> You need to track every instance of your good work, every demonstration of your value to the company. You need to know what form your performance feedback will take (quick meeting? annual review? panel?) and be ready with all the ammo/leverage/savvy/whatever you want to call it. You have to be able to show what you're worth, what the company loses by losing you (loss aversion works on your boss too) and all that.
While it's true that you should know why you are valuable to your company, I think following this advice thinking it will help you to get ahead would be a misstep.
I've found since moving abroad that this attitude and the environment which cultivates it is one of the less healthy aspects of working for a US software company. I think anyone in a New Zealand software company who tracked their every achievement and bandied it about looking for their prize would be the least trusted person in the organisation.
As an engineer-turned-manager myself, I can tell you that the best way to get promoted is to consistently deliver value and to help others to do the same. While in a formal performance review it's likely necessary as a matter of process to hold up past achievements, you'll do much better to focus on the future value you'll deliver.
If you're feeling like your achievements are going unnoticed perhaps be a bit proactive and ask your manager if they might offer some advice on areas in which you could improve and how you might go about this improvement. Assuming they bite, follow their advice.
That said, if you feel consistently undervalued you're either not good at consistently delivering value, or you work for a bad manager/company. If it is your own incompetence you likely won't recognise it if you are spending all of your time tracking what you perceive to be achievements.
Its so easy for the last thing you did to color your manager's view of your performance.
But there are also some missteps.
I did not recommend brandishing your accomplishments. I do recommend knowing what they are and being able to prove them though. Knowledge of self is never a bad thing.
This whole spiel also isn't about individual managers. When i refer to the employer-employee relationship, the employer side isn't one person (usually), it's a process, structure, system. So it's possible for you to be the best manager (smart, compassionate, aware of your subordinate's contributions) and for the system to still suck e.g. too few promotions/raises to go around, manager has to sell his boss on you etc. etc.
Here's the rub. We are all responsible for our careers. You, me, all of us. It is always the individual's responsibility to champion himself/herself (all external support is of course welcome). Telling employees to work hard and leave the "championship" to their managers seems rather naive to me (and a little paternal).
Great careers don't just happen. Your manager isn't (always, or even frequently) going to bestow one upon you after noticing all the good things you do.
It's all you.
I especially agree with your points that knowledge of self is never a bad thing, and that you are responsible for your own career. I'd never advise ignorance over one's achievements, but I also think everyone has their own biases (positive and negative) in their reflection of their own work history. The magic bit here is that you can adopt a process of continuous improvement through good communication with your manager and never have to worry about these biases.
Maybe this is inflating my own self-importance as a manager, but I have to disagree to some extent that this isn't about individual managers. It's been my experience that individual managers can make or break your career. It may be different for outside sales roles and the like, but in engineering an employees manager is usually the face of the company to the employee.
That said, you're absolutely right about the importance of the process/structure/system. If your company has policies which limit or accelerate personal advancement this will affect you in a big, big way.
Finally regarding NZ , I think those of us from the USA could stand to learn a thing or two from kiwis. Distrust of self-promotion is certainly not limited to employer/employee relationships. There's a saying here that goes something like "the kumara  never sings of its own sweetness." The stereotypical kiwi never points out their own greatness and is generally fairly quiet and reserved or even self-effacing when others do it for them. I wouldn't say it's rude to point out people's achievements here, but if done wrong it certainly could cause a bit of awkwardness.
The attitude against cultivation of one's status certainly doesn't eliminate social classes here, but it does go quite a long way as a major equalizing force within society. As a side effect it seems to help feed a natural desire toward frugality, as generally people aren't spending to "keep up with the Jones'."
In spite of the positives, it definitely can swing a bit too much toward the pathological at times w/ tall poppy syndrome and the like. While I think it impacts performance review processes less due to already (generally) having an established relationship with the reviewer, I think people are a bit less comfortable "selling themselves" in job interviews. Also I'd have to imagine that it'd be a bit more difficult to drum up consulting work here from basic networking techniques in the same way that you can in the USA.
1: I'm making some gross generalizations here, and I've only lived here for ~2.5 years, so I'm hardly well-qualified as an authority on NZ culture. Take this well salted.
2: Root vegetable which is quite similar to a sweet potato
Man, I hope we all get all more great managers. It makes a world of difference when you get one, it just feels so rare.
>> the kumara  never sings of its own sweetness
I really like that saying (Kumara also looks delicious). I feel like I've known a few people with that attitude, and it was always a pleasure working with them. It just sucks that they usually didn't get as far as they deserved. All in all, it (actively managing your career vs being humble and letting your work speak for itself) is a tough balance to keep. Worth the effort though.
Your replies help me remember that all the people in this employer-employee relationship are fully complex and rounded individuals. That's something i ought to remember more of the time, so thank you.
Maybe it all comes down to odds. How much can an employee leave to chance, to the good nature of his manager, the fairness of his company's performance review process?
Who said anything at all about "bandying about" performance? The point of the parent comment is that this information should be reserved for the performance review with your employer, not for office chit-chat or politics. You can't claim your proper value as an engineer unless you know how well you've performed.