The Only Way is Up! Career Progression Through Performance Management

By Heather Foley

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We’re sometimes so busy thinking about what we need to achieve each day, that we don’t have time to think about what we’d like to achieve in a year’s time, or where we’d like to be in ten.  But, if planning for career progression is last on your ‘to do’ list, performance management can help you.  Consider your next appraisal as not simply a time to analyse your current position, but as the key opportunity for developing your future.

Plan your next move

Before your next appraisal, take some time to think about your career.  Asking yourself some simple questions will help you to ensure you’re focused on your career development.  Consider what you enjoy and try to be honestly critical about your strengths and weaknesses.   

There is a temptation to think that career progression means aiming for your boss’s job, but sometimes it pays to think more creatively. At times, a sideways move may be as or even more beneficial to your long-term career plans.  Consider time-lines by asking yourself where you would like to be in one year, five years, even ten.  An example case study can illustrate this. 

My friend, who works in marketing, was aiming for the role of sales and marketing director and hoped to achieve it in five years.  However, she realised that she didn’t have any real sales experience, so decided to take a job in the sales department for two years (a sideways move, career-wise), in order to gain valuable experience.  Thus, when the time came, she was uniquely placed to be sales and marketing director, being able to demonstrate her knowledge of both areas. 

This kind of thinking even helps people at the top of their career.  For example, CEOs who come from a sales, marketing or finance background are often placed into HR roles because, after all, a CEO needs experience of managing people.  Thinking creatively about your career may mean that you don’t always follow a linear path.


An essential part of performance management is the planning and setting of targets.  In order to work to your advantage, ensure that they are SMARTER targets (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated and then re-evaluated).  What’s more, they should be linked to your company’s objectives.  In that way, you will have a better chance of being noticed for career advancement.  If you want to shine, plan not simply to meet your targets, but to exceed them. 

In addition to these targets that are set as part of your appraisal, however, you can set your own, quarterly review.  By planning these milestones for yourself, you’ll guarantee that you’re on-track to meet the big targets.

Keep track

Give yourself a competitive advantage during the appraisal process by ensuring you have evidence of your achievements and efforts.  In between appraisals, ensure you are gathering this evidence.  When you complete a project, ask for written feedback about your performance from the team; and document other successful outcomes in your job, such as hitting sales targets, or achieving customer satisfaction levels.

Get on board a 360

If 360 degree feedback isn’t currently a part of your performance management process, than suggest it is introduced.  It has a number of advantages that will really aid your career progression.  It’s a comprehensive approach to feedback, and, therefore, unbiased. 

Your colleagues’ opinions can really help you get a clear picture of what you’re like in the workplace, which, in turn, will help you to make decisions about the career path.  The 360 also focuses on how you achieve at work, not just what you achieve.  This is something that becomes increasingly important to know as you progress in your career.

The Follow-up Date

At the end of the appraisal process, good practice dictates that you should book an appointment for a follow-up meeting.  This next meeting is something you should prepare for, both mentally, and with documentation.  Have an agenda ready for this discussion, in case your manager does not.  Items for examination could include the recapping of objectives, identifying whether they have been met and agreeing any areas for further development.  Any identified weaknesses should be tackled too, with fresh targets and an interim review set.

Throughout this stage, the conversation should also include confirmation of what will lead to your next promotion.  Make sure your manager is specific about what you need to do, what the success measures are and when promotion will be considered.

Embrace it!

Performance management really can be your best route to career progression.  It’s comprehensive, clear and fair and it’s a time where you can be firmly in control. Speak openly about your ambition and what you want as your next step.  With a bit of careful planning and evidence gathering, you’ll soon have your next move clearly in view!


Heather Foley is a consultant at ETSplc, a UK-based HR Consultancy.

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