Should I ask the individual whose performance appraisal I am preparing to make up a list of accomplishments?

Yes. Requesting a list of their accomplishments and achievements from each individual over the course of the year is one of the most effective ways to begin the performance assessment process.

Tell Me More

The best way to start the performance assessment phase of the process is for the manager to request an accomplishments list from each person she'll be evaluating. The manager might say something like this:

Sam, over the next few weeks I'll be writing your annual performance appraisal. Before I even begin thinking about your appraisal, though, I'd like you to send me a list of all of the things you've done this year that you really feel good about... all of your achievements and accomplishments. It doesn't have to be formaljust send me an e-mail or write it on the back of an envelope.

And by the wayif there's anything that you did over the past twelve months that didn't turn out as well as you would have liked, don't include that. I am not interested in getting a balanced summary. I only want to know about the things you've done this year that you are really proud of.

To begin, a request like this one puts a very appropriate and positive spin on the whole performance appraisal process. Too often people feel that the purpose of performance appraisal is to point out all of their faults, flaws, and failings over the course of the year (and the way some managers conduct performance appraisal discussions, it's no wonder people feel this way.) A request for an accomplishments list, particularly when the manager specifically asks the individual not to include anything that is not a genuine source of pride, convinces the people receiving the request that the manager genuinely wants to focus on people's strengths and successes in doing a performance review.

Here, though, is the more important reason for asking for an accomplishments list. For a manager, there are few things more embarrassing than giving Sally her performance review in early December, watching her read it, and hearing her wail, "But you didn't even mention the Thompson project I did last February!" You then realize that you had forgotten all about one of her most important contributions to the company in the entire twelve months. That's a managerial gaffe that will never be forgotten.

Asking for an accomplishments list removes the possibility of getting caught in that embarrassing trap. Now the manager will receive Sally's list of accomplishments, discover the forgotten Thompson project at the top of her list, and say to himself, "Oh, dear! I forgot all about it. It's a good thing I asked for this list." The manager may forget about some of the individual's accomplishments; the individual won't.

Hot Tip

Another reason for asking for the accomplishments list is that it will give you a good perspective on how the individual looks at her own performance. Is her accomplishments list reasonable, demonstrating a mature view of genuine achievements over the course of the year? Or is it filled with any possible positive actions, most so minor that they are hardly worth mentioning? Is the list remarkable for how short it is, and how trivial the accomplishments listed? Asking for the accomplishments list will give the supervisor a good heads-up for what he might expect in the appraisal discussion, particularly if his judgments about the value of the individual's accomplishments are not as stellar as she sees them to be.

Should I ask the individual to complete a self-appraisal using the company's performance appraisal form?

First, follow your company's policy. Many organizations request that all employees complete a self-appraisal as part of the organization's performance management system. If your company does have such a requirement, ask each individual to complete the self-appraisal as policy dictates.

If there is no requirement for self-appraisal, it's still a good idea. The hour that the person spends reflecting on just how well she performed in the last twelve months may be far more valuable than anything you say as the supervisor during the appraisal discussion.

Tell Me More

To begin, self-appraisal should always be a voluntary process. People should be invited/requested/permitted to complete a self-appraisal as part of the performance management process, but they should never be required/coerced/compelled to do so. Compelling self-appraisal will defeat the benefit of having people think carefully about how they have performed over the year. It will likely bring resentment ("That's your job, not mine!"). It may even provoke a refusal. What is the manager to do when the employee says, "I really don't feel comfortable with doing a self-appraisal ... I would prefer not to?" Will the manager make the self-appraisal a condition of employment and insist that the individual complete the form on pain of termination? And what possible value will that self-appraisal have?

A better approach is simply to point out that self-appraisal has some benefits and ask informally that the individual complete one.

Another important issue involves the timing of the employee's delivery of her self-appraisal to the manager. Should the individual bring it to the performance appraisal review meeting so that she and the manager can look at what each other has written at the same time, or should the individual send the self-appraisal to the manager well in advance so that the manager can use the employee's self-appraisal as a data source for constructing the official appraisal?

Both approaches have benefits and disadvantages. The most important thing is clear communication with the individual about the purpose of the self-appraisal and the mechanics of delivering it. The manager can say, "Sam, as part of our process we ask every person to complete a self-appraisal of his own performance. Here's a blank copy of the form. I'd like you to complete it and send me a copy by next Thursday so I can take your insights into consideration as I'm writing the official appraisal." The manager could just as easily say, "Sam, we routinely ask every employee to write a self-appraisal as part of our performance management process. Here's a copy of the form for you to use. Give it some thought, write a self-appraisal, and bring it with you when we get together next week to review the official appraisal I'm writing."

Red Flag

Asking for an accomplishments list and requesting self-appraisals are appropriate only when the individual's performance is at least meeting the organization's standards. If the individual's performance is below standard, or if there is a specific performance issue that could jeopardize continued employment if it is not immediately corrected, avoid asking for a self-appraisal or an accomplishments list. The reason is that in the case of a marginal performer, it's important for the manager to have great control over the situation. Inviting a self-appraisal or an accomplishments list provokes discussion of the way the employee sees the situation and the way the manager sees it. With people whose performance is fully successful, that's appropriate. With a marginal performer, it's not. The manager needs to be in charge of the meeting and explain that there must be an immediate correction of the situation or significantly unhappy consequences will follow.

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