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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Four Questions of Self-Assessment

How can you effectively perform a self-assessment? Numerous resources are available to help you with this. Books dealing with personal growth abound. You can take your pick of which titles to read. Include several in your library. However, as a jump-start, I will provide you with the four magic questions of self-assessment.

I must warn you, however. The questions presented here were initially given to me as an employer. They were imparted to me as a way to determine whether I should fire an employee. I restructured them to be viewed from the employee's perspective. I figured that if the questions were valuable to me, as an employer, they would be equally effective for employees to assess their impact in the company.

Where the Four Questions Came From

As the owner of a small software integration company, I was faced—fortunately, rarely—with an employee who did not have the skills needed and showed no desire to acquire them, or an employee who had the skills but showed no interest in using them.

I am a nice guy, and the last thing I want to do is leave someone without his livelihood. Rest assured that most employers are in the same boat. Most have no desire to see anyone fail because it is both costly to business and is an emotional drain.

However, during one such time—when I had an employee who could not or would not produce—the following information was given to me to assist in creating a more objective evaluation of talent and contribution.

The four questions were provided to me strictly from an employer's perspective and were framed as "Four Questions to Help You Decide If an Employee Should Be Fired." The questions were given to me during a breakfast meeting with Richard Thayer of Thermax/CDT.

(A special gratitude to Mr. Thayer for opening this dialogue after many years.)

Read through each of the questions and see how it covers the key elements of skills, attitude, and team perspective in your career effectiveness.

Make a mental note of which question(s) give you the greatest cause for concern. Take one question at a time and determine an associated corrective action that will make that aspect of your career more solid.

Continue to perform this assessment over the life of your career. You will discover, at times, that different questions stand out and require corrective action. The great part about the questions is that they neatly provide direction for personal and professional development.

I use these four questions daily when assessing my performance. I still do this as a consultant and as a writer. I simply change employer to client or editor.

Question 1: Do I Make My Employer's Job Much Easier or Much More Difficult?

Some employees, although skilled, do not contribute enough to make up for their detrimental action. You must remember that you have been hired to take on particular tasks. You are being paid to make work "go away" in one sense. Few things are as frustrating to an employer as an employee who creates work, making management's and other employees' jobs more difficult.

You might perform your job well, but through your attitude or unwillingness to step outside of your job, you end up making another person's job more difficult.

As you go through your week, understand the relationship that your work has on other employees and management. Being busy and working hard are not enough. Don't confuse action with production.

You should, if promotion and growth are the goals, always be looking for ways to make your work more efficient for yourself and for those you come in contact with. If you see a way to streamline a task that makes less work for the next person, propose it to management.

Question 2: If I Gave Notice Today, Would My Employer Have an Instant Sense of Relief or Dread?

This is a great one! Ask yourself the question. Think about it for a while. If you can honestly say that your employer would dread your departure and have a difficult time replacing such an exemplary employee, you are on the right track.

If, however, because of personal conflict, poor performance, poor attitude, and so on, you realize that your departure would be cause for celebration, you had better determine corrective action, and fast!

Question 3: Do I Perform My Job Better Than My Employer Could Perform My Job If He/She Needed To?

Remember that you are seldom hired to perform the job that your employer performs. You are hired to perform certain key tasks that a business or department needs. Overlap is certainly desirable through cross-training, but the fact remains that if you can master your specific job functions and perform these better than all others, your value is increased.

If you are simply another repeated skill set, you will likely be subject to the next economic downturn or "force reduction."

Question 4: If Asked How I Can Improve in My Job, Do I Cite External Factors—People and Resources—or Do I Take Responsibility?

From an employer's perspective, few things are as frustrating as an employee who, when given a performance review, cites everything but himself as a barrier to his performance. Instead, this employee speaks about how Joe in accounting doesn't complete forms properly, how his desk is uncomfortable, how his computer is too slow, and on and on. These things can certainly be factors, but employers are usually aware of problems with other resources or employees.

The fact is, in the huge majority of cases, areas of improvement in a performance review regard personal productivity. They are things that you control. It might be that Joe in accounting doesn't complete his paperwork correctly, but be careful about citing this as a reason for your own performance problems.

This is perhaps the single most critical element of your self-assessment—ensuring that you focus your areas of improvement squarely on yourself. Although it is appropriate to be honest if certain resources are inadequate for the job, do not let them dominate your self-assessment. Remember: The focus of your self-assessment is caught up in that first word: "self."

By keeping the focus on yourself, you set yourself up as a leader. If you are willing to take responsibility for yourself, you are one step away from being able to take responsibility for others.

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