Writing your performance review matters

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Aug 04

We are soon coming to the time when either we will get a mid-year performance review, or need to start working on the end of the year performance review. It is not a pleasant task for managers. In fact, many managers dislike it so much that they won’t even write the review — they let you write it for them.

As a management practice, a manager not writing the performance review drives employees nuts. And while most companies want you to write your own performance review as part of the overall process, it can go too far. In How to Do Performance Reviews Right, it leads to this:

That’s where self-assessments cease to be just a data point and instead practically become the review itself. It works like this: A manager takes the employee’s self-assessment, adds some superficial comments or check marks and assigns a final performance rating. Presto! A performance review that satisfies human resources, with a bare minimum of the manager’s effort.

And people wonder why employees think evaluations are ridiculous.

The author goes on to provide four ways a manager can get performance reviews right — and they are good advice for you writing your own self-review of your performance. But here’s the conclusion I disagree with:

When it comes to composing one’s own performance review, that’s a task that shouldn’t be in any employee’s job description.

I think it is important to write your own self-assessment for your performance review. A great reason is right here in the article: your manager is too busy, lazy, scared, intimidated or something to write your review — so you better help justify any salary, bonus and performance perks. If you and your manager won’t do it, no one will, hurting you.

The other reason to write your own self-assessment is that your rating, ranking, pay and bonus are all determined in most large companies before the manager ever writes the performance review. Yet, your self-assessment is usually due months before your actual review is delivered to you.

Consequently, your self-assessment is usually the only performance-based information your manager has to recommend a rating or justify a pay raise or protect your bonus in calibration sessions with your manager’s peers. If you don’t write your self-assessment, your manager makes all of these recommendations and decisions with whatever is floating around about your performance in his or her head.

Would you rather have a well-documented self-assessment that shows how you have knocked the socks off your goals (because you did — you still need to do the work) giving your manager ammunition to justify your work? Or would you hope that your management team knows enough about your work to justify that higher rating?

I know which one I’d pick.

  • Anissa Stein says:

    You write “your self-assessment is usually the only performance-based information your manager has to recommend a rating or justify a pay raise or protect your bonus in calibration sessions with your manager’s peers”. I disagree with this. If a manager is doing their job, they are tracking performance-based indicators throughout the year, have been having ongoing coaching sessions toward goal attainment and the like. This information should be the basis for which a manager can justify a pay raise or rating. Research has shown that employees have overinflated perspectives of their work, especially if they are not high performers, and high performers understate their work. This is no way to advocate for performance appraisals.

    • Scot says:

      Anissa — the operative statement you have here is “If a manager is doing their job.” I’ve had great managers who tracked performance as you have described (and I have done as a manager) and I’ve had other managers that did nothing more than sign the self-assessment I’d given them and call it a review. I’ve had other managers that simply gave me my rating and pay raise and never had a performance discussion. If you check the research on managers who actually give performance reviews and follow through with coaching sessions as you have described them, I think you’ll find a low number.

      You are correct in that employees over inflate their work and high performers understate their work. I’ve seen employees who, in their self-assessment, give themselves outstanding ratings across all goals and competencies when doing below average work while other employees don’t even bother turning one in; both methods leave the performance rating up to a manager who also fits into a range of manager performance.

      What I am advocating is that you, as an employee, need to supply an accurate self-assessment that contains the data to defend your rating to your manager.

      In the case of a great manager who has done all that you say, there can be a great discussion of the work and there should be no surprises. In the case of the manager who has not done their job and tracked performance and doesn’t have your top three accomplishments and how much they contributed to the department when walking into a management calibration session to determine your rating and pay raise, you have given your manager the talking points needed to justify your rating.

      In either case, an accurate self-assessment of your performance — and be clear, most employees don’t do this which is why I hope this site will show people why they need to do this work — is the best way to document your performance. For great managers or managers in name only.

      Wouldn’t you want to advocate your performance accurately so as to get the performance rating you deserve? Or would you leave it up to your manager and hope for the best?

  • Anissa Stein says:

    Hi Scot, I believe your statement “wouldn’t you want to advocate your performance accurately” is the crux of the issue as well. The first being that you have to have a manager who is doing their job and doing it well in terms of tracking performance, etc. The second being an employee who is accurate on their self-assessment and provides data to back up their assertions. From my 15+ years experience, this is the combination that works best. It does not however always exist as I have seen one or both pieces of the puzzle break down.

    • Scot says:

      I’m trying to do my part to encourage Cubicle Warriors to accurately portray their performance ;>))

      You need both the manager and the employee to determine the performance and it doesn’t happen as often as it should. I don’t necessarily have control over my manager’s ability to do the right stuff; I DO have control over what I write for the self-assessment. So I’m advocating doing what you can control on the self-assessment and then you have done your part. It takes two to tango, so-to-speak, and I’m hoping the employee is doing their part.

  • Anissa Stein says:

    Sounds like great advice then.

  • Anissa Stein says:

    Sounds like great advice then.

  • […] out with money, right? It is your manager that writes your performance review (unless you help write the performance review…) and defends your performance in calibration […]

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