Write a kick ass self-assessment for your annual performance review, and why it’s important


We are getting closer to the end of the year, and its that time again to start the annual performance review process at my company, and yours too. Think about the whole annual appraisal, or performance measurement, process for a moment. At my company at least, there are a few steps to the process—you write a review of your own work for the past six months and rate your own work on a five-point scale in a few categories; your manager goes off and does some HR stuff for a while, then he writes his own review of your performance for the past six months and gives your work his own rating. You may ask yourself, why in the world did I write up all that stuff and give myself a high rating, if my manager is just going to write his own thing and rate my performance differently? Did he even read what I wrote? That, my friend, is a fair question.

Where your self-assessment fits into the entire performance review process

At my company, the performance review process is about four steps during each review period (every six months):

  1. Associate self assessment and rating
  2. Manager assessment and rating
  3. Group, then Department, then CIO, then etc. calibration process
  4. Manager delivers performance review to associate

There it is, the first step in the whole process! You write a review of your own work and share it with your manager.

Your manager doesn’t sit with you every day, so it can hard for him to get a full picture of your work and your contributions over the course of the year. He will rely on his direct observation of your work of course, but also on comments about your performance from others on your team, maybe a feedback request survey or two, and the discussions you have about your projects in your regular one-on-one meetings. Your self-assessment is an important input into the process, as it gives your manager another opportunity to learn about your contributions and accomplishments—it inserts your own voice into the work appraisal process.

Just to hit on the other steps in the performance review process before moving on—after your manager collects all the feedback information, and your self-assessment, he will then give your work a rating in relation to the work of your peers, and write a performance review for you. This won’t be delivered to you until your manger has met with other leaders to ensure that what ratings he has assigned to the associates on his team align with the ratings that other managers have assigned for their own teams. This calibration process is how we ensure that what I assess as “Good” or “Very Good” rated work, is the same for other teams across the company.

Your self-assessment is a marketing tool for your work

Your assessment of your own work over the past review period, usually six months or the past year, is an important marketing tool of your accomplishments and contributions. This is your chance to speak to what you have been doing and the value you brought to your team for the past review period. Its also your chance to justify the rating you gave your own work. If you gave your work at “Outstanding” rating, you are sharing why, in your opinion, your work is above and beyond. After all, if you don’t share your story, who will? You don’t want only the input of others informing your manager’s assessment.

How to write a kick ass self-assessment

This is something I share every six months with my team. Here are a few tips on writing a really great self-assessment:

  • Write in third person (Warren did this, Warren did that), this gives you an opportunity to begin writing your own performance review for me. I have the option of lifting direct content from your self-assessment for the performance review I write. After all, you should always be making your boss’s life easier. 🙂
  • Keep it to about 1,000 words total, which is a little shorter than this article. Be concise, but share everything you feel is important. Hit the highlights and use bullets to make it easy to read. Write a few lines for each item to share what your role was and how you contributed, as well as the value it brought to the company.
  • Share your contributions to the team, and your accomplishments over the past review period, not your day-to-day activities, or your job description. Share what value you brought over the past six months, from both a direct results perspective (reduced defects by one million percent), and also your innovative improvements to how we do our work (implemented three amigos process, improving collaboration for each story card).
  • Take credit for your work. Yes, we are all a team, but right now, I want to hear what you directly contributed. Sometimes it can be hard to toot your own horn, but now is the time!

Six months or a year is a long time! It can be really hard to remember what you have been up to. Here are some ideas for finding what to write about and filling in the gaps:

  • Be proactive! Create a quick text document on your desktop and add some information when you complete a deliverable or phase on your project. If you take on a new assignment, add that too. When it comes to review time, you’ll already have an outline for your self-assessment, and you’ll just have to fill in your results.
  • OK, so not everyone is a proactive over achiever (not like me, but some of the folks on my team), so a good place to start is your last performance review. When my manager delivered my last performance review, I took notes. I captured what he thought were opportunities for me, and asked what I could do to achieve a higher rating next time. Using this, I was able to build a roadmap for my work over the next six months; I also am able to return to those notes for ideas of what to highlight as I write an assessment of what I did over this review period.
  • The next best thing, is to review the notes from each of your regular one-on-one meetings with your manager. This should share what you had completed, and what you had planned to work on every few weeks. If you fill out a template for your one-on-one meetings, your job of writing a self-assessment is almost completed already.
  • When I know its time to write my self assessment, I usually brainstorm over a few days to think of everything I did. Keep a quick text document on your desktop, and when something jumps into your head, write it down. Once you are ready to write, you’ll have an outline waiting for you.
  • Just to ensure you don’t miss anything, its also a good idea to review your calendar for the past six months, week by week, to be reminded of meetings you had for committees you led or were involved, and meetings for projects that you had completed and already forgotten because you’ve moved to the next one.

How I use associate self-assessments on my team

Its no fun to have the self-assessment you spent time crafting go into an HR black hole after you deliver it. You hear nothing back until your manager shares his review of your performance with you. After all, you don’t even know if he read what you wrote.

In the next regular one-on-one meeting scheduled after my associates submit their self-assessments, we review what they wrote together. This gives the associate a chance to read it with me, sharing additional information; and for me to ask clarifying questions. Everyone isn’t an award-winning writer, and not everyone feels conformable bragging about his or her own work, so this provides a chance to level the self-assessment playing field a bit. Usually, during this conversation, the associate remembers something additional that they wanted to include, so we get a chance to talk about that as well. There have also been cases when I would share feedback on what they wrote, usually asking for a bit more content for each bullet point, or reminding them to substantiate a very high rating with additional information. You don’t have to wait for your manager to initiate a discussion like this; there is nothing wrong with having this conversation in your next one-on-one meeting. Ask your manager what he is expecting to see in your performance self-assessment, and if you could share what you wrote with him for some pointers.

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