How to overcome writer's block when doing a self-review

Performance reviews present a great opportunity for self reflection. Here's how to get the most out of the experience.

Why performance reviews are so important for goal-setting

The end of the calendar year means performance reviews are on the horizon. As many people believe performance reviews can be hurtful, insulting, or just a waste of time, this is evidence that many organizations' reviews are not conducted in a productive or helpful manner.

On a logistical level, performance reviews are vital to the awarding of promotions and bonuses. "The reality is that you need that information to allocate rewards and promotions. You need to be able to create an objective measure of performance and contribution in order to determine who is going to get promoted, who is going to get raises, all those sorts of things," said Brian Kropp, group vice president at Gartner. "You don't want to have a situation where those decisions are made exclusively at the discretion of managers."

SEE: Accomplishment tracker (Tech Pro Research)

While monetary decisions are a big driver of performance reviews, they are not the only one. The point of a performance review isn't to scold employees or make them feel like they are in a principal's office; the purpose is to help them improve, Kropp said.

"You need to make sure that you're not using [performance reviews] as a way to beat people up about all the stuff they did wrong. You want to be able to provide honest feedback about what's not working," Kropp said. "But balance that with the ways that that person can get better, and the ways that you can coach that person to be better the next time a similar issues arise."

However, this feedback is only helpful if the employee does their part too. Most performance review processes begin with an employee's self-evaluation--an honest reflection on their performance in the past year. If employees aren't honest with themselves, then they won't be in a good mindset to receive candid feedback from their supervisors.

When participating in a self-evaluation, it can be easy to get stuck on various portions. After a whole year, employees may have trouble remembering specific examples of success or failure, for example.

How to get unstuck

When undergoing a self-review, metrics and data are always a good starting point, according to Brian Westfall, Sr., senior HR analyst for Capterra. "This is where technology can be really beneficial," said Westfall. "Besides old emails or performance metrics, workers can also review praise they've received from others in an employee recognition platform, for example, to give them ideas. There may be data in your CRM or marketing system you didn't even consider."

Once an employee moves from self-reflection to the actual review, they should remain calm and casual when discussing their own performance, perhaps using anecdotes to display certain behaviors or practices, Westfall said.

SEE: Tips for getting the most from your performance reviews (free TechRepublic PDF)

After an entire year has gone by, though, it may be difficult for employees to remember specific instances or situations. Kropp provided the following tricks employees can use throughout the year to make their performance reviews go much smoother.

"As you're going across the course of the year, every other week or once or a week, just spend five to 10 minutes and write down what you actually did or accomplished in that previous week or two weeks or whatever time period it might be," said Kropp. "When you're trying to sit back and reflect on what happened eight, 10 months ago, our memories as human beings simply aren't good enough to really recall all the stuff. But we have access to so much technology and those sorts of things that you can just leave little notes to yourself."

For example, you can use the Notes app on your phone to write a couple of notes to yourself during your Friday commute about what you accomplished that week, Kropp said. "Then when you are writing your self-reviews next year, and comparing your performance against your KPIs, or whatever language you might use internally, you can just go back on that document and you've got it all written down," he added. "Then it's just picking and choosing what to put in, rather than trying to remember it all."

He also suggested taking a glance back at your work calendar. Whether your organization uses Google Calendar, or you use a physical planner, looking at past events and meetings can potentially jog your memory about your accomplishments and challenges faced.

"Go back and look at the different people you met with across the course of the year. That's going to give you a really good reminder of the things you were working on, and then if you can remember the things you were working on, it's just a hop, skip, and jump from there to what you actually did," Kropp said. "That's how you can recall the sorts of stuff to write your review about."

Check out this TechRepublic article for more tips on how to best prepare for your end-of-year performance review.

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