How do I fill out my self-assessment in appropriate corporate-speak?
March 16, 2017 10:56 PM   Subscribe

We're having to do self assessments at work for the first time in the 8 years I've been there. My boss will also be filling out essentially the same questions for me. I'm struggling to figure out how to talk about a couple of my specific weaknesses I'm writing about, as well as what my "action items" for the next year regarding them are going to be.

I've got two work-related weaknesses I'm planning to write about, but I'm struggling to figure out how to express them appropriately, probably in some cheesy corporate jargon. Additionally, I have to come up with "action items" that are specific things I do in the next year to help address these weaknesses.

Context: I'm a commercial real estate credit analyst for a bank. My job mainly consists of spreading and analyzing financial statements (on both people and companies) and writing up loan requests to send to our Credit department to (hopefully) approve. Overall, I am very good at my job. I know this because I've been promoted regularly and quickly, my work gets approved by Credit with little to no problems, and literally every loan officer in the department has told me at one time or another that they'd rather delay a credit submission until I can work on it than hand it off to one of the other analysts who can do it right away. But, no one's perfect...

1) My time management is not great. Part of this is due to the fact that my job tends to alternate between being so busy I can barely see straight and walking around the office asking if anyone needs help (though far more likely the former than the latter). When I get really busy and I have a lot on my plate, I start to lose my ability to prioritize, and have a hard time figuring out what needs to be worked on next. I also lose my ability to focus on one thing for long. My job definitely benefits from me working on one thing for a couple hours at a stretch, rather than doing a little bit of work on several things in quick succession, and when my to-do list gets long, it's hard for me to knuckle down and just work on one thing at a time.

2) My interpersonal relationships are not very strong. I am also not very good at things like networking and making contacts/conversations with people I don't know at industry events. At work, I am quick to get snappy and short-tempered when I'm having a problem with a coworker, often the people in another specific department. (It's a common feeling in our department that we're sort of locked in endless antagonism with them and we rely on them during the process of closing loans, so it's not just me, but I can't fix the problems - I just have to get better about my reactions to them.) I'm friendly with my coworkers, and there are a couple I would consider genuine friends, but I don't really socialize outside of work with anyone; I don't have much in common with them. When I go to networking events, or industry events like lunches/dinners/panels because I'm interested in the speaker/topic for my own education, I have a really hard time making casual conversation with people I've just met.

So I have to figure out how to write about these things, and what my "action items" might be. For 1, I know I'll be helped by keeping a cleaner office, and by doing a better job communicating with the loan officers I'm doing work for about what my work flow is like and what their timelines are for their work. For 2, I have no idea how to tactfully say "I'm kind of a bitch but I'll try to be one less often."

Any help/guidance/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by skycrashesdown to Work & Money (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you're 80% of the way there. Just paraphrase those paragraphs on your weaknesses to sound more professional and concise and bam, you're done with that part! There's no need to use "cheesy corporate jargon". For example, here's a cleaned-up version of item #1:

"When I get really busy and I have a lot on my plate, I tend to have trouble prioritizing my work properly and focusing on doing one task at a time."

For action items, the main thing is to be concrete and specific. The action should be a clear thing you can actually do. "Be less of a bitch" is not an action item. "Get lunch with Bob from Difficult Department" is an action item. "Read 'Getting to Yes'" is an action item. etc. You can and should also brainstorm on action items with your boss.
posted by phoenixy at 11:37 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]

Here you go:

Task Prioritization: maintain up-to-date list of work items, ordered by importance and urgency; to be updated and shared with manager and team regularly. This will provide adaptability and improved focus.

Teamwork: share best practices with colleagues and coordinate with counterparts across the company. Attend industry events. Embody our company mission of "bla bla bla".
posted by metaseeker at 11:45 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

Your #2 is really two items: (1) maintaining diplomacy during times of stress and conflict (2) networking and broadening relationships. I think the action items around the "being a bitch" one might include something like, develop the ability to recognize when your patience is short and remove yourself from the situation before saying anything short-tempered. Potentially also, build relationships with people in the bad department during less stressful times so that when you're short tempered, they know you're just frustrated.
posted by salvia at 12:08 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

Make sure your action items are things that you know you really will do within the review period. You'll be measured on them next time, and you'll want to be sure that the box is wholly & satisfactorily ticked.

These things are a game, to some extent. If you want to, you can use it as an opportunity to describe real-world things that you're genuinely concerned about, but the game works just as well if you just make up some easily-achievable BS as your action items. Sad but true.

I like pheonixy's action items, because they're time-limited & easily measurable. An action item such as "develop the ability to..." or "build relationships with..." is too diffuse in time and ambiguous in measurement, IMHO.
posted by rd45 at 1:39 AM on March 17 [8 favorites]

Completely agree that succint and focussed on easily-understood and assessed points is the best way forward, whether you choose to use them to try and make progress or to just get through the process of assessment with minimal stress and ripples is up to you, and how you think either will actually pan out in your managerial environment. So much of this stuff, which is disguised as 'scientific management', is far more dependent on corporate culture and fashion than it dare admit, but if it's just being introduced that particular dynamic won't be apparent yet.

If you choose to be optimistic and see the process as likely to be taken seriously, don't be afraid to use the opportunity to communicate things you need to see changed to help you work better - you say you' become less efficient when you're overwhelmed with work? Everyone is; it's the point at which it happens that varies. So say (here or in related meetings) that you know where and how you work most efficiently, and that you think it would benefit everyone if there was a way to handle the demands placed on you appropriately. You find it hard to communicate and network, especially in stressful situations? Most of us do (and not everyone who doesn't uses their abilities consciensciously); saying you're aware of this (which is rarer!) makes it something that your management now has to help with. I disagree to some extent with salvia, as 'networking with strangers' is, for me at least, very much on a par, stress-wise, as dealing with hostile or unhelpful departments. Formalising or minimising such contact, or maximising it to help establish genuine personal rapport? Either might work, but nobody's solved the introvert/extrovert interface issue for all cases yet.

It sounds like you're an established, valuable and appreciated team member. Don't forget that; it means that people around you will be far more willing to help smooth out issues you have with work, even if you can't precisely say what they are, if you're clearly prepared to work on those things yourself. This particular process may or may not be a good place to do that. It might even be forcing you to over-emphasise them, because you feel you have to go through enough Maoist self-criticism to pass the test.

If you value your work, as you clearly do, it's healthy to compartmentalise the whole assessment process as something to be managed on your terms as far as possible, and not an obstacle course with pass or fail at each hurdle. Things like 'career objectives' and 'personal growth' are particularly irksome when you're work, not career, focussed, and a measure of the quality of your company is how happy it is to accept and support that. A lot of HR appraisal processes are bad at that; they're cookie-cutter and assume a model of worker that doesn't fit everyone (to put it mildly). If you feel that, it's not you - it's them.

Professionalism is there to help you in your work, not hinder it. As rd45 says, these things are to some extent a game and have their own rules, many of which will only become apparent over time.
posted by Devonian at 4:50 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I have definitely been stung by goals before. I have lofty goals for myself - but you can't set your goals too high, because sometimes you don't get points for effort.

Instead of 'prioritise better' break it down - what do you need to do first to prioritize? Then set that as your goal. Be wise in your goal setting, even though you may have these great goals as private ones.
posted by freethefeet at 5:26 AM on March 17

Questions about one's own weakness(es) are kind of tricky. You're striking a balance between seeming like a smug jerk who thinks he/she is perfect and admitting some horrible character flaw. Just as you would do with a friend, I think it's good to wrap these weaknesses in a corresponding virtue, like:

1) (time management) When a backlog of work accumulates, I tend to become less efficient because I'm concerned about making sure all of the applications in line are moving on track. I need to continue to improve my focus on the ones that are at the front of the line. At night I've been reading $time_management_book to get some ideas about that, and part of the advice I've seen is to reorganize your office to keep the most urgent problems closest to your line of site.*

2) (interpersonal relationships) In striving to be efficient, sometimes I feel I haven't paid as much attention to other people's feelings as I should. Ironically, I think sometimes I try to be accommodating, over-extend a little bit, then wind up under time pressure to meet my commitments.** This quarter I've been reaching out to some of my co-workers and supervisor in an effort to figure out how we can better manage the workload so that the best result for the customer is achieved.

*I'm riffing here of course - write it to be realistic for your actual action steps.

** Here I am both riffing and doing a little remote diagnosis, based on some things you said in your question...
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:33 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I tend to keep 'relentlessly positive' in mind when doing these things. In some environments you do not want to write down anything negative about yourself in something that will permanently be in your employee file. I'd instead describe issues or problems your department is having and how you will help solve those (if you're part of the problem you do not have to state it outright). Also seconding NOT to box yourself in by unachievable goals. Adding something easy that you can do in regards to professional development (X training your company offers or webinar from X professional org) can be useful.
posted by typecloud at 5:42 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

I'm with typecloud in that you want to offer up areas of improvement without indicating that there might be a genuine problem that unexpectedly could be used against you. I've seen this happen to people who are superstars at their jobs, so, for your own sake, don't assume that because people recognize you are awesome at your job that will always be the case. As for the areas you have identified I would suggest something like:

1. Improve time management. In order to manage increased work flow at busier times, I will reorganize my work area, increase communication with coworkers in order to prioritize more effectively, and update my to-do list more frequently. (Note: there is no indication here that you have poor time management, don't communicate regularly with your co-workers, or don't maintain a to-do list/track your work. This wording implies you already do all of these things, you just want to do them better with concrete, measurable markers).

2. Strengthen relationships with coworkers across departments. In order to foster better relationships with colleagues in my department and x department, I will either grab a coffee or go to lunch with at least 1 person per month at a mutually convenient time. I also propose we organize quarterly team outings around events like paint nights, bowling, or dinner. (Note: Those are just two ideas to improve your work relationships, and the second one focuses on team building, which every company champions in theory. I would not put in writing that when you get stressed out, you can be snippy with co-workers. If you want to verbally express that, just please tread carefully and say that you know during stressful times, you're not always as diplomatic or friendly as you would like to be and you think getting to know each other better would make those times easier for everyone).

Hope this helps & good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:24 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

Instead of phrasing things in terms of admitting your faults ("I have trouble prioritizing"), phrase in terms of paths for improvement ("One thing I can work on this year is prioritizing better") but be wary of promising anything concrete in the big picture ("I will improve my prioritization skills") and focus on small steps ("I'd like to try making an explicit priority list every morning and see if that's a useful path to improve my task management performance")
posted by aimedwander at 6:50 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

By the way, I've never had a boss judge me more harshly than I judge myself. It may feel fake, but try to keep the documentation very positive. Don't point out too many of your flaws in writing, and keep any mention brief. If you want to confess your worries about your performance, do that in person.
posted by aimedwander at 6:53 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

SMART goals are another thing to look at in terms of structuring how you write your goals. (Wikipedia link as I don't have a specific resource in mind.)
posted by typecloud at 9:16 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

You get a Best Answer! And you get a Best Answer! Everyone gets a Best Answer! Seriously, this was all incredibly helpful and I've finished my evaluation and turned it in this morning. Thank you!!
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:29 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

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