Self-Assessment as a Performance Improvement Intervention

By Carole J. Adams

Humans encounter self-assessment every day -- from career and retirement planning, to deciding whether to have dessert or not. But have you considered self-assessment as human performance improvement tool? Self-assessment occurs when individuals evaluate their own performance, skills, or attributes. The information is then used to motivate the person to acknowledge gaps, set goals and achieve them.

Self-assessment in the workplace has roots in management approaches used in the 1980s and early 1990s, including employee involvement (EI) and total quality management (TQM). In TQM programs, employees are seen as having good ideas on how to improve work quality and as wanting to do a good job. Employees contribute their ideas and are often responsible for self-monitoring work quality via self-managing work teams. Although the use of self-managing work teams increased substantially from 1987 to 1996, their use decreased from 1996 to 1999 and in most corporations, only involve a small percentage of the workforce (Lawler, Mohrman, and Benson, 2001).

Self-assessment is not the same as self-directed discovery, which is sometimes used in unstructured on-the-job training. With self-directed discovery, the employee learns by doing with limited information and feedback. The employee must figure out how to perform on the job without assistance, often resulting in false assumptions and errors (Stolovitch and Keeps, 1999).

One of the fundamental principles of human performance technology (HPT) is that feedback leads to improved performance. London (1995) suggests that humans use cognition processes that lead to insights into self and others, which shape perceptions and behavior across a variety of interpersonal situations. Self-assessment is a form of feedback that can be applied to several aspects of performance including employee selection, career progression, team member development, performance appraisal, training and career development, and feedback interventions.

Self-assessment sometimes occurs through the use of job aids. Rossett and Downs (1991) suggest three broad applications for job aids: to provide access to information, to prompt procedures, and to guide perspectives, decisions, and self-evaluation. Job aids used to coach perspectives and support decisions are a form of self-assessment. For example, an organization wanting to increase use of safety equipment could post job aids encouraging workers to monitor themselves with particular safety standards in mind before being allowed to enter the factory floor (for example, "are you wearing your goggles and hard hat?").

Another application of self-assessment is in performance management systems. Some organizations use newer forms of appraisal, such as 360-degree (multi-source) survey feedback and self-assessment. According to Smither (1998), approximately 5 percent of U.S. companies use some type of self-evaluation in their performance appraisal process and an estimated 25 percent of U.S. businesses use upward or 360-degree feedback as part of their management development or performance evaluation systems. Smither (1998) cites nine ways self-assessment can contribute to effective appraisals in Table 1.


Table 1. Role of Self-Assessment in the
Performance Appraisal Process

  • Enhances self-raters' sense of dignity and self-respect.
  • Increases employees' perceptions of the fairness of the process.
  • Reduces impact of any individual's biases by providing ratings from more sources.
  • Provides a tool to increase communication in the appraisal process.
  • Highlights discrepancies between self and supervisor perceptions of performance.
  • Minimizes halo errors; self-raters see more differentiation across rated dimensions.
  • Helps clarify differences of opinion regarding performance requirements.
  • Increases acceptance of feedback because it promotes self-reflection.
  • Increases commitment to development plans and goals.


Self-assessment is not without pitfalls. The biggest problem encountered with self-assessment is inflation or leniency. Biological characteristics (such as age, tenure, gender, minority status) and other individual characteristics (such as intelligence, self-esteem, narcissism) can affect self-assessment (Atwater, n.d.). For example, individuals with high self-esteem rate themselves more positively; males and narcissistic individuals are more likely to inflate self-ratings. Problems arise when employees self-view differs widely from the ways others view them. Employees who see themselves the way others see them are more likely to be effective performers and less likely to experience career derailment.

Michelle D.E. Lewis, Vice President of Leadership Development for Bank of America, has used 360-degree feedback and other self-assessment instruments, such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (for more information, see and Gregorc Style Delineator (see,, in leadership development for over 10 years (personal communication, February 12, 2004). Lewis states the positive impact on performance is to provide objectivity or to see yourself as others see you. Success using self-assessment includes providing individuals, teams and leaders a foundation to improve or transform the way they operate. Challenges include taking assessment feedback out of context and underutilizing assessment feedback. Lewis uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as an assessment for individuals and teams to discover personality preferences. She cites examples of using terminology from this self-assessment in negative, hurtful ways (such as, that person is shy or slow because he or she is an introvert). Lewis offers tips for successfully deploying self-assessments, 360-degree multi-raters and other assessments in Table 2.

Table 2. Improving success with self-assessments
and 360-degree multi-raters

  • Always deploy in context -- what is the device, what does it measure, why use it.
  • Provide ample time for taking and analyzing the assessment.
  • Provide a methodology for correctly interpreting feedback correctly.
  • Provide a follow-up strategy of what to do with assessment information.


Self-assessment is a valuable tool for individuals to evaluate their skills, abilities and performance, as they go about their daily job duties. Organizations with a participatory culture fare best. As participation in decision-making and open feedback prevails, organizations and individuals will achieve success with self-assessment.


Atwater, L. (n.d.). Using Self Assessment in Appraisal. Retrieved February 15, 2004, from

Lawler, E. E.,III, Mohrman, S. A., & Benson, G. (2001). Organizing for high performance: employee involvement, TQM, reengineering, and knowledge management in the Fortune 1000: the CEO report. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
London, M. (1995). Self and interpersonal insight: How people learn about themselves and others in organizations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rossett, A., & Gautier-Downes, J. (1991). A handbook of job aids. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Smither, J.W. (ed.). (1998). Performance appraisal: state of the art in practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stolovitch, H.D., & Keeps, E.J. (1999). Handbook of human performance technology: improving individual and organizational performance worldwide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Author Note

Carole J. Adams is now at Bank of America, Jacksonville, Florida.


Back to top | Back to Menu