We’ve all been there, your yearly review is looming with your manager, and you feel somewhat unprepared. You think you’ve had a professionally impactful year and feel pretty pleased with what you’ve achieved, but how on earth do you convey all of that? On top of figuring out your strengths, where you’d like to grow, and what goals you’d like to set and achieve by next year?

At Novoda, we developed a new framework to support this and tested it in our internal 121s. First, we wanted to create an interactive, asynchronous, and rewarding process. It needed to be as beneficial to our direct reports as managers to allow everyone to get the most value out of our time together. Finally, we wanted the process to be agile and iterative as we grew and adapted to the team’s dynamics.

Most importantly, we envisioned something that we could use regularly – not just every six months – and with enough flexibility, it could adapt to different individuals and their needs. At Novoda, we have a culture focusing on learning and curiosity, and it is essential to enable that at a self-reflection level.

We created a flexible framework that can adapt to different personalities and needs. It’s an organic tool you can regularly re-visit and re-adapt together over time, outside the official performance review period. It’s more casual, less formal and therefore easier to use.

If you manage a team, we encourage you to run through this process yourself before speaking to your reports about it. It will help you to build empathy and a deeper understanding of the tasks while you support and guide others. It helps to tailor your approach and understand your direct reports better – what motivates them and what could be challenging. It will highlight patterns based on their previous experience, current role and ambitions and, as a result, allow you to more effectively advise them both in the long run and within the realm of day-to-day support.

Having a career progression framework can help ensure you can support and guide everyone sensibly at a personal and professional level while also aligning with the team/organisation’s growth strategy. It provides a better understanding of team dynamics. It allows you to identify personal preferences, needs and motivators, and opportunities for people to pair and mentor each other.

Self-Assessment Activities

This self-assessment framework focuses on the person’s past, present and future, and expectations. It helps to define and work towards their desired path within their field, current role, team and organisation, and general. Flexible and adaptive, we’ve designed it to evolve with time and to be personalised.

The self-assessment can give a better overview of individual progression. Additionally, it unveils real opportunities for managers and the organisation at large to support their (e.g. who could help/mentor, what can be done both short and long term, what opportunities are available, what initiatives make sense to start, etc.) Finally, it can be a way to assess against the organisation’s benchmark in place and expectations for their role.

There are a few impactful activities that you can do to build up your self-awareness and have more meaningful conversations with your manager:

Career Timeline: Highlights and Lowlights

Aastha Gaur’s article “The First Career Conversation” and Jason Mesut’s “Shaping Design and Designers” inspired us to start our framework with a career timeline exercise. This reflective approach is a great tool to enable self-reflection tangibly, and we recommend everyone take the time to do it for themselves. Regardless if you plan on using the self-assessment framework or not. By focusing on their past career, people can quickly identify what occurrences were positive or negative and use this information to inform future steps and better articulate their needs and expectations.

To make informed choices about the things you need to be happy and successful in your career, it’s helpful to reflect on your highlights and lowlights. What were the emotional highs and lows of your previous jobs and employers? What events or themes explain some of the peaks and troughs?

An example of a career progression map

Radar Chart: Skills mapping

A radar chart is a method of displaying data represented on axes starting from the same point. It looks similar to a spiderweb. Plotting your confidence in your skills on a chart allows you to visually compare your skills and see which areas you excel in. This approach is great to adapt for each team depending on the required skill sets.

Over time you can compare charts from each review and see how your chart is developing and changing. This will show which areas you are the strongest in, which is critical to identify as you tend to grow skills where you already have a natural strength or capability due to your experience, interests, working style or personality.

An example of a self assessment framework

Reverse Goal Setting

Instead of working out what you want to achieve, try to write down all the things you don’t want to happen and then focus on the areas you have control of and turn them into goals. This approach is a great way to set more achievable goals that are precise and contextual. It is also a great way to create goals to mitigate risk.

For example, “I don’t want to make products that people struggle to use”.

Your goals could be:

  • Get feedback from users once a month on my prototypes before implementation.
  • Share my ideas and prototypes with my colleagues to get feedback on usability.
  • Integrate usability-specific analytics to track how the product is used by customers post-release.

Once you select goals, turning them into SMART goals is good practice. This is a five-step process to build a concise and measurable goal that allows you to understand what needs to be accomplished, when, and how you know when you’ve been successful – making it easier to create more achievable goals and track your process.

For each of your goals, check that they are…

Specific – What objective needs to be accomplished?

Measurable – What are the trackable benchmarks?

Achievable – Is your goal within reach?

Relevant – Does the goal matter to your organisation?

Time-bound – What is the designated time frame?

Test it out

Following the success of this self-assessment, all the designers within our team now have their own miro board with the self-assessment tasks that they can use anytime. We’ve also rolled it out to the engineering team, who are also reaping the benefits of having a structured framework.

If you want to try it with your team, you can find the Self Assessment Miro template on Miroverse. Once you’ve run through these tasks, personally and with your direct reports, you’ll both be more self-aware and will find it easier to talk about what you want from your career. Reviews will become more manageable; you’ll feel more confident and have fewer barriers when asking for what you need and want.

Go Further

Feel free to try other exercises or adapt the examples listed in this article to your team and organisation’s specific needs.

This overview of all the exercises used in the Jason Mesut Shaping Designers & Design Teams series is full of excellent resources for self-reflection and career progression for engineers and designers alike. 

We would love to hear how you personalised your framework and used the exercises!