The Dangers of Self-Assessment
Self-assessment is dangerous—vital, but dangerous. Typically, you are either too hard on yourself or far too lenient. This is critical to note.
If you are too hard in your self-assessment, you will lack motivation because of hopelessness. If you are too lenient, you will lack motivation to pursue further training and growth.
The balance requires that you always view your contribution from a long-term perspective. Growth is not measured in comparison to other employees but in comparison to your own past performance. For example, I do not assess a programmer's growth in comparison to another programmer but in relation to where he was six months ago as a developer.
Sometimes assessing where you are from where you've come does not apply. For instance, if you are insubordinate or inappropriate in actions or word, you cannot make a gradual change. Such cases require a dramatic about-face and the willingness to deal with the consequences as they come.
Self-assessment only works when you are willing to be honest with yourself—not in some masochistic, here-is-everything-I've-done-wrong, take-no-credit–for-anything type of way. When done properly, self-assessment is extremely powerful and motivating. Why? Because it allows you to give yourself kudos for what you have done well, and it allows you to create a game plan (corrective action) for what you have not.
Part of this honesty requires evaluating your attitude toward your work. Do you expect excellence, or is mediocrity satisfactory? Before you answer too quickly, think about your expectation for tomorrow's tasks. Are you expecting to provide real value? Do you even think in those terms—the value you provide to the organizations you serve?
I can remember approaching my boss at Blue Cross and performing an impromptu self-assessment in the hallway. I covered where I thought I was doing well and where I thought I needed to improve. I then asked if my assessment sounded accurate. She thought about it and nodded. I explained that my goal was to work specifically on one particular weakness before our next official review.
That simple conversation paid dividends in many ways. First and most importantly, I saw that I was in tune with my boss in regard to my performance. I was able to walk away with the liberating knowledge of where I stood. That was better than finding out "suddenly" that I was not meeting management's expectations in some area. Besides, it is easier on the ego to point out your own shortcomings rather than have someone else do it for you.
In addition, this impromptu self-assessment served as notice to my boss that I understood my performance. This freed management from having to approach me with a plan of corrective action for areas of poor performance. Being a self-starter in this area immediately separates you from the majority of your peers.
As a manager, if I have an employee who knows what he has to improve on, I do not have to micromanage that correction. I need only to make available the resources needed, and the employee (theoretically) can take care of the rest.
In addition, sharing your self-assessment allows your manager to provide some input prior to a raise-contingent meeting. Your manager might disagree with your assessment, feeling you are doing well in an area that you feel deficient in, and suggest another area to work on. It might be that you need work on both areas, but the meeting allows you to see where management is focusing and adjust your personal growth accordingly.
Another benefit of my impromptu meeting was my realization that I needed to work on time management. After discussing this, outside of a performance review, my boss sent me to a time management seminar. This was significant because the seminar was sponsored by the company, for management only. My boss pulled a few strings to cover the cost of the full-day seminar and the associated planner.
She did this, I am convinced, because I was accurate in my self-assessment, and I approached her, not in a defensive manner, but with a request for assistance in improving in this area.
Management is not interested in seeing employees fail or "keeping them down." In the huge majority of cases, employees' success elevates their managers, and they know it.