I recently had a client reach out to me for advice on how to go about an upcoming annual performance assessment. She was dreading the task and expressed how much anxiety it was causing her and her colleagues to “make a case” for their existence within the organization. She fretted that every year at this time (the end of the organization’s annual fiscal and performance cycle), she and her colleagues scramble to comb through emails and calendars to piece together the past year’s highlights and challenges.
For many individuals, the performance self-assessment process feels a bit like a medieval trial by ordeal that has you fighting for your employment life. While it’s certainly not as primitive or life-threatening as ancient judicial rituals, many of today’s performance assessment processes are outdated and can cause a lot of anxiety, distrust, and animosity toward the organization.
Though employees have been criticizing performance assessments for years, very little has changed in how we assess performance — even in organizations that are currently doing well economically. While many companies may be making a profit — even excelling in a post-pandemic economy — long-term sustained success is built on your ability to adapt and evolve your culture in alignment with the needs of your workforce. In other words, good business isn’t just about making a profit; it’s about the people who make the profit possible.
Why Traditional Approaches to Performance Don’t Work Today
In our recent e-book, "Emerging Trends in CPM for 2022,” we explore why traditional performance reviews are backward-looking and often occur in an environment where leaders and individual employees don’t give and receive regular, high-quality feedback or timely recognition for a great performance. When self-assessments and performance reviews finally happen, weeks or months have passed since the actual performance occurred. As a result, by the time the feedback or recognition on past performance is given, it’s often no longer relevant — or even worse, it’s poorly received.
Under pressure to solve the problem with traditional performance management issues, many organizations have done away with the whole performance self-assessment process. But this may be too simple of a solution to a larger problem. You may not want to kill performance reviews just yet. When done right, an effective performance process can lead to a more effective performance self-assessment and performance review experience that helps employees grow in their abilities and reflect on ways they can thrive at work, while giving the company insight into who is doing well and who might need help.
Why CPM Is Better
One of the ways organizations are improving performance assessments is by moving to a Continuous Performance Management (CPM) process. CPM is a practice that inspires regular conversations about goals, work progress, and any skill or psychological needs related to performance in real time — not months later.
But CPM isn’t just about having the technology to implement Continuous Performance, it’s about having the right technology that enables effective CPM to develop the human experience through work people are pursuing. Quality CPM software enables high performance through built-in best practices in one-to-one conversations about performance between individuals and managers, coaches, mentors, or team leaders that occur weekly or biweekly. It’s a consistent opportunity to quickly assess your performance, and your performance needs, as you create, generate, and assess meaningful real-time performance data for the individual and the organization.
What Is a Performance Self-Assessment?
When a lot of people think about performance self-assessments, they imagine writing a few pages about their work over the past six months or year. They probably imagine pleading their case as to how their contribution was valuable to the organization — essentially, arguing why they should remain employed by the organization. And that practice is often disconnected from the real work going on, as well as the real growth opportunities for the employee. In this scramble, employees have the added burden to make a case for why they should get a raise in salary because most traditional performance self-assessments are tied to compensation — a practice that has long been seen as ineffective.
3 Keys to an Effective Performance Self-Assessment
Assessing performance in your organization begins with establishing a healthy, motivating, and rewarding performance experience. If individuals feel like they are on trial, that the process feels unfair, or that it is simply a compliance practice based solely on subjective numbers, you run the risk of eroding the trust of your people.
Here are three keys to an effective performance self-assessment:
- Create Winning Performance Agreements
The beginning of a performance period is the time when you assess your role, determine the goals that you’ll be pursuing, and get agreement within your team on what good performance looks like as it relates to your role and goals. The performance agreement is the time to assess how SMART your goals are and ensure you’re set up for success. Finally, creating a winning performance agreement includes aligning your goals with organizational strategy and identifying goals that can stretch and develop skills. An effective performance agreement is the starting point for an effective performance self-assessment.
- Assess Performance Continuously
If you’re only assessing your performance once or twice a year (or even quarterly), you’re most likely not going to know what your performance needs are, nor can you ask for the support you need to perform at a high level consistently. Many organizations have adopted an “agile” approach to performance by assessing and responding to performance needs in “sprints,” similar to how most software is developed. This “continuous” approach to performance enables individuals to leverage a coaching relationship with managers, mentors, coaches, or anyone who can help them with performance needs. In turn, leaders are able to respond to the real-time needs of individuals rather than waiting until months after the fact, which is necessary given the fast pace of change in business today.
- Performance Self-Assessment
When an individual regularly assesses their performance with a CPM approach, there are no surprises when it comes to a self-assessment because they’ve been documenting effective conversations, timely feedback, and regular recognition from leaders and team members throughout the performance period. In this case, the performance self-assessment becomes more of a snapshot of the performance period. An effective self-assessment, when linked to CPM, allows individuals to reflect on the big picture of their career and contributions, rather than panic about the details of everything that has already been reviewed throughout the past performance period.
Continuous Performance Self-Assessments
An effective performance self-assessment works best within the context of continuous performance because it is a proactive approach to analyzing and elevating performance. Traditional performance management, including traditional self-assessments, is a reactive process that takes too much time, is stressful, and is not very helpful in analyzing what really happened over the course of an entire year.
The Business Impact of an Effective Performance Self-Assessment
When performance self-assessments take place within the context of continuous performance, there are clear business benefits. On the individual level, employees are more engaged and productive because they understand their role and how they’re contributing to organizational goals. If anything becomes unclear or uncertain because of shifts taking place in the organization or something external affecting the global economy, then individuals can discuss the adjustments that need to be made now, in the flow of their current performance cycle — not after it’s too late to pivot strategy and objectives.
Employees aren’t helped and companies aren’t improved by a performative, high-stakes self-assessment process like the one my client shared with me in her quest for insight and advice on her upcoming performance review. But effective performance self-assessments can create higher levels of engagement and retention while elevating future performance through an effective process that employees can embrace, and the organization can use to improve its operational leadership. When employees feel safe and are given the tools to continuously assess and respond to their own performance needs effectively and objectively, it can help the individual, the organization, and clients thrive.