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Moving On Up
3 Common Self Assessment Mistakes — And How to Avoid Them
Adobe Stock
Marissa Taffer
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Performance reviews. Even reading those two words might be making you cringe or your stomach knot up with dread. While the process in some companies is cringe-worthy, your self-assessment doesn’t have to be. 

You can use your review to learn about your strengths, set goals and plan for your professional development. With these tips and a change of mindset you can use your performance review this year to your advantage. 

Four tips for writing a self-assessment.

1. Get organized.

It's so hard to think about the entire year and remember all of the important things that happened. At the beginning of each year, set up two folders, one physical and one electronic. Use these to store final deliverables, emails with both criticism and praise and any other artifacts that will help you think through what you want to put in your review. If someone writes you a handwritten thank you note, drop it in your paper folder so you remember what you did well come review time. 

2. Write a self-assessment.

Don’t wait for your manager to deliver your review. Try to get a blank copy of the performance review form your company uses, and go ahead and review yourself. While you can ask colleagues for input, be sure to spend time thinking through the assessment and how you’d rate yourself. If you think there are things missing from the review that you want to discuss, add them. 

3. Be specific and ask for specific feedback.

Use SMART goals. Give (and ask for) feedback that is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound (SMART). For example, "Jennifer did a great job on the annual report" isn’t SMART feedback. But this is: "Jennifer showed her leadership ability by running weekly meetings for the entire management team and provided strategic direction to get the annual report done before the deadline. This helped the head of the division realize we needed to hire 30 new employees before January to avoid a labor shortage and safety issues." This is much more descriptive than "she did a great job." Now, Jennifer knows what she did and when and also how it impacted the business. Sometimes, when we ask big, open-ended questions, we don’t get the feedback we need to improve. Instead of asking "How did I do?" or "What could I have done better?" ask for more specific feedback. If you are leading a meeting, ask the participants for their insights immediately after — don’t wait until review time. 

4. Collaborate on your review with your manager.

This tip works best if you have a good relationship with your manager. Even if you don’t, you can still get something out of collaborating with her on your performance review. You manager may see your work and the business objectives from a different vantage point. You can use their observations to help you get a more complete picture of how you are performing and how others see you. Even comments like "You seem disengaged in meetings" or "When you answer the phone, you sound tense" can be helpful observations. 

In Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor, she tells a story about working for Sheryl Sandberg. Scott was reported to Sandberg at Google. She had just presented some work in a meeting and delivered great news to other leaders in the company. After the meeting, she thought Sandberg was going to pull her aside to praise her. Instead she said, “When you say 'um' all the time, you sound stupid.” As a result of this feedback, Scott was able to get some speech coaching and has gone on to become a successful author, speaker and coach. 

Mistakes to avoid. 

Taking things personally.  

While it is good to take pride in your work, it is also important not to take constructive criticism too personally. If you've fallen short of an expectation, take the time to think about how and why. While a good performance review should be fair and balanced, it's an opportunity for your manager to address areas where you haven't met expectations. While your first instinct may be to get defensive, stop and listen first. Make sure you understand what your manager is saying and the impact it has on not just the business but also your career. If there's a reason why you’re not meeting expectations, it might be worth discussing that in a follow-up meeting and putting a plan in place to make sure you and your manager are on the same page about the expectations and how you’ll meet them. 

If you’re the manager writing the review for an employee, think about how you communicate constructive feedback. Provide the facts, give examples and allow your employee to ask questions. Hopefully you’ve been able to provide feedback more informally throughout the year so what you’re saying shouldn't be a surprise. If the employee is blindsided, you might want to rethink your communication strategy. Allow your employee to respond to what you’re saying and collaborate on an improvement plan if needed. Be sure to provide feedback on improvements you see after these conversations or additional areas that need improvement. 

Putting too much stock in comparing yourself to others.

While reviews are designed to show where you fall within the organization, you don’t have to make yourself crazy comparing yourself to other people. Some colleagues may have more education or be promoted more quickly. Some may have different goals than you, while others may be your direct competition for promotions and raises. Make sure you aren’t chasing someone else’s dream or spending too much time doing work you hate to try to get ahead. 

If you're achieving your professional goals and are happy with the direction in which your career is headed, that's what matters. As long as you continue to contribute and improve when competing against yourself, you should be very proud. 

Focusing on the negative.

Most performance reviews are a chance to talk about what's going well and areas to improve. For some people, especially women, we tend to remember the parts of the conversation focused on what we need to improve and our areas of weakness. This is a mistake; you want to focus on what you did well this past year with just as much emphasis. 

The other thing to think about is you yourself want to improve. For example, let's say one of your weaknesses or opportunities to improve is related to how you manage people or you file your weekly reports. What if you hate being a people manager or dislike spending time at your laptop? Instead of addressing these, could you shift your role (or find another role) that either eliminates or minimizes these tasks? 

Examples.

In a self-evaluation make sure you are communicating clearly. If you're evaluating a direct report, think about how you’re communicating important information. These examples are not meant to be used word for word but to help you think about how you want to deliver important information in your review. 

Self-assessment from an employee:

This year, I brought in 97% more new business leads than last year. This number represents 95% of our goal for new business leads in fiscal 2019. 

I took on project leadership for the company-wide Client Business review project. In this role, I lead weekly meetings, handled all communication and reporting related to the project and made sure we delivered new templates before the end of Q2. 

Performance reviews from a manager:

The role of Special Events Director requires that Susan coordinate with 54 vendors and manage a budget of $1,450,000. She does this with grace and confidence even as multiple priorities and demands greet her every day. Her timelines can be aggressive and her days are sometimes long, but she handles the work with a smile. You’d never know that she was putting out six fires at the same time. Susan also takes the time to mentor her events manager and the other part-time event coordinators she works with. She schedules regular meetings with everyone involved in our events and provides consistent updates on tasks that have been completed as well as what still needs to be done. Susan is a pleasure to work with and consistently gets recognized by colleagues. What is even more impressive is that she has cut our event operations budget by 10%.

As a recruiter, Emily handles about 45 open jobs per quarter. She fills about 50% of those roles within 90 days. This is significantly longer than the department average of 45 days. Emily needs to improve her time to hire rate by 50% this quarter to align with the department average. Candidates enjoy working with Emily as she is kind and knowledgeable and follows up to let them know where they are in the process. 

FAQs.

How do you start a performance review? 

Start by thinking about what your performance objectives for the year were. Look at how well you did and where you excelled. Make sure to document everything and provide examples. Next, think about what did not go so well and why. Try to pick out 2-3 things you want to work on while you’re planning for next year. 

How do you evaluate yourself at work? 

Start with your performance objectives, KPIs or OKRs. How did you do against these objectives? Did you take on additional projects or lead a team? Is there anything you’re particularly proud of? Call it out! Something didn’t go as well as you hoped? Write it down and discuss it with your manager. Let them know what you learned and what you might change in the future. You might want to ask for some feedback from your colleagues as you think about how you evaluate yourself. They may see things you don’t.

How do you write a negative performance review? 

There will be times in your career where your performance is not where you want or need it to be and may need to write a performance review that is reflective of this. It’s probably not going to be easy, especially if you’re used to exceeding expectations at work. If this happens to you, stick to the facts, don’t editorialize or make excuses and ask your manager to schedule a follow-up conversation to work with you on a plan to improve. No matter the issue, ask for what you need to be successful, whether that’s more time, additional support or a better explanation of the work that needs to be done. Take ownership of the situation and work to get yourself back to exceeding expectations! 

If you're a manager and need to write a review for an underperforming employee, the same advice applies. Stick to the facts. Demonstrate how the employee’s work misses the target or prevents the company from hitting goals. 

Be sure to be specific. For example, Jenny is often unprofessional and misses meetings is not great feedback in a review. If this is what you’re observing frame it in the context of the business: 

Jenny uses an overly casual tone with clients both in her emails and on the phone. This sometimes leads clients to doubt her credibility and believe she is unprepared when she really does know her stuff. In addition, Jenny has been late to important department meetings and missed the last two company-wide all-hands. By being late and skipping meetings without letting the team know she won’t be there, Jenny has missed important information as well as opportunities to let the whole company know about the project she is working on. The team would have benefited greatly from her update, and these meetings are a good chance to work on speaking in front of a larger team. 

What if I believe I have been reviewed unfairly?

While we all like to believe can be objective and fair, sometimes bias, whether conscious or not creeps, into our performance reviews. If you feel that your review was not fair, don’t panic. While that is much easier said than done, an emotional response will not work in your favor. 

Take some calming breaths and before you react ask some clarifying questions. For example: “In your assessment of my performance you said that my leadership skills need improvement. I meet with every member of my team weekly and give them feedback and opportunities for development. Can you tell me a little more about what you expect from me? I want to make sure I know what 'good' looks like.” 

Try to avoid making comparisons to other employees if possible. This may be hard, especially if you think you are being judged unfairly against another person’s performance. 

If you think your boss is giving you a less-than-honest review or is being unprofessional, you may want to speak with HR or company leadership. 

How do I tie compensation conversations to my performance review? 

The answer to this will vary from company to company. Some organizations tie annual increases to performance reviews, while others look at compensation at another time of year. Usually by review time (or compensation increase conversation time), raises are already decided, so you won’t have as much room to negotiate with budgets already having been allocated. If you think you’re on track for a raise or promotion, try to have that conversation with your manager. If it's too late for that, you might not be out of luck. At your review ask to have a conversation about compensation and/or advancement. Come prepared with facts, including how your contributions impact the company, industry salary benchmarks and any other relevant information. 

You could say something like, “Based on my tenure and experience here, as well as the industry-standard salary for my role, I'm looking for a 10-15% salary increase next year. What can I do to ensure that happens?” That way your boss can help you determine what you’ll need to make your case or let you know that isn’t possible within your organization. Either way, you’ll have all the information you need to make the best possible decision for the next steps in your career! 

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