Self assessement

Self assessment

A system to set your own performance goals

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Most supervisors are interested in advancement and want to know, "How am I doing?" As one bright, young supervisor told me, "I need to know where I am, so I can plan how to get ahead."

Although supervisors are first-level managers, they're no different from those who report to them in that they want to know if they're doing their jobs well, if they're performing to the satisfaction of those above them, and if their efforts are likely to lead to increased pay and responsibilities.

They want to know if they're making any mistakes and if so how they should correct them. Ideally, they should be receiving periodic appraisals from their superiors. These annual evaluations, like the ones they should be doing on their own subordinates, should evaluate past performance, identify specific job achievements, and examine shortcomings and any potential problems they might cause.

Then, together with their superiors, the supervisors should identify the developmental goals to be achieved during the coming year. At these ideal meetings, the managers should also have a chance to ask questions about their jobs and to request help from their bosses so that they are more effective. Unfortunately, this ideal is seldom realized.

A gloomy picture

In his survey of over 5,000 managers. Walter Mahler 1 found that;

  • almost half had never received performance reviews;
  • 44 percent had never been told the requirements for higher-level jobs; and
  • 31 percent had never been encouraged by their superiors to take specific actions to prepare themselves for advancement.

Formal performance reviews - particularly in older industries and in small companies - tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Even in larger organizations with well defined review procedures. the application of those procedures often is spotty and limited to specified levels of employees or to those in certain functions or locations.

Even when they are conducted. performance appraisals frequently are flawed by the human tendency of managers to equivocate; they fear that subordinates given a high rating may expect immediate rewards or go seek them elsewhere, and that employees given a low rating will become troublemakers. In such instances, formal performance evaluation reviews have negative consequences, in that they don't just summarize past performance, they can well shape future performance (see self-fulfilling prophecy.)

Given the scarcity of genuine performance reviews, what can employees interested in improving their performance do? This question is as relevant to supervisors as to the workers who report to them.

The answer is to conduct a self-appraisal - a methodical and comprehensive analysis of past performance - then develop a plan for self-improvement.


Such an analysis can be conducted by any employee at any level. All that are needed are an up-to-date job description and a set of objectives for the coming year. If a job description doesn't exist or needs revision, an individual can prepare one with advice and final approval from his or her supervisor. Similarly, the employee's prepared objectives for the year should be approved by the individual's superior. The documents used don't have to follow any particular form.

However, they should be simple and clear. The most useful job descriptions tend to indicate the approximate percentage of time devoted to each function. Similarly, the most valuable job objectives are expressed in measurable terms, such as "reduce scrap 10 percent," "conduct two audits a month," or "develop one new marketing plan each quarter." Many books offer helpful suggestions on preparing job descriptions and setting objectives.

Given this base for measuring performance, any employee at any level is in a position to conduct a self analysis. The specific nature and form of the appraisal can differ but the following elements are essential.

The appraisal should be done on a regular basis

One approach would be;

  • to spend 15 minutes after work each Friday to: review and record the week's accomplishments and short falls,
  • to devote an hour during the last weekend of the month to a similar analysis of the month's successes and failures, and
  • to commit a weekend or holiday morning or afternoon at the end of the year to review results and to develop a plan for personal development during the upcoming year.

The review should cover all aspects of the job. All jobs can be broken down into three broad categories:

  • Technical (for example, sales, engineering, or accounting),
  • Administrative (such as budgeting, compliance with company procedures, and submission of expense accounts), and
  • Communication (which includes keeping superiors informed, corresponding with customers and colleagues, and listening to employees' suggestions).

The individual appraising his or her performance should develop a checklist that reflects all areas of the job to ensure that all are adequately performed.

The results of each performance assessment should be written down

This will permit the individual to follow up, by working on those functions or activities that need improvement. This might mean more frequent reporting to one's superior, taking a brush-up course in some aspect of the job, or learning to submit expense reports more promptly. During this process of self-evaluation, it is highly desirable for the individual to involve his or her superior, asking the person. for example, to review the self-assessment.

Sometimes bosses who are reluctant to conduct performance reviews are willing to comment on the self-reviews of their employees. This procedure for measuring one's performance provides a way for judging and improving progress throughout the year, as well as a means for improving performance from one year to the next.

Although some skeptics might claim that self appraisal can't be objective since employees don't know their own deficiencies, I have found that 'most people are good judges of themselves.'

1. Walter Mahler (Principles-of Human Relations, John Wiley & Sons, 1955)