Self-Evaluations: An Alternative to Giving Performance Reviews

You’ve probably heard the story about the old codger who was asked how often he told his wife of sixty years that he loved her. He scratched his head and answered, “I told her I loved her when we got married. If I change my mind, I’ll let her know.”

As a staffing agency, we always have our ear to the ground to learn what other companies are doing to manage their employees. Recently, one company told us that they don’t believe in giving performance reviews. When we asked the reason, they shared that giving performance reviews makes employees feel like they should be getting a raise, a feeling the company doesn’t want to encourage. By not giving performance reviews, the owners successfully avoid creating this expectation. But what opportunities might they be missing out on by this avoidance?

With our uncertain economy, plus the increasing sense of entitlement that exists in our workforce, it’s easy to see why you might want to avoid giving performance reviews. Unfortunately, by not establishing some sort of structure for reviewing employees’ on-the-job performance, you rob them of vital feedback that they need to not only do their jobs better but to be encouraged to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their work. If they’re never certain that they’re hitting the right mark, employees are likely to hold back from giving any discretionary effort, that go-the-extra-mile push to deliver more than you expect from them.

Since we know that performance reviews promote the greatly coveted trait of employee engagement, is there a way to conduct them without having to quell the built-in expectation that they automatically come with a raise? Apparently, other companies have wrestled with this question and come up with a really great solution: monthly self-evaluations.

Self-evaluations are just what they sound like.’s Susan M. Heathfield explains:

In a self evaluation, an employee responds to a series of questions that help the employee evaluate his or her performance during the evaluation period. This guides the employee through a thought process that allows him or her to focus on the many aspects and nuances of performance. The employee is prompted to think about all of the components of performance, from job description to accomplished goals and to include professional development in the mix.

I recently got to talk with John*, an employee who just experienced his first self-evaluation. Susan*, his boss, didn’t schedule a formal review time–she just came up and said, “Hey, would you like to talk about your self-evaluation?” Her casual approach made for a candid, relaxed conversation where John was able to share his successes and failures in each area of his job without defensiveness. When he expressed an area where he was stuck, Susan brainstormed with him to help him solve the problem. It worked so well that John experienced immediate victory later that day in his work!

Just from what I observed in John, here are several benefits to conducting a monthly self-evaluation with your employee:

1. It empowers your worker to think for himself or herself. By self-evaluating, John had time to analyze every area of his work and own responsibility for both what was going right and what wasn’t. I watched him take ownership for his successes, failures, and the management of his career path.

2. It helps the employee to view problems without defensiveness. “This self evaluation opens up the conversation between an employee and the supervisor during the performance evaluation meeting,” says Heathfield. “The act of self evaluation and the concurrent introspection causes an employee to review goals, assess progress, and thoughtfully consider areas for job and career growth.” In John’s case, because he had taken the time to think through what was working and what wasn’t, he was in problem-solving mode by the time Susan stopped by.

3. It allows the employee to ask you for specific help. A good question to include in your self-evaluation form is, What specific help do you need from your supervisor in order to succeed in this area? Because this question was on John’s form, he felt like Susan was there to help him, not criticize him. The teamwork they developed in solving his problem built a bond that would not have occurred without the self-evaluation.

4. It corrects potential performance issues before they become bigger problems. Had Susan waited a few more weeks to observe, she probably would’ve ended up having to call John into her office to discuss his poor performance. Instead, her “I’m in your boat” attitude helped John address his problem, boost his level of skill and confidence, and improve his performance.

5. It removes the expectation of a raise. When you conduct at least twelve conversations each year with each employee about their self-evaluation, it removes the expectation that your employee will get a raise every time you discuss his or her performance.

6. It creates a culture of two-way, regular communication. This is the best benefit! By conducting monthly self-evaluations, you create a foundation of trust and teamwork. Your employee will know he or she is not alone in trying to master the position. The more you problem-solve with them to help them succeed, your employees will feel like you’re on their side, not across the desk waiting for them to mess up. And we all know that success breeds success–both theirs and yours.

*not their real names

What contributes to employee engagement? It’s not always a college degree! Read more here.

By Marcianne Kuethen

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