How to Approach a Year-End Performance Review

Insights from an actuary Tiana Zhao


The end of the year is always a great time to reflect and make plans for the year ahead. While a year-end performance review is expected, not many people make the most of it. Here are a few suggestions for approaching the year-end performance review.

Setting Career Goals

Seneca the Younger, a stoic philosopher of ancient Rome, once said, “No wind blows in favor of a ship without direction.” It is important to think about both long-term and short-term career goals to understand if you have made good progress during the past year and how you can consistently grow in the coming year.

However, not everyone is crystal clear about what their career goals are. When considering what you want to get out of your work, you can analyze patterns to figure out your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. One way to approach this is to ask yourself questions like:

  • What do you like most about your role?
  • What do you wish were different?
  • Is there anything you would like to get more exposure to?

You can also get feedback from those around you regarding your strengths, weaknesses and other opportunities. For example, an actuary who works in valuation but wants to learn more about pricing could volunteer to be the liaison with the pricing team.

Another thing to look at when considering career goals is what you might need to expand the repertoire of your skill set. One way to do this is to think about what abilities you have in your toolkit and what skills you would like to gain. Once you have figured those out, you should have a conversation with your leader about getting exposure to opportunities that can help you gain specific skills. For example, suppose your teammate has been involved with modeling development, and you want to improve your technical modeling skills. In that case, you could ask your leader and your teammate if they are comfortable with doing a light task swapping, so you can gain more skills related to modeling and your teammate can take on some of your responsibilities.

It’s also essential to seek mentors and get advice. Networking with others and finding people whose paths interest you can be valuable. Their advice may help you set or refine your career goals.

360-Degree Performance Review

A lot of the time, performance reviews are between the manager and direct report only. However, in my experience, it would be best to get feedback from every direction to have a more effective performance review. This includes self-reflection, feedback vertically (i.e., from your manager and direct report), feedback horizontally (i.e., your stakeholders) and sometimes even feedback diagonally (your stakeholders’ leaders or direct reports). This is often called a 360-degree performance review.

When doing a 360-degree performance review, you should ask specific questions to direct the conversations. For example, if the conversation stalls when your direct report says they do not have any feedback for you, you can structure the conversation by telling them what you are currently working on, (e.g., delegating or coaching) and ask them if they have any observations. Another way to get concrete feedback is to ask others what they would do if they were in your shoes.

A 360-degree performance review is also an opportunity to ask open-ended questions to explore areas you might not have thought about. When you receive feedback from all directions, it is important to ask everyone: “Is there anything I can do to support you better?” For your leaders, this may mean how you can improve to reduce their stress and deliver more value to the business. For your peers and stakeholders, this may mean how you can better help them with their work and processes and get things done. From the perspective of your direct report, it may be ensuring that you are giving them the right opportunities for growth and development and the proper support for things they value, such as work-life balance.

Remember to reflect on your own performance as well. It is important to consider both hits and misses to identify reinforcing behaviors and constructive ones. This could help you better focus on your strengths and what you need to improve on.

It is also important to recognize your efforts. For example, if it is your first time doing something, you should recognize that you may require additional time to learn and understand the work and may run into more struggles than someone who is more experienced in the role. Or if you are a leader, you should recognize that leadership can be demanding and exhausting, and the key is that you did your best and you are seeking to improve.

Taking time to reflect and assess your work helps ensure you are making progress toward your goals. One thing to realize is that busyness and activity do not equate to achievements. You might always be busy, but you might not achieve much. Knowing how and where you spend your time is important to better assess effectiveness.

Finally, when it comes to evaluating your performance, you should recognize non-promotable tasks and understand how they are affecting your work. While these non-promotable tasks, like running an internship program, may be critical to the organization’s success, they don’t directly relate to the top or bottom line. Thus, they don’t have the attention of management and likely would not help you earn a promotion.

When something is not in your job description and could take a significant amount of time, you should assess the pros and cons of taking on a non-promotable task. Ask yourself what you can get out of it. Does it mean you could learn an important skill? Is it for a cause that’s dear to your heart and that you would love to pursue as a volunteer activity? Could it help you build relationships with other individuals who might help you in the future?


In short, it is important to take advantage of year-end reviews, as they provide a great opportunity for you to review your career goals and seek feedback. Then, based on the feedback and your own self-reflection, you can further refine your goals and continue to grow the following year.

Tiana Zhao, FSA, CERA, ACIA, is a senior associate actuary on the international pricing team at Sun Life. She is also a contributing editor for The Actuary Canada.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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