Self-Assessment and the Quest
for Performance Improvement

By Erin E. Lawler-King

What is Self-Assessment?

Before an individual, team or organization forms a plan for performance improvement, it is critical that a clear picture of current performance be established. Self-assessment allows the rater to look at their own performance, form conclusions about performance level, and act upon those conclusions to create a development plan. Accurate self-assessment requires introspection and realistic self-perception (Wilson & Pearson, 1995). The rater must also be able to reflect on their performance and determine where improvements are necessary (Braskamp & Ory, 1994).

Self-assessment takes many forms. In many organizations, self-evaluation is incorporated into the performance appraisal process or used to identify developmental needs (Atwater, 1998). Self-assessment also allows the rater to check compliance with stated requirements and standards, evaluate effectiveness, or assess performance (Wilson & Pearson, 1995). A self-evaluation can be used on its own to identify opportunities for improvement, or can be combined with the feedback of others to create a more rounded view of performance (Braskamp & Ory, 1994; Atwater, 1998).

Self-assessment is used in varied settings, including government, academia, and business. In 1998, Atwater estimated that at least 5% of U.S. companies used self-assessment as part of the performance appraisal process. Wilson and Pearson (1995) projected that self-evaluation would increase in use as companies embraced philosophies such as Total Quality Management in an effort to improve organizational performance.

Why Use Self-Assessment?

The value of self-assessment lies in it ability to make the rater take responsibility for their own performance and development. When an individual or group participates in self-evaluation to create a development plan, there is an increased level of commitment to the goals formulated as a result of the assessment (Atwater, 1998; Wilson & Pearson, 1995). When used as part of the performance appraisal process, self-evaluation also enhances the rater's dignity and self-respect. The rater is an active participant in evaluating their performance and is not at the mercy of a supervisor or other evaluator; bias is reduced by collecting data from multiple sources (Atwater, 1998).

Self-assessment works by helping the rater internalize the need for change and performance improvement. Individuals are encouraged to take responsibility and ownership for their own improvement; the motivation for change comes from within rather than being imposed from outside (Federal Quality Institute, 1993; Wilson & Pearson, 1995). As Braskamp and Ory (1994) point out, the rater may be the most important source of information about their own performance; no one knows the work, the thought behind it, and personal goals better than the individual themselves.

When Should Self-Assessment Be Used?

Self-assessment is best used with raters who are eager to improve. When implementing self-assessment in an organization, it is often helpful to start by using self-evaluation to set modest goals. Once raters have successfully set and met their own goals, motivation will increase and larger efforts can be undertaken (Wilson & Pearson, 1995). Another factor that contributes to the success of self-evaluation is a high level of management involvement with the rater; supervisors can assist the rater in interpreting a self-assessment to identify developmental needs (Atwater, 1998). In the performance appraisal process, Atwater describes self-assessment is a valuable tool for rating an employee who typically works alone and cannot be easily observed, and for providing additional data on the performance of those who can be observed directly.

Potential Pitfalls of Self-Assessment

A primary threat to the reliability and accuracy of self-assessment is that it can be influenced by the rater's mood or state of mind (Atwater, 1998). Self-assessment also decreases in usefulness when the rater has difficulty looking inward to find the source of performance issues; some raters may blame others for their poor performance (Wilson & Pearson, 1995). Table 1 summarizes a number of biographical, personal, and contextual factors that may affect self-assessment (Braskamp & Ory, 1994; Atwater 1998).


Table 1. Factors Influencing Self-Assessment Accuracy and Reliability

Factor Type


Gender; age; tenure; minority status


Intelligence; self-esteem; narcissism


Prior job experiences; previous assessment results

Self-Assessment: A Real World Example

Mitchell International, based in San Diego, California, is a leading provider of software and data solutions to the collision repair industry. In this organization, self-assessment is used as an optional component of the performance appraisal process. Tracy Bracht, Director of Educational Services, invites members of her department to complete self-appraisals to provide input into the performance review written by the manager.

Bracht indicated that self-assessments are a valuable way for the manager to get a more complete view of an employee's activity, including tasks that may have been assigned by someone other than the manager. "In an environment like training, where we work with a lot of different organizations, employees may be doing tasks for other groups," she stated. "Through the self-appraisal process, you get a better understanding of all the tasks that someone might be doing." Bracht stressed that the self-appraisal is particularly important when contact between supervisor and employee is sporadic; when a manager is unable to monitor the employee's activity on a regular basis, a self-evaluation can provide insight into what tasks the employee performs on a daily basis.

Bracht also sees self-assessment as "a great way for the employee to give input as to how they feel they have done this year as it relates to their objectives…where they have done well, and where they have perhaps missed the mark." Bracht encourages employees to assess their performance on a monthly basis to monitor how well they are progressing toward meeting specified objectives.

Bracht indicated that in the review process, she generally weights employee and manager feedback equally. "I never expect to see surprises on a self-appraisal, because that would mean that I wouldn't be engaged and know what was going on," she stated. Bracht looks for synergy between self-appraisals and manager appraisals; if discrepancies exist, intervention is usually required.

"In essence, reviews are not a one-way street," summarized Bracht. "Reviews are not about me, the manager, telling an employee 'what you did this year' or 'what your goals are this year.' It should be much more participative, where the employee gets to help set their own goals and then give input on how they're doing." At Mitchell International, self-assessment is a valuable tool that helps employees evaluate past performance and set goals for future achievement.


Braskamp, L. A., & Ory, J. C. (1994). Assessing faculty work: Enhancing Individual and Institutional Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Federal Quality Institute. (1993). Self-assessment guide for organizational performance and customer satisfaction: Based on the presidential award for quality criteria (No. FQI-400R). Washington, DC: Author.

Atwater, L.E. (1998). The advantages and pitfalls of self-assessment in organizations. In Smither, J.W. (Ed.), Performance appraisal: State of the art in practice (pp. 331-369). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Wilson, P. F., & Pearson, R. D. (1995). Performance-based assessments: External, internal, and self-assessment tools for total quality management. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.

Author Note


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