Annual Performance Reviews: Don’t Skimp on Self-Assessment

It’s that time of the year again … the most wonderful time of year. Do you recall that Staples commercial when the parents are so excited for Back to School? Do you think anyone does that dance when it comes time for Annual Performance Reviews? I’m guessing not. Not the HR team, not the managers, and not the team members. No one loves writing or receiving performance reviews. Sure, I think we can all (hopefully) agree feedback is a valuable tool. And certainly we appreciate when compensation increases are delivered (especially if they are generous), but performance reviews can be excruciating from all angles.

I believe the most effective form of performance reviews is the 360° variety. I’ve heard some various definitions of a 360° review, so I’ll first define it per my definition: a performance review that incorporates formal feedback and scoring from multiple people including

  • the individual
  • the individual’s manager
  • colleagues of the individual which in creative services may include internal clients
  • for managers, their direct reports – super scary for managers—but the most influential feedback I ever received was from those who reported to me

shutterstock_149484518 2-18-14Photo from Shutterstock

If you’re fortunate enough to be part of a performance review system that includes a self review, this is something you need to take very seriously. It’s your career—not your manager’s. Take the time to be thoughtful, objective and inclusive. If you don’t take this time, why should your manager?

When one of my former direct reports was up for a promotion, I told her it would be in her best interest to write her review so thoroughly that I could basically copy hers. Promoting people isn’t easy—most managers would like to promote their team members more often than they’re allowed. At the very least, many managers would like to score their team members higher than they do, except many of us are required to submit to a forced distribution of review scores across a bell curve. This means 10–20% of our team members must be “below expectations” and only 10–20% can be “above expectations” and the rest “meets expectations.”

Your self-assessment is your argument to your manager and the HR department that you deserve to be in “above expectations.” If you write a short, shallow self-assessment, you’re not helping your manager in her goal to be your advocate.

Hopefully, you’ve been preparing to write your self review by saving those “kudos” emails you received across the year and documenting your successes and challenges (because looking back at your challenges unveils when you have overcome them). If not, start this practice for next year. In fact, review the guidance we share with managers and adopt the relevant practices into your personal workflow.

I’ll also take a minute to share the best career advice I ever received. It takes a disciplined person to do this—I haven’t always been so successful at it, but I think it’s brilliant advice:

  • Every year, in conjunction with or ahead of performance review time, update your résumé—even if your title didn’t change, perhaps you have new responsibilities or accomplishments to note.
  • Review the job market. Apply to some positions that look interesting—even if you’re not formally looking. Go on a few interviews.

The goal is to understand your market value—are you well compensated? Would you be considered for a more senior role elsewhere? Some years, you’ll end up branching out and heading down a new path. Other years, you’ll find you’re very well valued exactly where you are.


HOW Design LiveGet even more hiring advice at the In-House Management Conference at HOW Design Live 2014.

About In-HOWse Guest Jackie Schaffer
Jackie Schaffer, Vice President and General Manager of Cella Consulting, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions and has the unique opportunity to speak with hundreds of creative leaders each year. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative. Cella is a co-author of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report and authors weekly blogs on business operations topics pertinent to the role of creative leaders.