Tis the Season for Self-Reflection

December 19, 2018 in
By Cristina Horne

As we’ve mentioned in the first two blog articles this month, December is a perfect time for self-reflection on your strengths, your accomplishments, and your focus areas for improvement going into the new year. For many people, this self-reflection also needs to take the form of a written self-assessment as part of your company’s performance management program. While a self-assessment is a meaningful exercise, even those who recognize and appreciate its value may still dread the process of actually writing one. Whether you don’t know where to start, you’re concerned that your supervisor might not agree with what you write, or you’re uncomfortable bragging about yourself, sitting down in front of a blank self-assessment document can cause some angst. These tips (and a couple of deep breaths) can help you get started.

  • Break it up. There’s no getting around the fact that developing a self-assessment takes time. Try to allow yourself enough time before the deadline to break it up into manageable pieces. Start with an outline, jotting down bullet points for each of the sections or performance elements you need to cover. Once you get somethingdown on paper, it’s easier to keep the momentum going. Focus on one section at a time so you’re able to keep your thoughts organized.
  • Be concise. When it comes to self-assessments, more words do not equal more value. Keep the focus on your most notable contributions rather than trying to capture every single thing you’ve worked on over the course of the year. Including one or two strong examples for each section tells a more compelling story, and it will help your supervisor focus on the areas of your work where you truly went above and beyond.
  • Show the impact of your work. Many people feel uncomfortable writing a self-assessment because describing accomplishments feels like bragging. While it may feel awkward, you are the person in the best position to highlight your achievements, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so! If you can connect your work to concrete positive impacts for your company or customers, it helps to clearly articulate the value of your efforts while lending some objectivity to your assessment.
  • Address development opportunities. On the flip side of concerns about boasting, you may also be worried about addressing the goals you didn’t quite meet. While the primary focus of a self-assessment is generally on accomplishments, recognizing development opportunities is an important part of the process as well. Over the course of a year, there are often trade-offs that you have to make, where the time you devoted to excelling in one area resulted in a bit less time to focus on another. It’s wise to address any perceived shortcomings head-on, rather than waiting for your supervisor to point them out. This gives you the opportunity to provide context around the trade-offs, to reflect on lessons learned, and to touch on how you plan to target these growth areas in the future.
  • Save the surprises for your holiday gift exchange. One of the most important aspects of performance management is open, continuous communication. Ideally, the content you include in your self-assessment will be a refresher for your supervisor, not brand-new information. If you and your supervisor are on the same page about expectations and progress throughout the year, it can eliminate that worry about whether he or she will be caught off guard by your assessment. While these frequent check-ins should mean that you’re familiar with the performance expectations for your role, it’s still a good idea to re-read any documentation your organization provides as you prepare your self-assessment. The specific language in these written materials may help spark some ideas as you’re brainstorming.
  • Make a resolution to plan ahead for next year. Of all of these tips, the one that will help streamline your self-assessment process the most is planning ahead. While that ship may have sailed for 2018, New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. If you keep a log of your accomplishments, results and outcomes, and lessons learned throughout the year, you’ll just need to pull them into a cohesive document once you get to the end. There are many different ways to do this, so use one that fits your style – and that you will realistically keep up with after the first few weeks of January. You could start an email folder to save copies of kudos and send notes to yourself about the things you want to remember. You could use your favorite note-taking app; there are plenty of options that sync across devices, so you’ll never have to miss an opportunity to jot something down while you’re thinking of it. If you get excited about fancy planners and color coding, you could even hand write your notes throughout the year. Think about adding a reminder to your calendar (or note-taking app, or planner) to update your self-assessment file each month.

While the structure of company performance management programs could be a whole separate blog series, there are a few quick tips to make the self-assessment process as painless as possible from the organization’s side as well.

  • Keep it simple. It’s helpful to provide a basic structure or template to get people started and encourage some level of consistency across the organization. However, it’s important to keep the template simple. You want employees to spend their time thinking about their most important contributions and the impact they created – not fretting over which part of each accomplishment maps to each of 10 different elements or sub-element.
  • Create the space to discuss both strengths and challenges. We encouraged employees to be upfront about goals they didn’t quite meet, but supervisors and organizations have an important role to play in this. People aren’t going to feel comfortable doing this unless managers are open to discussing challenges and development areas without the fear that it will have an undue negative effect on the rest of their evaluation. It may make sense to separate the conversation about the lessons learned from the rest of the performance discussion, setting aside a different time in which you focus on growth areas for next year. This largely depends on the structure of your performance management program and your organizational culture.
  • Show employees how valuable their self-assessments are. If people take the time to write their self-assessments, supervisors should take the time to read them and really absorb the content. If there’s something that’s surprising, be sure to highlight it for discussion. Reference the strengths and accomplishments that the employee mentioned as you’re developing the evaluation, and when you meet with the employee to discuss it. Again, if your performance management program is separate from your goal-setting and development processes, reference the assessment again during those discussions. Make sure employees understand that the time they spent on self-reflection was worthwhile.

With these practical tips to reduce the stress around self-assessments, you can create the mental space to make the most of this opportunity for reflection. So, grab your favorite seasonal beverage, refer to your handy file of notes and accomplishments (maybe next year), and enjoy the recap of all the great things you’ve achieved this year.

About the Author: Cristina enjoys partnering with clients on a variety of strategic human capital initiatives, from performance management and compensation to engagement surveys and career development programs. Outside the office, you can find her hanging out with her family, spending time outdoors, and constantly adding to her travel bucket list.