Setting personal standards for work & deliverables

My process for personal performance reviews

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April 6, 2020

(6 min read)

I've got a full plate this spring, and for the first time, I'm able to manage the workload. Sort of.



This is what my schedule looks like under Shelter-in-Place. I think I've been increasing my meeting count because I don't have to travel physically between each one. I don't feel as focused as I am at USC, where constant changes in my physical context helps with the mental codeswitching. Now that I'm doing everything remotely, I have whittled down my travel time between Zoom calls to anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes. 


That tiny timegap is where I get to recap between meetings or mull over deliverable reviews. So I've found myself in a tricky spot: I'm lucky enough to be doing everything I'd like to be doing, and I'm honored to wear each of my hats. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to stop and evaluate my growth or contributions to any of my projects or teams. 


This weekend I finally noticed the gap when I completed a performance review on a candidate for a position on one of my projects. I'm working constantly, but I have no idea how I'm doing without relying on external feedback. I ask for feedback as often as it comes to mind, but for the first time I thought about creating a personal standard of work and performance. Maybe it could even be a rubric. 


I made standards to evaluate both my process and completed deliverables.


It's great to base your standards on the kind of work do regularly. If your work consists of end-to-end tasks rather than deliverables, it's probably best to focus on ways to evaluate your process rather than your output. My work is largely project-based, so it makes sense for me to create standards for both.  


For my general working principles, I wrote down the silent standards I consider as I'm creating a deliverable, which are roughly the following: 


🛠  Standards for Working & Creating a Deliverable


General Working Principles

  • Ask questions — ask more questions than feels comfortable. Never turn something in with holes that could have been researched. Turning things in with "questions for the next step" is appropriate. 
  • Create for a specific audience. If it's a wide audience, consider four potential readers and build with their perspectives in mind. 
  • Research everything for the sake of nuance and credibility. Cite well and credit thoroughly. 
  • Find at least one small thing to get excited about or have fun with.
  • Consider the interactions with and potential ripple effects of this single deliverable, even if small, and work toward those. 


General Requirements for Deliverables

  • Everything should be easy to read, navigate, and share.
  • Everything on time or prefaced as delayed.
  • Grammar and word-choice should be precise. All writing should be clear, friendly, concise, and meaningful.
  • A deliverable should be clear and well organized, in that it won't need great amounts of elaboration or justification for its contents or form. Someone may fundamentally misunderstand or disagree, but it shouldn't be your fault.
  • Goals should be clear. Potentially good to include preface/notes and a plan for implementation.
  • "Value-add" should apply to all your work, so it should be clear how or where you're adding value.


Then I designed the following criteria to evaluate a deliverable after it's been completed. 


🔬  Evaluation of a Completed Deliverable


Qualities of Good Work 

Impact: Shallow & Immediate

  • Completed punctually 
  • Meets expectations set when assigned
  • Adds expected, immediate value 
  • Has obvious areas of critical improvement or welcomes suggestions for further work


Qualities of Great Work

Impact: Lasting & Dynamic

  • Moderately impressive
  • Thinks beyond the expectations or works usefully beyond deliverable structure
  • Meets key criteria with little room for improvement
  • Adds more than expected value, impact is long-term
  • Sets an example for future deliverables in the same or similar vein


Qualities of Excellent Work

Impact: Foundational/Fundamental & Permanent

  • Impressive enough for it to resurface as a standard or a celebrated thing down the line
  • Redefines or defines the key criteria of the assignment/deliverable
  • Creates foundational value for the operation itself (aka "Bible status" or fundamental paradigm shift)
  • Others spend time working closely with the deliverable without questioning it. When they find out that you were involved, they are excited
  • Opens up doors for me to do work in other areas or unlocks the ability to dive deeper into an existing domain. 


Remember that you should hover around good <-> great work most of the time. 


Even if you want to impress everyone around you, remember that it takes tons of focused time and energy to leap from "meets expectations" to "Bible status" or "fundamental paradigm shift." It may even be seriously inefficient or inconvenient for your team to wait for you to create something groundbreaking when they've asked for something straightforward. 


If you spend every moment of work trying to outdo the standards or open up new opportunities for yourself, chances are that you're not prioritizing or fulfilling the most basic expectations of the assignment or deliverable. 


After you set up your tiers initially, pay attention to the amount of energy it takes to get from level to level. What other deliverables and tasks are you responsible for? By striving for greatness in one arena, are you neglecting other responsibilities?


The best way to strategize when you get a new assignment is to measure the difference in effort between your tiers and remember that it's not always appropriate to strive for your standard of excellence, either because of your team's goals, your other responsibilities, or the amount of energy you're realistically able to muster at this time. "Great" works great. 



🤓 Why does this matter to me?


It pays to be conscious of the quality of my work when I'm doing it. It saves me hours or even days, especially if I end up having to re-tool something. Creating personal feedback loops isn't too strenuous for me, as I lean into introspection often. Over time, these tools become natural parts of the creation process and my internal dialogue as I choose my words or build a deck. 


Part of this is good for teamwork too — it's useful to craft a consistently positive standard performance so your teammates can build trust in you as time goes on.


I'll avoid suggesting that anyone reading this should create their own PR. Rubrics and guidelines work well for me, but others prefer less explicit evaluations, like gut checks. Some people prefer serious external feedback loops, like raises, public praise, and promotions (or their counterparts). All of these methods are fine. I prefer to have all three, which is why I integrated external feedback into the way I evaluate completed deliverables. And gut checks tend to happen for me anyway. 


Again, here's what I created for myself: 


🛠 Standards for Working or Creating a Deliverable


General Working Principles

General Requirements for Deliverables


🔬 Evaluation of a Complete Deliverable


Qualities of Good Work

Qualities of Great Work

Qualities of Excellent Work 


These criteria don't prevent mistakes or poor work, but they keep me keenly aware of when I don't, and that feedback loop can help me prevent repeated missteps. And that's a decent chunk of the growing process. ❤️

Abigail

@Africa

Spark SC | USC Iovine & Young | Primer