What’s in your highlights folder?

Reflection, it’s not always so easy. When looking back it’s often easiest to focus on what went wrong, things you didn’t do, things that could have gone better, things you wish you hadn’t done altogether. I think this is just human nature, our desire for evolution and improvement. So even though (I think) I know this, why is it often so hard to reflect on the positives, and do so concretely, or even sometimes remember them altogether.

Why am I talking about this? Well it’s that time where I need to look back at the last year of my career and assess my performance, my highlights and opportunities for growth.

Although this post isn’t about reflecting on one’s personal life, at least not directly, I suppose it’s applicable regardless.

Self Analysis

A skill that I have learned to embrace and rely upon time and time again is that of critical self-analysis and awareness. Once I learned that I’m not the smartest person in the room, that the world does not end if I take a vacation and that I have plenty left to learn and skills that consistently need honing, my professional and personal life was much easier. However, a potential pitfall of being overly self-critical, in the pursuit of self-improvement, is that it can easily become all you focus on. Another way to put it, you can often more readily call up failures or “growth opportunities” than successes.

I wish I could recall who gave me the advice, either way thanks again, but one of the best tools in my arsenal, a thing that I can do to help my career, guide impactful 1:1’s and midyear / end of year career discussions is to keep a highlights folder. Since my life largely involves email I literally have a folder in my Inbox called “/Highlights”, it’s under my “/Careers” folder where I keep other useful career oriented emails.

The “/Highlights” folder

It’s easy to brush it off as your manager’s job to know the good work you do right? However why would you relinquish that kind of control to her or him? Also, they are not an Oracle, nor do they have a perfect memory. Are you positive they know everything? (hint: they don’t). Long ago when I was managing a rather large team in Ireland at mid-year and end of year review time I asked each of them to submit the top 5 things they have achieved, and the top 5 things they could have improved or done differently. It was an interesting exercise to see what one person saw as an achievement vs. another, and also to see how self-aware they were in identifying their growth opportunities (here’s a hint you will always have areas for improvement, embrace that and move on). It also allowed me to evaluate myself as their managerm, to see how well I knew what each person was doing, what they identified as their critical successes and growth areas for the yeah, and did it align to my own evaluation of them.

What this ultimately provided me was concrete evidence when comparing individuals on the team and across teams. Don’t kid yourself, regardless of what type of review/promotion system you have, at the end of the day Jill and Jack will be compared if they are both perusing a promotion and their respective managers will need to discuss the merits of both. Easiest way to level that playing field is to arm your manager with the evidence and history for which they can make their case.

So what’s in my folder

This is just some of what I put in my highlights folder, but really it can be anything you want

  • Kudos/thanks/recognition received on work or assistance I provided
    • Ideally this would be from superiors in or outside of my organization as well as from external folks
    • Quotes from others are the best type of recognition to keep in your highlights folder as they empower your manager to engage with that person for more feedback but also, hey doesn’t it feel great when someone else recognizes how awesome you are? Don’t lose that!
  • Emails, documentation or reports that quantify my impact
    • Think along the lines of “Thanks to Marc’s work there was a global increase of x% on Y”
    • Anything that is concrete and shows your impact is super important to keep track of
  • Emails I send to myself that highlights something I’m particularly proud of accomplishing
    • Yes I send myself emails with the subject “Highlight: something something” where I outline something I’m proud of that I then file under *”/Highlights”

Side benefit

On those days where you just aren’t feeling like a rockstar or you’ve gone through some thoughtful critical self-assessment a quick look at your highlights folder will remind you that yes although not perfect you are still awesome :)


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