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Self-Assessment: 5 Tips for Writing Your Performance Evaluation

Self-Assessment: 5 Tips for Writing Your Performance Evaluation
Credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock

Performance evaluations are a great tool for managers and employees. For managers, they create a record of employees' performances over time, and for employees, they are a great feedback tool that can keep them on the right track. A common component of performance evaluations are self-assessments, where employees review themselves and provide feedback on the workplace.

Self-assessments are useful for several reasons. First, they show managers how employees think of themselves in terms of their role in the organization. It also demonstrates how well employees and managers have been communicating day to day; if an employee's self-assessment vastly differs from a manager's perspective, there might be a disconnect. Finally, self-assessments allow employees to offer feedback to the manager about their style and ways to improve the workplace.

"Modern employees are intrinsically motivated by the ability to work autonomously, and by opportunities to learn and grow. So, from a management perspective, self-assessments – which contribute to autonomy and development – are incredibly valuable," said David Hassell, founder and CEO of 15Five. "Work product from employees who are intrinsically motivated tends to be more impactful and sustainable than work derived from extrinsic motivators, such as bonuses or fear tactics."

Looking in the mirror and offering an accurate description is difficult, though. Employees often have a difficult time summarizing their work in an objective way; some are their own biggest critics, while others don't scrutinize themselves enough. Here are five tips to help make your self-evaluation a success during your next performance review. [Learn more about performance management.]

The main goal of the self-evaluation is to highlight your accomplishments. Employees need to point to specific tasks and projects that highlight their best work. When describing those accomplishments, employees should emphasize the impact those achievements had on the business as a whole to emphasize their value to the company.

Julie Rieken, CEO of Applied Training Systems Inc. noted that employees should connect their actions with a manager's goals. This type of alignment is encouraging to any manager and will result in recognition of an employee's critical role within the company.

"If your manager needs to hit a certain number, share how you played a role in hitting the number," said Rieken. "Accomplishments you list should connect with business objectives."

Self-assessments aren't just about pointing out triumphs. Employees should also critically assess the times they came up short. Being honest means pointing out areas that could be improved.

Still, it's important to not become self-deprecating in your assessment. Timothy Butler, a senior fellow and director of career development programs at Harvard Business School, advised employees to use developmental language when critiquing the areas in which they need to improve.

"You don't want to say, 'Here's where I really fall down.'" Butler told the Harvard Business Review. "Instead, say, 'Here's an area I want to work on. This is what I've learned. This is what we should do going forward.'"

It's important during self-assessments to never stagnate; humans are constantly adapting, learning and changing. Whether you've had a great year or fallen short of your own expectations, it's important to remain hungry to improve and educate yourself.

"The first step is to adopt a growth mindset and understand that adult human potential is not fixed. We are always in a state of becoming, and our potential increases or decreases based on many factors, including the environments where we live and work," Hassel said. "Adopting that framework prevents people from becoming too transfixed on their perceived failures and from becoming too attached to their triumphs."

Managers will also see a willingness to improve and take on new things as a sort of coachability. If an employee has been struggling, making room for growth could improve their performance. On the other hand, an employee thriving in their position who is searching for growth opportunities will prevent stagnation and boredom.

When it comes time to stand up for your work in your self-assessment, having actual data to show what you've done throughout the year is highly beneficial. Employees and managers will generally know how the employee's performance has been, but having concrete numbers to back up any assertion strengthens the validity of an employee's self-assessment.

"If employees ... spend 10 seconds a day writing down their one biggest accomplishment, success, metric hit, feedback received for that day, they'd have 10 times more data than they'd ever need for self-assessment," said Mike Mannon, president at WD Communications.

Hank Yuloff, owner of Yuloff Creative Marketing Solutions, agreed: "We teach our clients to keep a list of daily and weekly accomplishments so that when it is time for the self-assessment, there is very little guesswork as to how valuable they are to the company," he said.

Employees need to remember to always be professional when writing self-assessments. This means they should avoid using it as an opportunity to bash the boss for poor leadership skills or criticize co-workers for making the employees' lives more difficult.

Being professional means giving the appraisal its due attention, like any other important project that crosses your desk. Dominique Jones, chief operating officer at BetterU Education Corporation, advised treating your self-appraisal like a work of art that builds over time. You'll be much happier with the result if you give yourself time to reflect and carefully support your self-assessment, she said.

"Use examples to support your assertions, and … make sure that you spell- and grammar-check your documents," Jones wrote in a blog post. "These are all signs of how seriously you take the process and its importance to you."

Performance evaluations help everyone recognize where they stand and how they're performing as well as the goals of the organization. Often, workplaces engage in performance evaluations once a year, but they should become an ongoing process to fairly and accurately evaluate employees and create a culture of constant communication and feedback.

"[S]elf-assessments cannot merely be an annual event. They are part of an ongoing and regular practice of reflection," Hassel said. "If you look at a snapshot of performance, you are never going to see the truth. It's too easy to focus on a particular experience or event and then create an overarching story around performance."

Doing so will avoid "recency bias," or a type of tunnel vision that centers around recent events, rather than the big picture. It also creates an inclusive, give-and-take culture where employees are invited to participate in offering feedback to their managers as much as their managers offer them feedback. Overall, an inclusive and communicative workplace has a greater chance of succeeding.

"Managers who adopt a coaching or mentorship role can provide external reflections and much-needed perspective so employees can see failures as learning opportunities," Hassel said. "They can also enjoy the praise of a job well done, but not dwell on past triumphs, because every company has a continued need for peak employee performance over time."

Additional reporting by Katherine Arline, Marci Martin and Jennifer Post.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.