How to: Be a Highly Rated Performer

This post will (eventually) discuss how to be a highly rated performer.  For many of you, being a highly rated performer is the pinnacle.  You worked hard to land a job with the Big 4. Why not go all out to be the top of your class?

My advice: Be careful

To clarify, Goodhart’s Law states:

When the measure becomes the target, it ceases to be a good measure.

The Big 4 performance rating system is not the perfect measure of your career/growth. Striving to be a highly rated performer can be exhausting and, ultimately, unfulfilling. 

Be Careful!

The highest rated performers typically fall into one of three groups, those who:

  1. work so hard they eventually burn out and quit
  2. make incredible personal sacrifices to achieve at work, such that work becomes their life
  3. blend technical ability, exceptional communication skills, great team management, and a rigorous work ethic (that is just shy of #1 & #2)

Our natural tendency when we see this list is to assume, we will thread the needle.  We are the rare #3.  I would caution you with this thinking.  As, most #1’s & #2’s started out thinking they were #3’s. 

Moreover, it is very difficult to achieve #3. And even if you channel your #3 and become a highly rated performer the right way:

  • the treadmill starts again next year, and
  • you will always be competing with #1’s & #2’s. Those who are willing to make considerable personal sacrifice to get ahead at work. Over time, it will be challenging to not give into to the #1/#2 lifestyle (i.e. the Dark Side). 

Note: I am not saying that #3 is not worth pursuing. But, it is important to point out the inherent challenges if your goal is tied solely to a performance rating.

Now, on to How to: Become a Highly Rated Performer 🙂

Make Their Life Easier

Early in my career, a mentor shared with me:

The #1 way to become highly regarded (and often highly rated) at the Big 4 is to make your superiors life easier. 

The start of a career at the Big 4 is challenging. Sadly, it does not get less challenging as you progress in your career. 

As such, seniors, managers & partners love when a team member makes their life easier. 

Therefore, figure out a way to take something off their plate. 

For instance, execute your work at a high-level to reduce their required level of review. Have the difficult conversation, so they don’t have to. Head off client issues before they bubble up to their level (and communicate the resolution).

Step 1 before Step 2

In How to: Develop Your Career, we shared one pillar for growth is to do your job.  No one wants to give a special, high-profile assignment to the team member who can’t tie their own shoes. 

  • Is your work completed timely AND with high quality? 
  • Are you organizationally proficient such that things don’t slip through the cracks?

Canadian philosophy professor, Jordan Peterson, captured this sentiment in his harsh advice for college students who wanted to move to Step 2 before Step 1.

…don’t be fixing up the economy, 18-year-olds. You don’t know anything about the economy. It’s a massive complex machine beyond anyone’s understanding and you mess with at your peril. So, can you even clean up your own room? No. Well you think about that. You should think about that, because if you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?

Likewise, many of us would benefit from this sentiment at work. Are you executing your current tasks at a high level?  If so, meaningful opportunities will present themselves. If not, “clean your room” first.

Cherry on Top

Do something to differentiate yourself. 

Lead

Lead recruiting events. Take a leadership role in an office group.  Lead the United Way campaign or other office event.  Instruct firm trainings. The operative word is lead.  Don’t sit on the sidelines.

Demonstrate you are a team player

Don’t let your busy season end (warning: see #1 & #2 above).  When your client wraps up, roll onto another client that is still in the thick of it. The engagement manager will remember your help come assessment time.

Additionally, volunteer to work on a short-term out of town project. Note: a long-term out of town project can have the opposite affect (if it comes down to tie, your local office management usually give the nod to the person who worked directly for them). 

Other

  • Act Like an Owner
  • Work to improve the quadrant(s) of the Development Matrix where you are below average
  • Get a mentor. They will help you zoom out and think strategically. In addition, they may be particularly helpful if they are a participant in the assessment process.
  • Engage existing and potential clients in a meaningful way
  • Cheap, but effective advice: Work really hard in the month or two leading up to the assessment meeting (managers often have short-term memories)

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