The performance review is the process by which, through the phases of peer feedback, self-evaluation, and one-on-one meetings with management, we can lie through our teeth to get what we want.
There are several steps to the review process. Let's examine how you can use every one of them to improve your career:
1) Peer Reviews of You
The typical review cycle begins with your manager gathering names of your peers that have worked with you and who may be able to provide input on your performance. Sometimes, the manager will know some names to start with. But your manager may solicit names from you since they have been focused so much on their own career that they really haven't paid much attention to their team. This is where your plan begins.
First of all, give your manager some names of executives of the company whom you have supposedly worked closely with. Your manager will be surprised and impressed, and will gladly add those names to the list because it gives your manager a chance to get his own name in front of them. Of course, you have never met these people, but you know for a fact that they're way too busy in executive meetings, golf games, and SEC depositions to take the time to respond to a performance review request for some employee they've never heard of. But the idea was not to actually get a review, but instead to score points with your manager for supposedly having worked with these people enough to request a review.
Next, give you manager names of people in other departments, preferably with important-sounding titles. Then, find a way to intercept communications to these people so that you can field the review requests and respond on your own. If intercepting proves too difficult (this strategy was far easier in the days of inter-office memos and smoke signals), come prepared with letters from these people to simply give to your manager. Explain that they are too busy to be bothered with a review, but took the time this past weekend to jot down some thoughts on your major contributions to the company. Be sure to avoid using the personal pronoun "I", and don't sign your own name to these letters.
Finally, your manager will probably insist on names of some people in your group. Give names of the people whom know you the least in the group. What you're looking for is a vague acknowledgement that you have worked on the team, but no real in-depth review of what you have done. Save those more personal reviews for the fake letters from others (see above). It is critical to not let people with close knowledge of your accomplishments into the review process. After all, if you have been fighting the Corporate Battle successfully in the past year, you have been focused solely on your own career, and the poor slobs that have had to bear the burden of your unfinished tasks may not react kindly when asked about your performance.
2) Your Review of Peers
Your manager may ask you for reviews of some of your peers. At this time, you should also send him reviews of any of the star performers in the group; these people are your competition.
Success on the Corporate Battlefield s not an absolute measure, but a relative one. It is not just how you are doing, but how others are doing in comparison to you. So it is just as important to tear others down as it is to build up your own accomplishments to godlike quality.
Your actual reviews should take many forms, but in general should start out with something like this:
"I have enjoyed mentoring [peer] for the past year, despite [his|her] obvious limitations and inability to execute on even the simplest tasks. Compared to my own work on our shared projects this year, their work was shoddy and unfinished, but of course they are still quite junior and may be able to improve some day. For example, on the Fenster Account, I was able to secure commitments from 7 other department heads to proceed forthwith....."Note how the review starts out positive, saying something nice about your co-worker before completely savaging them. Also, note how even when you discuss others on your team, you should mention your own stellar performance; tossing in words like "mentoring," "leading," or in some cases "tolerating" will do nicely. Finally, notice how you can eventually turn the conversation entirely to a description of your performance. Make your manager know that you are really the only person that counts on the team.
3) Self Evaluation
Although your review of peers, if well done, are thinly-veiled autobiographies, your self evaluation is really your chance to shine. This is the time when the manacles come off and you can brag to your fullest ability. No superlative is too great, no description too verbose, and no way you should stop at less than 50 pages. I have even seen some leather-bound books submitted as self-evaluations, which probably made for good night-time reading for the managers. The important thing here is to bury your manager so deeply in details and explanations that they won't have time to check any of the facts. Make any claim you want here, because it's all free.
One tip: when you turn your copy into your manager, apologize for not getting it to him sooner, but explain that some of the executives had asked for it and you had to run those copies off at the same time.
4) Manager Meeting
The review process climaxes in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. They have compiled all of the data above and may have even read some of it. They will then come to some conclusions about your performance that they wish to discuss with you.
This is your final chance. Remember: your manager's conclusions are not set until the end of this meeting. So do whatever you can to improve their impression of you even more.
Start the meeting, before they've even started to speak, with something like:
"I just wanted to tell you that it's been a real pleasure working for you. As I was telling [some executive's name], were it not for such strong management support, I would not have been able to perform at the peak I achieved in the past year. This is my dream job, and you are my dream boss. No matter what the rest of the folks on the team may say about you, I really like working for you."
Finally, after the performance review is over, you may be asked to come up with goals for the next year which you can then be judged upon for the next review.
Only one tip here: keep them vague.
Now get out onto that battlefield and charge forth into the next year.
Remember: in Corporate War, it's not about how well you're doing your job, but how well people think you're doing it. The performance review is a perfect opportunity for you to tell them exactly what to think.