by Sharon Daniels
Here’s an idea for your next performance review: Do what the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies do for their annual evaluation by the board of directors — write a self-assessment that helps guide the conversation. What you write will be a valuable tool for the performance review and, even better, a custom guide for your own development.
Ongoing self-assessment is one of the five zones of strength that leaders have and non-leader managers don’t, according to one of our ongoing workplace studies (pdf). Indeed, self-assessment makes a major contribution to all the other strength zones, the study concluded.
There are times at work when we tend to be on autopilot, repeating what we do without asking why. At these times we need to step back and reflect on our habits. A look inward will not only give you a better knowledge of what makes you tick, but will help you understand others’ motivations better. It also will help you make sounder intuitive decisions, a highly valuable ability these days when change is accelerating and you have to act without having all the information you want.
Self-assessment, the first step in any personal improvement process, is often the hardest. You might find it awkward to request feedback or painful to face unpleasant truths. There’s no hiding from being judged, though, because a manager’s shortcomings are on full view for everyone, even if the manager denies them.
Here are some guidelines for writing a self-assessment that scores big at the performance review and gives you a roadmap for developing your career:
Reflect. We found that successful leaders think seriously about their motives, beliefs, assumptions and actions. They analyze each day’s events and the outcomes of their decisions, particularly how they affect the big picture. They force themselves to give a full hearing to ideas that contradict their own. They take responsibility for their mistakes and treat failure as a chance to learn and grow. Even at the pinnacle of their careers they’re committed to lifelong learning.
Ask for feedback. Get opinions on your performance from everyone you work with. Resist the temptation to argue against criticism, and be careful not to let your assumptions about your capabilities color what you hear.
Be brutally honest about your shortcomings. As Oliver Cromwell reputedly told his portraitist, include “warts and all.” The boss won’t take the write-up seriously if it’s not real — and will give you credit for your openness. One hint that you’re ducking doing this: You’re describing a missed goal and putting more blame on external factors than your own actions. If your weaknesses list is too skimpy you may not be digging deep enough, with either self-reflection or your feedback sessions.
Highlight your contributions to the bottom line. Did you lead your staff to overcome a tough problem? Solved a nagging process glitch? Improved connections up or down the value chain? Broadened market share by training the sales force, bettering customer service, helping to create a new product or break into a new market? Cite all the hard data that’s available. The people who gave you feedback on your performance might know about payoffs of your work that you don’t.
Describe the areas in which you improved your capabilities, via company-sponsored training and on your own. Position yourself as you would a product: Is your strength in leading, innovating, lowering costs, technology, logistics, analysis, controls, quality, problem solving, international business, e-commerce, negotiation, or a combination of these capabilities?
Don’t be a thunder-stealer. Plain and simple: avoid taking more than your share of credit for a team’s success. Self-serving judgments of any kind will undermine your credibility.
In addition to following these self-evaluation guidelines, year-round you should be asking yourself these reflective questions: Is what I’m doing working? How can I make it better? Am I realistic about my capabilities? Have I fallen into any unproductive habits? Is any behavioral problem like temper, disconnectedness, undue optimism or unneeded anxiety getting in the way? Am I capitalizing on my strengths and correcting my weaknesses? Am I focusing on my priorities? Am I modeling the self-awareness that I expect of others? Am I studying the competition and the customers intently but neglecting to look inward?
Self-assessment is a skill. It can be learned and it can be honed with constant practice. Know thyself, Socrates counseled. That’s good advice for developing a manager’s career.
Sharon Daniels is chief executive of AchieveGlobal, which provides performance improvement consulting and solutions in leadership, sales and customer service. You can contact her at email@example.com