Blue Switch Consulting
Talent Optimisation Consultant


Commentary and Analysis

When Self-Evaluations Cost You

Often considered “best practice,” self-evaluations are actually leading you astray

Most organizations make use of employee self-evaluations, and the results of these evaluations might underpin a number of critical decisions including who gets promoted and to what levels, who is assigned the more prestigious clients, and who qualifies for annual bonuses. But most organizations are using self-evaluations in the wrong way, and this carries a significant cost to staff engagement, productivity, leadership quality, and company profit.

Studies show that even a small bias in your evaluations can lead to significant disparities in representation at top levels.


In-group Preferences and In-group Discrimination

Every gathering of human people is subject to subconscious interpersonal interactions, and favoritism is one of them. Workplaces feature the “teacher’s pets,” bullies, overachievers, slackers, people-pleasers, and oddballs. Research shows we prefer people who are like us over those who are different, and assessments can reflect these preferences.

According to Dr. Iris Bohnet, top employees “do not necessarily do better because they are in fact better performers, but because you give them more attention, offer them better opportunities, and create work conditions in which they can thrive.”

The Assertiveness Penalty/Premium

Gender affects our self-confidence. Generally, women are less self-confident and men are more self-confident. One study found that male executives who voice their opinions are given higher ratings of competence than those who don’t speak up, but the opposite is true for women, who are given significantly lower ratings for speaking up.

Similarly, not only are women less likely to nominate themselves for a promotion, research shows that they are penalized for it when they do.

On the other hand, men tend to give themselves a significantly higher effectiveness score than the score they are given by their peers.

Assertiveness does not equal good performance, but studies suggest the more assertive—not the better performer—gets promoted.

The Impossibility of Objectivity

It is almost impossible for us to judge ourselves and one another objectively. There are too many implicit factors at play when we are required to make an assessment. Self-evaluations need to be understood for the problematic ways they reflect our biases.


Subcontract Evaluation Assessments

Your organization can avoid the effects of in-group preference/discrimination by outsourcing the assessment of self-evaluations. Consider having managers from different departments conduct evaluation meetings and make—or at least inform—final assessments, and contribute their more objective opinion to performance appraisals and promotion considerations.

Include Accountability Triggers

Research indicates that accountability is a strong mechanism for overcoming implicit biases.

Require assessors to provide explanations or rationales for their assessments. People are less likely to rely on stereotypes or implicit biases if they are required to explain their decisions.

Require assessors and self-evaluators to pre-sign assessment/evaluation documents. Studies show we are more likely to behave ethically if we put our name to something before filling it out.

Consider linking a manager’s compensation scheme to the performance of their team. A personal incentive to improve the overall performance of the team will reduce the likelihood that a manager will promote their “favourites” over those staff actually achieving the greatest results.

Set Pre-determined, Measurable Criteria

When an employee measures their performance against a set of criteria that is established beforehand, it is easier to ensure their self-assessment reflects actual performance as opposed to their subjective impression of their performance based on loose, figurative outcomes.

Provide Feedback

One way to counteract an employee’s under/overconfidence is to provide them with feedback that is as objective as possible. Feedback should reflect objective, measurable outcomes.

Beware Overconfidence

Overconfidence is costly for individuals and organizations. It “has been blamed for wars, stock market bubbles, strikes, unnecessary lawsuits, high rates of entrepreneurial bankruptcy, and the failure of corporate mergers and acquisitions…” – Max Bazerman and Don Moore

We tend to like charismatic people because they are confident, but overconfidence comes with a cost. One study considered data from a large brokerage firm and concluded that because of their overconfidence, male investors traded 45% more than female investors and, as a result, made significantly less money.

Consider Employee Self-Evaluations After Making Assessments

A supervisor can’t help but take into account an employee’s self-evaluation when making a final assessment. But when the employee provides a skewed evaluation—either reflective of under/overconfidence—this evaluation creates an anchoring effect.

Reserve the employee’s self-evaluation for after the final decision has been made, and use it to help provide more accurate feedback on an employee’s performance.

Scrap Self-Evaluations Altogether

 There is no evidence that can support the claim that self-evaluations benefit individuals or organizations. Not only that, they cost organization’s time and money, and produce more bad than good. Get rid of them.


© Dr. Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.