Should your employees complete self-assessments? Here’s a better approach.

Many organizations believe that self-assessments are effective because they allow employees to inform management of their accomplishments and developmental needs. Unfortunately, self-assessments do not meet those expectations.

The research on self-assessments[i] shows that they have low validity and high variability. They are most accurate when the employee is of higher intelligence, has a high achievement status, believes that they can control events that happen to them (called Internal locus of control), and trusts that their assessment will be compared against standard measures.

I do not advocate formal self-assessments. There is something much better – managers who build clarity, understanding and rapport with their employees. Those managers will know their employee’s accomplishments and understand their needs more than any self-assessment can reveal.

Instead of self-assessments, here’s what every manager can do:

  • Ensure employees know the organization’s vision. Make sure employees have a thorough understanding of the company’s purpose, strategies and their specific role in helping the organization be successful.
  • Set A-SMART goals for each employee – goals that are clearly Aligned with the company’s strategy, Specific, Measurable, challenging but Achievable, Realistic, Relevant and Time based.
  • Provide frequent clarity to employees on their roles, decision rights and information flows. Hold half-day team meetings on the company’s annual goals, and seek employee input on how to achieve those goals. Invite employee suggestions, and thoroughly discuss their questions and concerns. Modify your team’s goals or resource allocation based on employee feedback. Repeat these discussions at least quarterly so that goals or work can be altered, if necessary. The time you spend providing clarity will be vastly rewarded with more engaged, innovative and successful employees.
  • Meet weekly with each employee to see what hurdles they are facing. Remove obstacles and provide resources, feedback and developmental opportunities.
  • Meet quarterly or at key achievement milestones with every employee to formally document their performance, key learnings and developmental goals.

Engagement discussions

If managers don’t follow this approach now, I recommend that managers begin by first meeting with each of their employees outside of the formal performance review meeting to ask how the job is going, what they like and do not like, and inquire about their career aspirations. When these types of “engagement discussions” are done outside of the performance review process, employees are more willing to open up, and the discussions will lead to stronger manager-employee relationships.

Ask questions like:

  1. What do you believe has gone particularly well with your performance?
  2. What do you think could have gone better?
  3. What can I do to help you?
  4. What do you like best about your job?
  5. What do you like least?
  6. What would you like to do more of?
  7. What would you like to be doing in the company in three years? Five years?

Managers who spend time building rapport with their employees will have much more to work with than self-assessments can tell them about their employees’ achievements and developmental goals. More importantly, they will have stronger relationships with their employees, enabling them to better align employee motivation with the company’s purpose and drive superior performance.

Victor Assad is a strategic human resources consultant and coach who works with key decision makers and human resources leaders on talent management, accelerating change, leadership development, and other strategic initiatives, such as mergers and acquisitions, strategy implementation, and flexible workplace. To learn more about the latest research on performance management, download Victor’s free whitepaper “Performance Management: Are You Aligning Employee Passion to Company Purpose? Time for an Overhaul!” from his website at:

[i] Paul A. Mabe and Stephen G. West.  (July 1982). “Validity of self-evaluation of ability: A review and meta-analysis.” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 67 (3), 280-296.  Retrieved from

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