Managers benefit from having employees grade themselves

Dear Dave: I just had a horrible and embarrassing performance review and my new manager unloaded some things on me that blew me away. She said I was not living up to my potential and my work was below desired standards. I heard nothing positive at all, even though I have been with this Rochester company for 11 years and I always got praise from my former managers. I am so frustrated that I really am thinking about leaving the company. My self confidence is hurt and I have a hard time even coming to work. I would like to know, how does an employee know how they are performing their job before they get trashed by their manager, and how can they defend themselves in the review?  — J

Dear J: Employee reviews should evaluate performance on the job. Reviews often determine raises, promotions and whether we get to keep our jobs. That can explain, why even as adults, these "report cards" often make us feel uneasy. However, we probably know in our hearts how we performed, unless we have no grasp of reality at all.

The goal of an appraisal should be to increase communication, establish clear expectations, reinforce good performance, improve unsatisfactory performance and foster a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.

Sounds good, eh? Then why do some people feel so dismantled when they walk out of the review? One Rochester manager told me he never lets even the best employees think they are doing that great of a job. He says you should always keep employees thirsty for recognition and appreciation, and they will perform better begging for a pat on the head. Pretty twisted stuff.

Often, managers "gunnysack" their observations of employee performance — every time they see something they don’t like, instead of telling the employee right away, and tactfully, I might add, they just throw the observation into the gunnysack. At review time, they get out their gunnysack and bop the employee senseless.


Writing employee reviews is always a tough job for managers — especially if they are not provided training — and judging the work of employees is often perception-driven vs. fact-driven. This is when providing performance feedback becomes confrontational, and it is a my-view-against-your-view discussion.

In reality, it doesn’t need to be that way. One simple way to reinvent the employee performance evaluation is to shift the responsibility for the assessment back to employees, says Paul Falcone, an HR executive and best-selling author. He also believes if you ask workers to grade themselves, you’ll find (more than likely) that they’re harder on themselves than the manager would be.

Ask your manager if you can do a self-assessment to bring to the review. This should be an honest self-appraisal. What are you good at? What have you done that utilizes your skills? Do you get stressed-out easily? Where have you failed recently or over the last year? What do people compliment you for? What sort of situations do your co-workers seem least interested in working with you?

Make a list of strengths and weaknesses. Did they come into play in the work you did? How? If you think you have strengths that never got an opportunity to be used, note them.

Think about any "on the spot" performance feedback you received over the last year — and I sure hope you received some. Have management or co-workers made any statements about the quality and quantity of your work? Can you think of things you wish you had done better? Note your achievements and how your employer has benefited.

If you reach the conclusion that the review was truly unjust, set an appointment to again meet with your reviewer. However, wait until you can look at the review objectively. If there are any points that were correct, acknowledge those, but have clear examples that counteract the criticisms made. Present anything you have in writing that can back you up. If you didn't keep better documentation, make sure to do so in the future.

Ultimately, you should regard your review as a learning opportunity. If management is doing its job correctly, there really should be no "a-ha's," "gotchas" or surprises.

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