How to handle the self-evaluation component of your performance assessment
Know how to use your self-evaluation to highlight your successes and lessons learned to help you move ahead.
Maybe you're like many politicians or movie stars, and you love nothing more than to talk about yourself at great length. Then again, maybe you're a little more reserved about the prospect of tooting your own horn.
For those in the latter camp, being asked to perform a self-evaluation as part of an employee performance appraisal can cause more than a little consternation. "What is the point of this?" "What am I supposed to say?" and "Is whatever I put down going to be used against me?" are just a few of the questions employees raise when confronted with an employee evaluation form.
The first step, before you put pen to paper, is to relax, says Milwaukee-based executive coach and organizational development expert Joan Lloyd. The self-evaluation was not developed by sadistic HR departments just to torture employees, she says. Rather, it serves a genuine purpose and, when properly handled, can help further your career.
"Self-assessments have become very popular—and with good reason," she says. "Managers can't possibly remember as well as you can everything you've accomplished throughout the year. By asking you to provide input into your own employee evaluation, it reminds your boss about all the good things you've achieved."
Self-praise with specifics
Today, many employees work independently and make more of their own work-related decisions. As a result, managers are less aware of each team member’s day-to-day activities. That's why, when filling out a self-evaluation form, it's important to detail your accomplishments, be specific, and avoid soft terms, says Stephanie Dawkins, a former global senior VP for Volvo and author of Corporate Coffee: Success Never Tasted So Good.
"Adjectives such as 'great,' 'good,' and 'a lot' are very subjective,” she says. “Try to use more measurable objectives such as 'have demonstrated project management skill via coordinating X project' or 'met all objectives before deadline.' Make sure that you have a record of personal accomplishments, projects led, objectives met, training sessions attended, and skills developed to draw from."
Lloyd adds that a performance assessment is no time for false modesty, so go ahead and use impactful language and include factual evidence to support your record of accomplishments.
"Don't say, 'I work well with my fellow team members,'" she says. "Instead, say, 'During the Maxwell Project, I stayed late for three evenings to help Janet get the delivery ready for shipment, and I volunteered to cover for Pat when she went out for surgery. This saved the unit money and kept a high level of service for our customers because we didn't have to hire a temp.'"
Own your shortcomings
On the flip side, when it comes to addressing the negatives of the past year, Palo Alto, California–based career counselor and coach Richard Phillips says employees need to be proactive about bringing up what he prefers to call development areas.
"You can often head off trouble by saying, 'This is an area where I need to develop, and here's what I'm doing about it,'" he says. "You never state a weakness or a problem without a solution. Even if your solution isn't that good, it demonstrates that you're taking responsibility and that you can self-manage."
Lloyd says that, contrary to the stereotypical image of the boss who's eager to dress down employees, most managers appreciate team members who take this kind of initiative.
"As the boss, it just makes your life easier when someone says, "I know I fouled up that project,'" she says. "And then when you follow up by saying, 'But from that experience the learning lessons were X, Y, and Z and now, as a result, I'm doing these two things differently,' that shows a tremendous amount of self-awareness. It also allows the boss to relax because he or she thinks, 'OK, now I don't have to bring this up.'"
Directing the dialogue
A big part of making the self-evaluation work for you is your perspective, Phillips says. Don't view the experience as an opportunity for management to play "gotcha," but as a chance to make yourself look better than you otherwise might during the performance review and to neutralize any potential negatives, he says.
Lloyd agrees, emphasizing that the self-evaluation allows you to frame the conversation, control what winds up on your performance appraisal form, and set the tone for how you move forward.
"By taking this sort of initiative, you set up the whole performance review meeting to be a win, and much more career- and coaching-focused,” she says. “You're more likely to wind up with a really great, open-ended, two-way dialogue about your past year. You also have greater control over what goes on the record, and that record will be crucial in terms of your future career and opportunities."
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