my opinion may not follow the current leadership thinking, it makes it no less valid.

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Civil Service Blog team posted on

      Apologies John, I don't think there was any reason for this beyond the fact we're a bit behind approving comments due to the big increase in pre-election period publishing jobs that have come through to the team.

      I've approved your earlier (and this) comment.

  4. Comment by John posted on

    How much longer are we going to persist with this divisive, demotivating performance appraisal system?
    AM is used to be an "Appraisal Process", rather than a performance review.
    I just wish I could get back some of the many hours wasted on preparing for, and attending these reviews to complete the work we are employed to do.
    With vast differences between the jobs we do as civil servants it just isn’t possible to have a “one size suits all” system.
    Some of us want to turn up, do the job to the best of our ability and go home, not complete pages of unnecessary paperwork and be “developed”. I take great pride in the work I do, but personally after 28 years, eight major changes of job role, and Universal Credit just around the corner I'm about as developed as I ever want to be...

    • Replies to John>

      Comment by Anon posted on

      Here, here John. And contrary to what Sadia Khan seems to think how can it not be a 'tick box exercise'? There is no space on the new form to say whether you agree with your line manager's or reporting officer's scoring and nowhere to explain it. I did the self assessment tool ready for the half year review - which didn't happen, and here we are at end of year and I still haven't had any discussion with either my line manager or reporting officer!!!! With no recourse to challenge their decisions!!!!!

  5. Comment by AM posted on

    AD & NC, You are right. The Line Manager always try to keep their options open by giving you some negative comments, just in case, the person representing you in the panel hasn't got the talent (or can't be bothered) to speak up for you and defend the marking you deserve.

    The current review process has become more subjective and process driven than achieving it's real goals or praising the staff. It used to be an "Appraisal Process" rather than a "Performance Review". Different teams goes through different challenges throughout the reporting year then why is it fair to compare your performance against other members from different teams who had different challenges with different management tactics / styles? Is it fair? Or it’s more appropriate (and fair) for the Line Manager and Countersigning Manager to “manage” the performance throughout the year and award the marking accordingly.

    No wonder, people are losing their motivation as Civil Servants, which clearly reflects in yearly Staff Surveys.

  6. Comment by Barry Owen posted on

    The Civil Service Competency framework has no relevance whatsoever to the jobs that the vast majority of us do. It creates vast amounts of wasted time and bureaucracy and I fail to see how anyone thinks the rigmarole of it can possibly be LEAN. Having worked in the private sector I am amazed that the Civil Service persists with this format given its desire to be more business-like.

  7. Comment by Lisa posted on

    "But don’t forget it isn’t a tick-box exercise"

    Not true in my experience. It's very much a tick box exercise and absolutely nothing to do with my development. So my advice - do your job to the best of your ability, keep a record of what you've done, and try not to worry about it too much.

  8. Comment by Anon g posted on

    Ms Khan,
    Perhaps you might have a word with the persons in my management "team" who did not agree my objectives until mid-October and have not spoken with me during the reporting year.

    I shall look forward to seeing the fabricated "evidence" they will provide for a second year running despite whatever I may tell them. After all they have to justify the marking down of my report to the 3s all round I've been told to expect.

  9. Comment by Shelley Sharpe posted on

    HI Sadia - really useful comments but your reference to the Moderating panel has confused me - certainly in DWP we don't have moderating panels. We have validation meetings for grades HEO and above and a light touch consistencey check by countersigning managers for AA - EOs.
    Embedding this process has not been easy across most parts of DWP and therefore reference to the old relative assessment / moderating meeting practice is not particularly helpful. I was under the impression that the process used in DWP was a civil service wide policy so interested to know if there are differences in other departments - where are moderating panels used?

  10. Comment by Sue from Aldershot posted on

    It seems to me that it is the staff being reported on that has to do all the hard work. For the Line Manager it is just a tick box exercise while the Job Holder has to provide written evidence to gain anything other than an average marking. Even with the evidence provided it may not even reach the Moderation Panel. I am 51 years old and have worked in the Civil Service since I left school. The old reporting system required the LM to provide a written report which gave you confidence that they were actually sitting down and putting the effort in to report on you. Afterall, the written word is sensitive and has to be thought about. This is not the case with the current reporting system.

  11. Comment by JS posted on

    AD. I had same experience, worked myself into the ground with a process type job, nothing spectacular for evidence(because process is process) but really served customers well. job used to be done by 3 people. I had to manage on my own through very busy periods, worked late, worked very fast, hardly spoke to anyone because of the volume of work but that does not seem to count for anything, volume of work is not counted. Customers really appreciated my efforts but not for any extra points with managers. Just average!! Soul destroying.

  12. Comment by Anon posted on

    "But don't forget it isn't a tick box exercise" - but it is a tick box exercise. Someone in my team has to be in the bottom 10%. This person can work hard all year in both the how and what elements but will be assessed against their team colleagues and considered to be the worst member of the team. They are not a poor performer, can have some excellent results and look to expand their knowledge and skills BUT they are still in the bottom 10%. Everyone else in the team is considered better. This destroys motivation and morale. This is what the PDR system does. Even if all the members of my team do everything you suggest, someone will be in the bottom 10%. And that is what it comes down too.

  13. Comment by Alan Gurling posted on

    Many thanks for posting such an informative piece! I'll be sure to share this article and these points to my colleagues and friends. One thing I noticed at the "Corp Centre" is the format of the feedback during this time of year. Emails flying about asking the following things:

    * What I did best?
    * What could I have done better?
    * What could I have done more of?

    Then you send it off to their manager. I find it to be a very good practice. There's an element of transparency that you don't normally find in operations.

    Again, great post! I look forward to the next one! 🙂

  14. Comment by AD posted on

    I regularly come out of my Review feeling I haven't got enough credit for what I do, and/or have been criticised for something which strangely wasn't mentioned earlier in the year. There is no significant gain from having done well, just that I keep my job. It typically undermines my motivation and often makes me feel badly about my Department.
    Why do we do it?? It does not work for me.

    • Replies to AD>

      Comment by AnonS posted on

      I must admit I have to agree with AD, my review last year has left me feeling both un-motivated and let down by the senior staff who decided my rating.

      I met all six of my objectives (the what) but was marked down to Box 3 due to one behavioural criticism (the how). I didn't recongise the behavioural criticism as relating to me and, despite trying really hard to find out why I received the mark and related comments from the senior staff on the panel, I'm still left confused a year later and dreading this year's review. From what I can work out it was based on an off-hand comment from someone I've had to report for bullying twice during the previous year and, in addition, I helped meet the 10 % Box 3 quota.

      Frankly the whole process seems unconstructive, unfair and often not based on an individual's performance but instead rumour and hearsay, with no right of reply. I will follow the useful advice from Sadia above for my meeting with my line manager but at the end of the day my rating is decided by senior staff based on a brief conversation and the pressure to meet quotas, not on mine or my line manager's comments.

      And I'm sick of being told by HR and senior staff that my rating and comments don't matter so to stop worrying (I'm assuming they affect your ability to proceed through the civil service, please correct me if I'm wrong). In which case, why are we even going through this horrendous process!?

    • Replies to AD>

      Comment by Susan Hanslip posted on

      AnonS - I have to say, in my 10 years with the civil service I can identify with all of the negative comments above - and NONE of the positive ones. Are we not concentrating too much on the 'how' and the 'what' and not getting the job done???

    • Replies to AD>

      Comment by NC posted on

      AD, you aren't the only one. Depite be categorised as a top performer since I have worked here I always feel that I am being continually criticised in end of year performance reviews. Apparently better than the majority is still not good enough. No pat on the back, no encouragement, just not getting fired. To be honest it isn't really worth the extra effort I put in to be at the top. It doesn't get me anywhere other than tired. Better to be a middle performer and plod along like everyone else.

      The 'recommended' distribution (senior managers please note the recommended NOT enforced part of that statement) has been very divisive and is breeding quite a lot of discontent. Over worked, under paid, depressed, divided workforce. If there is a lesson in how not to do it, that would be 4 of the top 5!

  15. Comment by Nate posted on

    Useful to know but 10% of staff will still have to be box 3s.

  16. Comment by Michael posted on

    I too, in MOD, had to complete PAR and evidence template ready for my RO's sight on 5 March and for him to discuss it with my CSO today. This rather denies us chance to declare opportunities to distinguish ourselves that may arise during the lion's share of March which may take you further out of the so-called comfort zone than may have been the case. So, in practice, one is being reported on for 11 months not 12 months. (I was fortunate to have some challenging situations in the weeks immediately before that of the meeting to add to my evidence.)

  17. Comment by DJ posted on

    I have to admit, I find the civil service competency framework very 'high-level' and it hasn't really helped me at all when completing application forms etc or yearly reviews. I would like to see more detail in it and how I can relate my job to specific skill sets that are required on job application forms etc

  18. Comment by AnonD posted on

    WHY is it ‘far more important HOW you have done it’? At least we now know what many people have suspected all along, that ‘how’ is more important than ‘what’, which certainly confirms my view on how PMR is being operated by management. I thought that the guidance stated that ‘how’ and ‘what’ are supposed to be of equal value, but obviously not. Pretty football may be nice to watch, but it’s the results which count! It all comes across as rather ritualistic, whereby the ceremonial procedures are seen as carrying more weight than the final act (imagine opening a huge present, only to find nothing but a pea underneath all the layers of wrapping), and typical of the modern ethos where style is valued far in excess of substance (when it should be the other way round), and you find yourself sidelined if you ARE shy or not perceived to be one of the in-crowd. It’s not exactly encouraging to know that one’s achievements can count for so little, but I’m not surprised.

    We really should be looking at what the public want from us, rather than losing sight of the fact that it is they who we are supposed to be serving. For the most part, they couldn’t care less about behaviour and pretty packaging, they just want their requests dealt with in a timely, efficient and accurate manner, which certainly isn’t helped by the hugely time-consuming and morale-destroying PMR.

    • Replies to AnonD>

      Comment by Sadia Khan posted on

      Hi AnonD, thank you for your comment - You are absolutely right- The "What and the "How" are of equal weighting, and this is set out in the Civil Service Employee Policy guidance about the end of year review process. However my experience is that we often forget about the how and focus solely on the what – so it’s really important to cover both.

      • Replies to Sadia Khan>

        Comment by Paul Farr posted on

        I think one of the points that AnonD is making is that your advice explicitly states that

        "The moderation panel will not just be discussing what work you’ve done throughout the year – far more important is how you have done it."

        There is no ambiguity there - your experience (or advice) is that moderation panels see the "how" as far more important than the "what".

    • Replies to AnonD>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      AnonD, I certainly relate to the last paragraph - deserves 'cascading upwards' on behalf of the customer focussed roles (of which mine in MOD is largely one).

  19. Comment by Terry posted on

    At least we don't have to "survive" it this year, allegedly.

  20. Comment by Kash posted on

    Check out the CS learning some great online learning programmes on commercial awareness and leadership.

  21. Comment by Stephen Jones posted on

    Some good tips there. Unfortunately, a bit too late for those of us in HMRC who have already had to complete our end of years early in March so that managers can 'do their thing'.

    If only we could put our feet up for the lost three weeks of March which don't count towards this year's performance.

  22. Comment by Mike Bedford posted on

    Thanks for an excellent blog Sadia. Some great advice.

  23. Comment by Nigel Hawcroft posted on

    Dont be afraid to ask colleagues for help, or admit you cannot do something this is also a form of networking and shows you are willing to learn and gain new experience

  24. Comment by James Arthur Cattell posted on

    Hello Sadia and many thanks for your post.

    Over the last year I've done 3 jobs and had 4 line managers. None of them have filled me with confidence in the review process, but I have high hopes for my new line manager.

    So I've taken the matter into my own hands.

    I setup an online survey asking for feedback on projects I've worked on. I then extracted all the addresses of people I've emailed and sent a link to the survey. 36% of responders answered the survey anonymously.

    The main 5 questions are:
    * Out of 5, how many stars would you give me?
    * Why have you given me that number of stars?
    * What 1 behaviour have I done well?
    * What 1 behaviour must I improve?
    * What 1 behaviour must I stop?

    The feedback is incredibly uplifting and useful. Some responders even asked if they could use them same survey. So it got me thinking: shouldn't we all be doing this? What do you think, please?

    PS: You can view/take my survey via

    Kind regards,

    James Cattell
    Cabinet Office