Insight article

Preparing For Your Annual Review with Tom Leonard, Global IT Director at Newell Rubbermaid

Tom Leonard (LinkedIN) has been one of the most influential mentors throughout my career in IT staffing. I find myself especially fortunate to have met this outstanding IT leader and a stand-up guy 14 years ago. I was able to benefit from his candid advice and encouragement for so many years! I got to watch Tom climb the corporate ladder along with many other managers, whom I had met around the same time. I learned that there is more than one way to progress in a corporate world. Although Tom’s approach didn’t put him on the fastest career track, always taking the high road gave him a long-term advantage. As a result, Tom has surrounded himself with many powerful supporters. Today, he gladly offers help and expertise to other growing leaders.

It’s that time of the year when everyone is worried about their annual review, since most companies have adopted the route of having everyone write a self-evaluation. A number of my former candidates have asked me very good questions about how to take maximum advantage of this process. They want to position themselves for a pay increase or even a promotion next year.  I couldn’t imagine anyone better to interview on this very hot topic.

Maria: Tom, what advice can you give to IT professionals such as engineers and business analysts on how to best handle their self-evaluation? I get questions on all the related specifics from tone to content of the performance evaluation document.

Tom: First and foremost, be honest, accurate and have details.  Your self-evaluation is an opportunity to describe your performance over the review period to your manager, your HR representative and most importantly, to yourself.   Don’t get me wrong, you want to highlight your successes and positively influence the key decision-makers regarding your pay increase. However, your comments should be a value to yourself, so you can articulate what you did well and what you did not do well, but leveraged as a learning opportunity.  Here are four tips to consider as you write your review.

  • Highlight your successes with a fair level of detail. Your audience is usually more than just your manager, so in easy to understand terms explain the project, task or event where you excelled.  HR and Finance teams may be involved in your evaluation and they need to understand the value.
  • Use actual results, real numbers, and preferably real dollars measured against your SMART objectives. Basic facts such as “reduce cost”, “increased revenue”, “reduced downtime”, “faster performance”, etc. are objective and very powerful – especially if you have exceeded your targets.
  • For successes, especially in a team environment, be specific regarding who you assisted and/or collaborated with (names of leadership is great) to accomplish the objective. This provides credibility and commitment to being a team player.  Of course, be sure the person mentioned is aware of the project and your effort.
  • If you had an issue or failure, own it. Again, you don’t want to dwell on it and fill your review with mistakes made, but if you can briefly explain and emphasize the learnings, you will be in a better position in the future.

Maria: Would you recommend a different approach to writing a self-evaluation to IT leaders (mid- / senior- level management)?

Tom: As IT leaders and managers, your focus should be the people you direct. You should include appropriate level of detail and real numbers, but your performance is about the team.  Describe the results of the team and what “we” accomplished.  A leader’s evaluation should not be about what he/she did, but how the leader motivated, directed and assisted the greater team.  In short, make sure you have collaboration, motivation and communication successes in your review.

Maria: Please tell us how you would suggest preparing for an actual in-person review with your boss, with your ultimate goals in mind. Some of my contacts wonder if by the time you sit down to discuss your review, the decision on your salary increase or a potential promotion has already been made. If this is correct in some places, how can one maximize the value of such a review meeting to the best of their advantage anyway?

Tom: If you receive your merit increase at the same time you have your in-person review, one could conclude the decision on the increase has already happened.  That being the case is the reason you need to really focus on providing the details and facts in your self-evaluation.  Preferably, you will have an on-going discussion with your manager throughout the year and not just at annual review time.  Regardless, the better your self-evaluation is written, the better chance you will achieve your goals.

If you conduct the in-person review and then a few weeks later you are notified of a merit change, the in-person review does have an impact.  The key is to be cool, calm and collected.  You should definitely prepare by reading your self-evaluation and pick out the highlights as your manager may want more detail or simply discuss your comments.  Your manager’s feedback may be critical.  Don’t get emotional – it never helps (that means no crying or yelling).  Even if your manager is a jerk, listen to their feedback, take notes and let it sink in.  Do the same for positive feedback.  Listen, take notes and let it sink in.  Remember, as a famous philosopher once said, “and too this shall pass”.

Maria: If you had your review and it did not meet your expectations, say your boss blind-sided you with unexpected criticism or a surprisingly-low rating. Should this be taken as a sign  for you to give-up on your progress within your organization, and begin to look for a new opportunity? If not, what measures could you take to potentially turn things around?

Tom: That’s a tough question. It really depends a lot on the opportunity, your career and family, etc.  However, I have been there and done that.  If you get a really big surprise and you are concerned about your job and career, I recommend you write a response.  Be objective and fair, again, no emotion or blaming others.  Explain your actions and why you chose those actions.  Now that you have written your response, read it as an objective 3rd party.  Read it and share with your closest confidant, wait a week, and then decide if you think the response, if given to your manager, will add value.  In some cases, if the evaluation is objectively not accurate, not truthful and not applicable, you may need to involve HR.  The key is to be honest with yourself.

Maria: Our last question is a little tricky, we know you have seen many self-evaluations, and have given just as many reviews to your direct reports. Please give us some DON’Ts. What are some of the things you shouldn’t say in your self-evaluation or mention in your reviews with your boss? Could you advise my readers against potentially career-limiting moves this year?


  • Don’t try to be funny. Saying you have exceeded your safety competency because you don’t run with scissors may seem funny at the time but when read weeks later by HR, it is likely to lose its luster.
  • Don’t ever blame a specific individual or team for not meeting an objective or competency. This is your performance evaluation and not a platform for criticizing others.
  • Don’t blatantly exaggerate your accomplishments. Claiming a value-add of over $100K better have specific supporting facts and should not be a surprise to your boss.

Here is Tom’s wonderful and as always, very candid advice, which is totally aligned with his own career strategy. As I was listening to his answers, I realized that while writing self-evaluations is a process typically dreaded, it is an essential part of one’s professional growth. Even if this task doesn’t add direct value with your current employer, it will force you to reassess your current worth and make updating your LinkedIn profile and resume a breeze!

Tom was kind enough to offer to answer any additional questions you may have, so please comment. If you have a difficult situation, I would be happy to arrange a one-on-one conversation with him. He truly believes in paying it forward and despite his demanding role at Newell, always finds time to help others.

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