With the final quarter of the Year of the Dog approaching, many white-collar workers are looking forward to their annual bonuses. But before the red envelopes are handed out, something needs to be handed in: the dreaded annual performance evaluation.
In Chinese companies, the annual evaluation is like a report card that the employees make for themselves. Writing one involves careful curating: You need to make all your contributions clear, but must not brag; acknowledge problems, without complaining too much; you may appraise the rest of the team, but not simply criticize your co-workers.
There’s a subtle art to writing these professional summaries. Certain cultural and literary techniques should be deployed if one is to receive the coveted bonus that hopefully makes up for all the late nights and long commutes—and interminable written reports.
Tough talk may work wonders on the factory floor, but when it comes to sucking up to one’s superiors, a soft, slightly sentimental opening goes over better with Chinese employers than a forthright introduction. A focus on tempus fugit is a classic way to go:
Time flies like an arrow; 2018 draws to a frenetic close. Looking back on the year, I am full of emotion.
Guāngyīn sìjiàn, èr líng yī bā nián jiù zhèyàng zài mánglù zhōng jiējìn wěishēng. Huígù guòqù de yì nián, wǒ gǎnkǎi liángduō.
It’s probably best to begin by listing one’s achievements—and be sure to leave nothing out, no matter how small! Wise employees must assume their manager or employer will never remember anything they have accomplished (but will certainly remember every screw-up). With this in mind, it’s never redundant to remind people of your contributions in a performance evaluation. However, outright boasting and credit-hogging are frowned upon in a Confucian culture of modesty, so it’s always safe to begin by sharing the praise around:
In this past year, due to all my colleagues’ touching concern and selfless assistance, I successfully completed my work.
Yì nián lái, zài tóngshìmen de xīxīn guānhuái hé wúsī bāngzhù xià, wǒ shùnlì wánchéng le zìjǐ de gōngzuò.
This year, owing to the sincere cooperation of all our team members, every project has gone smoothly.
Guòqù yì nián zhōng, wǒmen tuánduì de suǒyǒu chéngyuán jīngchéng hézuò, gè xiàng gōngzuò jìnzhǎn shùnlì.
Now, it’s safe to transition to your own achievements. If you have done a terrific job over the past year, feel free to use some particularly bold words—and make sure that when you show off, you are only casting yourself in your company’s reflected glory:
This year, we made historic breakthroughs in technological research.
Jīnnián, wǒmen zài jìshù yánfā shang qǔde le lìshǐxìng tūpò.
The release of this new product was a milestone in the development of our company.
Zhè yì xīn chǎnpǐn de fābù shì wǒmen gōngsī fāzhǎn dàolù shang yí zuò xīn de lǐchéngbēi.
When bragging about results, numbers are always helpful. One trick to make yours seem impressive is to compare them to previous years’ (especially if they were before your time):
Our turnover increased by 30 percent compared with the previous year.
Wǒmen jīnnián de yíngyè’é bǐ qùnián zēngzhǎng le bǎi fēnzhī sānshí.
As of this year, we have opened 24 stores across the country, four times as many as last year.
Wǒmen zài quánguó kāishè de méndiàn yǐjīng dádào èrshísì jiā, shì qùnián de sì bèi.
What if you didn’t do anything of particular note? Don’t worry, simply position your lackluster achievements in vague terms:
This year, the overseas sales of our products saw a sharp increase compared with last year, and performance in the domestic market met our expectations.
Zhè yì nián, wǒmen chǎnpǐn de hǎiwài xiāoliàng xiǎnzhù zēngzhǎng, guónèi shìchǎng biǎoxiàn fúhé yùqī.
Or emphasize something that can’t be measured:
This year, our advertising strategy was effective, and built a positive brand image for the company.
Běn niándù, wǒmen de guǎnggào zhànlüè zhuóyǒu chéngxiào, wèi gōngsī shùlì le liánghǎo de pǐnpái xíngxiàng.
If there were, in fact, no real quantifiable successes to report, focus less on the outcome, and instead, stress that it is the thought that counts:
This year, we set forth into the realm of e-commerce for the first time. This was a new experiment for our sales models.
Jīnnián, wǒmen shǒucì shèzú diànshāng lǐngyù, zhè shì wǒmen zài xiāoshòu móshì shang yí cì xīn de chángshì.
And even if the groundbreaking experiment hasn’t panned out so far, it’s surely just a matter of time. Everyone is very busy, and focused on the future:
We are currently in negotiation with the vendors. A new cooperative strategy will be agreed upon shortly and will help reduce our overhead.
Wǒmen yǔ gōngyìngshāng de tánpàn zhèngzài jìnxíng zhōng, hěnkuài huì xíngchéng xīn de hézuò fāng’àn, kěyǐ bāngzhù wǒmen jiàngdī chéngběn.
The team works
If you are a team leader, it’s also your responsibility to report on the condition of your whole team. You can focus on the collective contributions:
Though our R&D team was established less than six months ago, they have already overcome the chief technical difficulties of this project.
Wǒmen de yánfā xiǎozǔ chénglì hái búdào bànnián, jiù yǐjīng gōngkè le zhège xiàngmù de zhǔyào jìshù nándiǎn.
Or the achievements of individual workers:
Our team member, Zhang, became the No.1 sales representative of the entire company.
Wǒmen tuánduì de Xiǎo Zhāng chéngwéi quán gōngsī de xiāoshòu guànjūn.
But if you’re a new employee, it may not be appropriate for you to report on others’ work. So, just discuss personal growth:
Though it was my first year with the company, I was lucky enough to be involved in three projects. From these experiences, I have become capable of completing new projects independently.
Suīrán wǒ jīnnián cái jiārù gōngsī, dàn què yǒuxìng cànyǔ le sān gè xiàngmù. Tōngguò jīngyàn de lěijī, wǒ xiànzài yǐjǐng kěyǐ dúlì yùnyíng xīn xiàngmù le.
Acknowledge errors (but not too much)
Work is not just about progress and achievements. Frustrations are inevitable, and, while it’s never easy to face failures, you need to at least acknowledge them. But an evaluation is not an apology, and problems should be analyzed for root causes. This will make you look more responsible:
Influenced by the China-US trade war, the price of our raw material imports has increased dramatically, meaning that this year’s profits failed to meet expectations.
Shòu Zhōng-Měi màoyìzhàn de yǐngxiǎng, wǒmen de jìnkǒu yuáncáiliào jiàgé dàfú shàngzhǎng, dǎozhì běn niándù yínglì méiyǒu dǎdào yùqī mùbiāo.
Then, to show you’re still in control, offer solutions:
In the future, we will look for new suppliers domestically and control the cost of production.
Wèilái, wǒmen huì zài guónèi xúnzhǎo xīn de gōngyìngshāng, kòngzhì shēngchǎn chéngběn.
Like all good writing, you should always finish up before things drag on too long. The conclusion should cover three bases: looking forward to the future, setting new goals, and expressing resolve.
The upcoming year will bring us many more opportunities, as well as more challenges. The team will work harder to produce more high-quality results.
Xīn de yì nián, wǒmen jiāng huì yínglái gèngduō jīyù, tóngshì yě jiāng zāoyù gèngduō tiǎozhàn. Wǒmen tuánduì jiānghuì gèngjiā nǔlì, lìqiú qǔdé gènghǎo de chéngjì.
And, of course, here is an all-purpose sentence that can never go wrong, whether this was a year when you made a breakthrough or your entire team quit in protest:
We gained valuable experience in the process of completing this task.
Wǒmen zài zhège guòchéng zhōng shòuhuò le bǎoguì de jīngyàn.
“Performance Anxiety” is a story from our issue, “Curiosities and Quests”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.