Needed: A Self-Assessment Culture

The word assessment triggers a lot of emotional responses in people.  Self-assessment often “feels” okay because we have a great relationship with the evaluator.  But having someone else assess how I’m doing?  I’m not so sure about that.  They may tell me some things that hurt, or that I don’t want to hear, or are just plain wrong.


How do the two sides (evaluator and evaluatee) of assessment work together?  Should both be included in an evaluation?  Or at all?


There continues to be much talk about abandoning performance reviews or at least having reviews without ratings.    Companies like Deloitte, Adobe, and Accenture caused a stir and swung the pendulum wide by throwing out performance reviews altogether.  But many are swinging back to the middle again [1], recognizing there was a baby in that dirty bath water.


That “baby” is a complex organism by the way, representing both sides of evaluation – that from a manager’s perspective and of an employee’s.


At Performance Culture, we embrace authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s research in Thanks for the Feedback citing that there are three types of feedback:  coaching, appreciation, and evaluation.  All three are necessary for the receiver.  One of my personal beliefs for why performance reviews have been loathed for so long is because we have completely skipped over coaching and appreciation and gone right to the evaluation.


Well, no wonder we hate them.  Who likes to have someone whom they’ve barely talked to in an authentic manner, who doesn’t seem invested in your personal growth or vision, or who hasn’t helped you along the way get better tell you where you fall short?  To me, that would feel like being hit in the head with a 2 x 4.  Ouch!


Performance Culture’s coaching process trains managers and leaders how to live out these three feedback loops effectively, but today I want to focus on the evaluation component.


Allow me to start by profiling a few cases we’ve had with various clients.  I recall one case where time was of the essence to have employee reviews completed.  After purchasing the Performance Culture System™ the client hastily created the reviews and chose NOT to allow the employees a chance to use our self-assessment ratings and comments feature.  This had not been part of their process before, so they wanted to proceed without it.  We strongly warned them against this practice, explaining the pitfalls this could create.  I’ll sum it up this way:  think of every Dilbert cartoon you’ve ever read.  Yep.  It’s like that.


Unfortunately, those reviews did not go well, as we suspected.  The employees did not feel like their voice was heard, or that this was a conversation.  And of course, it wasn’t.  Yeah, I’d throw out a performance review like that, too.


What’s happened since then?  They’ve instituted the self-assessment.


I’ve been asked if managers could rate the employee using our Performance Values Matrix, but not let it be visible to the employee.  No sir, you can’t.  Secret ratings and not communicating where one stands never works out in the long run.


We’ve had multiple cases where clients did not want to allow managers to provide any ratings, and instead just comments, about their employees.  To use our Performance-Values Matrix, ratings are necessary, so the power of this visualization[2] is lost when you abandon ratings.


However, our background in organizational development tells us that every organization is at different stages culturally, and change has to be managed.


Therefore, we’ve allowed Administrators the ability to disable manager ratings and the Performance-Values Matrix while they start on the path towards a coaching culture.


But so far all paths have led to the ratings being turned back on eventually.


Why do you think this is?  I’ll share my thoughts, but I’d love to hear your theories and experiences why evaluations go better with ratings.


Here’s what I know:  all of us desperately need to know the answer to the critical question, “How am I doing?”  In the absence of information, we tell ourselves a story.  That story could be true, but most often it’s a twisted version of the truth and sometimes downright wrong.


I also know that in order to grow, I need to equally self-assess and be self-aware.


I know that a first step for managers and employees to enter into the murky waters of evaluation is to have had authentic conversations prior; for that manager to have led well, and provided coaching along the way.


I know that Leaders most go first, and must be hyper self-aware, frequently self-assess, and invite others to provide feedback on themselves.  Our 360 Degree Feedback tool easily allows users to accomplish this.


And I know that authentic encounters require authentic people.


There are some great techniques that we provide for managers and leaders when it comes to providing feedback, such as the use of behavioral profiles and Coach the Coach sessions, but the technique with the biggest correlation to a successful evaluation is the easiest and yet the hardest: genuine care.


If you really care about someone, you’re thoughtful about how you interact with him or her on a daily basis.  You don’t leave them guessing how they’re doing, and you coach them along the way on how they can be the best they can be.  And you listen to them when they have feedback for you!


Having specific performance objectives and behaviors sets the stage for a detailed, less subjective conversation.  Not being afraid to have crucial conversations and addressing conflict as soon as possible creates a positive, healthy culture.


Developing a Coaching Culture involves coaching[3], appreciation, and evaluation.  Evaluation is critical for the employee’s growth and for leadership’s awareness of the state of their organization.  It is not a thing to be feared, but to be embraced with proper training and guidance.


Let’s wash that baby off and start doing performance reviews well.



[1] by Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis


[2] Behavioral Research shows visualization improves learning by up to 400% – University of Illinois Study on Best ways to teach 2014


[3] In What I Learned from 4 Millennials about Employee Engagement I spoke about using our Check-In feature to prompt frequent feedback and coaching between manager and employee.  And either side can prompt this!  Employees are encouraged to take charge of their development and can with Check-Ins.