Headhunters are starting to fixate on one word: "upgrading."
"The game for 2012 will be upgrading," says one. "Most banks are going keep overall headcount steady so it will be one in, one out."
For upgrading to be legally acceptable, banks have two main options:
1) Redundancies in Q3 and Q4, with redundant employees made to sign compromise agreements before they can access redundancy payments above the statutory minimum (thereby preventing them from bringing court cases when someone else is hired in their place).
2) Job cuts in Q1 2012, with severed employees removed on the basis of underperformance.
Either way, annual and quarterly performance reviews/appraisals have suddenly become incredibly important. Non-performers will have non-jobs. So will performers who receive a poor review because they haven't played the game properly.
Manipulating these reviews in order to do well can be hard, especially if they're '360 degree' and involve feedback from juniors, seniors, peers (and sometimes clients). Adrian Furnham, professor of organizational psychology at UCL says it's impossible: "If you are a charlatan or a fake or a cad, they will catch you. In a 360 degree appraisal, people will tell the truth."
Others disagree. It is possible to game your performance review, you just need to be clever. Want to play the getting-a-good-review-game? Then try:
1) Offering to appraise plenty of other people
Some banks using 360 degree appraisals will allow you to select who appraises you. If this is the case where you work, set up mutual appraisal dependency relationships: offer to appraise someone pleasantly if they return the favour.
"When I was managing a desk of 25 people, they each picked 10 or 12 people to review them. It was impossible for me to keep track of whether those people were simply their friends," says the former head of European equities desk at one US bank.
2) Ensuring there's a clear link between yourself and some notable achievements
Teamwork is one thing, but working on purely collaborative projects where it's difficult for you to isolate your contribution will do you no favours at all. You need to be able to point to where you personally made a difference. And to quantify that.
3) Showing a degree of modesty in the self-appraisal
Even though MDs at Goldman appear to have no compunction in asserting that they are God's gift, copying them will not necessarily do you any favours.
"In a 360 degree appraisal, it's all about the disparity between what you say about yourself and what everyone else says about you," says the ex-equities head. "If you say you're a 5 and everyone else says you're a 3, it just suggests you're a narcissist with a big blind spot.
"You're much more likely to keep your job if you can say where you are and recognize your development points," he adds.
4) Taking special care if you're a minority
Anecdotally, minorities tend to do worse in appraisals. They end up getting rated badly, possibly due to unconscious prejudices. Because they are appraised badly, they suffer disproportionately in any clear-out (regardless of anti-discrimination laws). If you are a minority, be aware of this and work feverishly at points 1-3.
"There are always more women selected for redundancy than men," says the equities head. "Women need to be aware of that and to work at their performance in the appraisal process."