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Learning Curve

Personal Assessment: ...a Journey, not a Destination

Mar 2nd 2010

Be what you would seem to beor if youd like it put more simply Never imagine yourself not to be
otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not
otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

The Mock Turtles Story from Alice in Wonderland

There is often a substantial difference between how we view ourselves, our work, our achievements and
our shortcomings and how others see our performance and assess us. Devoid of an active integration
process, both are subjective evaluations that are only marginally useful.

Extensive research by Synergy consultants during the past many years has revealed that there are only
two types of employees who are happy with their jobs: those who feel that their financial rewards are
better than market norms and those who are satisfied with the degree of learning and growth in the
organization. The industry is trying to meet employees half-way on both parameters but a general
problem is the widening gap between self-assessment and peer-assessment.

The major cause of this widening chasm is the failure of industry to define the jobs and career paths of
employees with adequate degree of clarity and commitment. Without these, an appraisal neither assists
the organization in its strategic growth plan nor is seen by the employees as making any contribution to
their career objectives.

The basis of a successful appraisal system is to begin at the beginning (!), that is, first define the job. Its
contents, functions, role and scope and discuss these with the employee in detail at the time of
recruitment or promotion so as to arrive at a fair degree of consensus and agreement. The manager
should simultaneously discuss with the employee his expectations from the job to understand and
eliminate any inherent contradictions. The next step is to derive key result areas from the above in line
with the organizational objectives. At this stage there is no need to establish level or amplitude of
achievement. In fact no attempt should be made to add parameters of numerical measurement.

Most organizations still tend to use appraisal as a ritualistic tool, essentially to assist the management in
deciding annual increments and promotions. With its heavy bias towards comparative performance,
measurement and financial rewards, it completely overshadows the essence of personal growth and

This fundamental disadvantage can only be overcome by insulating Assessment from the carrot and
stick approach. Instead it should be a strategic management tool for enrichment of available talent. Thus
it is suggested to have multiple appraisal meetings separated by considerable time gaps with emphasis
on creating a positive non-judgmental environment.

The guiding principle of the first appraisal meeting is to build on strengths. As a manager you begin by
letting your employees list out their personal strengths, special abilities, skills and interests. The
employee then defines the relevance of these strengths to his job functions and the role in the
organization. The next step is to analyze how the employee has employed these strengths in the actual
performance of his/her job and the areas where (s)he has not been able to do so. The employee then
identifies the corrective steps that he can take to utilize his capabilities more effectively and what is
needed to further enhance his strengths.

With this positive mental framework, the employee is taken down memory lane to reflect upon his
performance in terms of his job-definition and the agreed key result areas. The employee lists out areas
where he feels that his inadequacies have interfered with his job performance and the likely causes for
the same. He then tries to identify, by himself, the possible corrective steps that he can take to
overcome these deficiencies. In the process, the employee evaluates his own capacity for learning and
identifies the skills or inputs needed for better performance.

In the second appraisal, the employee rates her performance in relation to her basic functions and
deliverables, apart from appraising her own quality of work and job proficiency. The rating however is
not so much in terms of degree, numerical or amplitude targets as an indication of positive or negative
growth and development. It is helpful to use standard forms for assisting the smooth introduction and
administration of the appraisal process.

During numerous implementation assignments, we have observed that an integral part of any successful
appraisal process is a trained Manager who contributes to the maintenance of the right attitude and
assists the employee in developing a workable strategy for improvement and growth.

While a well crafted appraisal system incorporates assessment in terms of sustenance, maintenance,
growth and development aspects, it also includes in-built mechanisms to evaluate innovation, creativity
and special contributions. A number of complex psychological parameters can also be added but the
primary focus should be to improve performance, enrich job content and assist in an inclusive growth of
both individual and organization.

Gurdeep S. Hora is the Managing Director of Synergy Consultants, a leading Executive Search and
Management Consulting organization of India, established in 1989. With over 20 years experience in
India and a decade abroad in many countries at the CEO level, he is recognized as an eminent
Management Consultant in the areas of Talent acquisition, development and retention and Performance
Enhancement. Mr. Hora had his first degree in Electronics Engineering from the IIT, followed by Post
Graduation in Business Management, and also in Company Law, all from Delhi. He can be reached at