YOU HAVE NAGGING SELF-DOUBT. You have hubristic self-confidence. And you have structured, constructive evaluations. Many organizations turn staff assessments into a tedious, formalistic exercise, which ends up discouraging the voluntary, candid questioning that helps address your weak spots and expand on your strengths. In any event, you’ll only make real progress to the extent you ask yourself where you may improve. Your manager likely will point out areas for personal development, but you’ll only really internalize such advice as a result of your own experiences and thought processes.
In other words, you’ll learn much faster by taking control of the learning process, reflecting on your performance, setting your own goals, and actively seeking whatever support you need to achieve them. This becomes obvious when you consider the opposite dynamic, which tends to be dominant: staff playing up their fortes, concealing their shortcomings, fearing their manager’s judgment, and dreading the prospect of a serious review.
Self-evaluation should be a constant process, a daily reflex: Did I handle this meeting well? Why did I get into a conflict? Is my project on track, and could I better manage my time? What corrections were made to my work that I can incorporate next time around? Where and why did I second guess myself, and what skills am I missing to do a better job?
That said, there’s also a time to put a lid on introspection and just get things done. Waiting for the end of a cycle may be desirable, especially for people inclined toward nagging self-doubt. Stepping back to think critically about your work can come as you close the year, wrap up a project, take off on a break, and so on.
Here are some more general questions you may want to ask yourself:
- what do I like about my job? Reminding yourself of why you’re doing this in the first place is a useful way to start. If you draw a blank, you may want to save yourself some time, skip the other questions, and reserve your critical thinking for your resume.
- do I understand what is expected of me? Clarity on both deliverables and process is critical to working effectively, and it’s never too late to ask someone.
- did I take full ownership of the tasks / projects I am working on? Waiting on others may be psychologically comforting, but that’s all it is. If you absolutely need something from someone else, either you find ways of getting it, or you find alternative ways of getting it. Either way, it’s you and again you.
- what did I learn? That’s usually more than you think, and a very gratifying realization. At least, it should be; if not, make sure this self-evaluation exercise puts you back on the learning curve.
- what relevant skills do I possess that I didn’t use? Say no more: shame on you.
- what must I do better? Try to prioritize one or two realistic areas of improvement at any given time. Within the next six months, you’ll become a better communicator and get past a threshold with a language you’re learning. You won’t also double your typing speed, read up on cognitive science and develop into a master cartographer.
- what holds me back from doing things better? That’s the most difficult one—the question that forces us to wade into the swamp of our psychological inhibitions, personal dislikes and sense of insecurity. Generally, the answers are evident; we just don’t want to face them down. Worse, they often quickly become visible to virtually everyone else, before they even surface in our own conscience. Even when you’re working in a friendly environment, you’d be wise to beat your colleagues to it…
- what kind of help did I miss / do I need? This can be advice, as it may be vocational training, more resources, better instructions or all the above. This is the kind of thing you can take up with your manager, having thought deeply about your performance, and bringing not just problems but solutions to the conversation.
- finally, where would I like the organization to go, and what can I do to take it in that direction? Few employers are open to this discussion, but let’s assume you’re engaged with one that is. This is where the greatest opportunities for making your job truly exciting reside.
If you ask yourself such questions on a regular basis, and make sure you come up with a satisfactory response to them, you need not fear your management any more. Soon enough you’ll be replacing it.
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Illustration credit: Viktor Vasnetsov The knight at the crossroads by Wikipedia / licensed by CC.