For a very long time I personally did not enjoy writing self assessments. As a matter of fact, none of my peers or directs ever seemed to enjoy writing them. However, most of us did want to reflect on how we could improve our work. I was fortunate enough to work with very smart and driven people who cared about their personal and professional growth. So why did writing self assessment feel so cumbersome to so many?

Let's dive into why we may not be enjoying writing self assessments. But let's also discuss how we can change our approach to writing self assessment for work, making it easier on ourselves and using self assessments to our advantage.  

Forced to Brag

Does writing a self-assessment feel a bit like bragging about yourself? Most self-assessments will include a section for writing about the impact of your work and the strengths you've demonstrated. Many people will feel uneasy about being forced to brag about how great they've done. They'd much rather jump into the section that asks about skills that need development. :)

Suggestions for overcoming the reluctance to brag:

  • Talk about the impact of your strengths concretely by capturing goals and results. Discuss a goal you or your team set at the beginning of a project and show how you were able to meet or exceed that goal. Share quantitative data showing that you/your team met or exceeded project goals.
  • Not every strength/impact can be measured quantitatively. In these instances talk about your work in terms of a specific responsibility you and/or your company values. You could discuss the actions you took to strengthen exclusivity within your team. You could share an example of how you made hard trade-offs or a difficult decision. You could talk about driving an organizationally or technically complex project.  

The idea here is to provide concrete examples, and reduce personal opinions as much as possible. Coming up with concrete examples is tough - you need to have a good memory.  We will talk about ways to make this easier shortly. 👇🏼

Loads of Writing

Unfortunately most companies still run an annual or bi-annual performance management process. This translates to writing a self-assessment that looks back 6-12 months. A long window makes it hard to remember important details about your work and also increases the amount of work to reflect on.

Suggestions for reducing the workload:

  • Add a monthly calendar reminder for reflecting back on the last month's work. Set the reminder for a Friday in the afternoon. Capture your results in a document.
  • Ask 3-4 concrete questions as you are reflecting on projects you are working on: How am I doing against the project goal? (Ex. behind, meeting, exceeding) What is difficult about this project and how am I managing it? What difficult decisions/tradeoffs am I making? Am I aiming high enough? What could I have done better?

Monthly mini assessments should not take longer than 10-15 minutes to complete. Besides helping you with your annual self-review, they will also help you review the progression of your projects and correct course as needed.

self assessments require loads of writing
self assessments require loads of writing

Focusing On The Wrong Thing

Many companies tie self-assessments, which are usually part of performance management, to salary raises and promotions. This is unfortunate because it prevents people from being honest about where they came up short and where they need growth. I suggest not focusing on the monetary aspect of the performance management process, even though it may seem counter-intuitive in the short term.  If your goal is to become the best version of yourself, then you will reap the benefits of this in the long term. Be honest about where you fell short. Figure out what you can do about your shortcomings and how your manager and company can help you. Explore training, mentor-ship  and other ways to learn and become excellent where you fell short. If you are working with a good manager and a good company, your willingness to improve your shortcomings should be welcomed and not used against you. If it is used against you then you probably want to work at a better place with a better person.

Focusing on raises, bonuses, and promotions makes discussions about growth & performance management soulless and dull. If you are identifying your skill gaps and taking action to improve yourself continuously you will be unstoppable. One side benefit is that writing self-assessments for work will no longer be as dull as it used to be. :)