Just Say It #2: The Problem with Employee Self-Appraisals

by Tim Sackett | Posted | Performance Management

Just Say It #2: The Problem with Employee Self-Appraisals

Welcome to the "Just Say It" blog series! This series is designed to provide real-world situations we all face as leaders, and how (I believe) you should deal with them.

First, you need to understand I'm not your normal leader. I'm probably willing to try and do things you won't, and that's okay. My hope is you'll be able to take parts and pieces of these posts to help you become a better performance manager of your team.

The pitfalls of employee-defined performance

A common trend in today's modern performance management is for leaders to let employees define their own performance. The process starts by the leader letting the employee know they're going to have a “talk,” or a little sit-down, to discuss performance. Unfortunately, in most organizations this is still a once-a-year occurrence; however, in progressive organizations this is happening monthly, weekly or even daily.

The practice of having your employees define their own performance grew out of a philosophy that if you let your employees start the performance conversation, they become more invested in it. It becomes a back-and-forth interaction, not just you shoving your opinion down the throat of the employee, which comes across a command and control.

While the philosophy sounds refreshing and productive, it might be the single most important mistake leaders make when trying to set performance expectations and get you both on the same page. Don't get me wrong, I truly want to hear how my employees believe they are performing.

Very few people are good at analyzing themselves

Unfortunately, what we find is that very few employees – and few people in general – are good at analyzing themselves. What you usually find is one of two polar opposites:

Either the employee over-evaluates themselves or under-evaluates their performance, so few have the self-insight to give you a true picture.

Employees would rather hear what you think

The other issue at play here is the employee doesn't really want to tell you how they believe they're doing; they want to hear what you think about their performance! You are their boss. They are looking for confirmation. They are looking to you for development and recognition.

So, how can we make this desire of self-evaluation and need for feedback work together?

Combining manager feedback with a self-assessment

I love to flip this concept upside-down. As a leader, I want to have the conversation about performance first, to let them know how I feel about what they are doing. I don't want this to be one-sided. I want them to join in on the conversation as well, but once we’re done, I want to challenge them with some great questions about how they are thinking about their own performance.

Some of the conversation starters I love to ask during one-on-one meetings are:

  • Tell me one thing, in hindsight, you could have done better on a project or interaction.
  • Give me something you think we should be doing right now that would make us more successful.
  • What is something you're really good at that I underestimate your skills?

I give employees 24 hours to respond, and I set up another meeting to go over their responses with them face-to-face.

What I've found is after we've had a conversation where I've gotten to tell them my thoughts, they come back with answers for these questions, but they also come back with a great framework in their mind to tell me how they believe they are performing.

Sparking a great performance conversation

Every time I've gone the traditional route and had them come in and give me what they believe their performance is first, I get these fake sell jobs. I get a list of outcomes and flowery statements of their capabilities. It's not a real conversation; it's the employee selling me on how wonderful they are. If I'm not on that same page, that meeting leaves both of us feeling empty.

Giving them my views first and having employees go back, think about my comments, answer my questions and prepare for our second meeting always ends with some great conversation about development and improvement.

Your employees are looking for feedback. That feedback isn't you listening to them tell you how they feel about their own performance. They want you to “Just Say It!”

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