Teaching the Soft Skill of Self-Evaluation

Here is a profound truth I learned from my longtime karate teacher, mentor and friend Master Frank Gorman: "The mirror is the best teacher."
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Here is a profound truth I learned from my longtime karate teacher, mentor and friend Master Frank Gorman: "The mirror is the best teacher."

That is not true, however, if you always like what you see. I don't mean this to seem like a retro, anti-self-esteem-movement, "make-a-point" moment. But if you always like what you see in the mirror, then you are actually a per se narcissist. In order to use the mirror as a teacher, one must have an external objective standard against which to measure one's reflection. I'm not talking about artistic beauty or saying one kind of reflection is "better" than another in any kind of absolute way. Even if you make up the objective standard yourself, the key is using that standard to measure future performance. Juxtaposition with a clear standard is a necessary component of any kind of productive evaluation - especially self-evaluation. Otherwise self-evaluation turns into navel gazing - solipsism - which is distorting due to narrowing perspective and therefore leads straight to unconditional self-acceptance or paralyzing self-loathing. Neither drives learning and growth.

What does drive learning and growth?

Regular, productive, honest self-evaluation against clear standards: That is not only the fundamental building block for teaching/learning the rest of the self-management skills, it is the fundamental building block for teaching/learning all of the soft skills, not to mention every hard skill. Not to mention practically any other kind of significant learning and growth. When it comes to continuous improvement of any kind, self-evaluation is the beginning, middle, and end.

You might consider starting your young employees with some big picture assessment tools - tools that profile personality types, interests, values, and/or communication style. Try to identify (and vet) several of them, the more the better.

Where can you find them? Your organization may own some already - ask someone in HR. Or you can look online - there are plenty you can find for free and plenty more for sale. You can find them in books. You can often find a consultant who will be happy to help. Or you can create one yourself without too much trouble based on any competency model or any list of traits, characteristics, behaviors, skills, or preferences.

You don't have to choose which big picture assessment tool is best because you should have them do several different self-assessments, using several different models: Finding one's "type" according to multiple different models is great way to getting multiple perspectives on one's self in very short order. Do several of them: One option is to take them one at a time. Have your Gen Zers complete a different self-assessment tool every two weeks. In the intervening two weeks between assessments, ask them to really digest the results. The second option is to take them through a self-assessment 'boot camp' by completing a series of self-assessments in a very short timeframe. Either way, just the process of completing a self-evaluation tool usually has a significant impact and of course the results are usually quite illuminating, especially when one has the results from multiple models to consider. Using the results as a tool for one-on-one coaching will take it to higher level still. Try to use their individual results as a springboard to provide some coaching style feedback along the way.

For Gen Zers in particular this is a very powerful lesson because it helps them put specific language around "what makes them different" and where they fit in relation to others. You'll also show them that they actually have a whole lot in common with a whole lot of people. They are often surprised that they can be described as a recognizable type. That will give them a huge dose of self-awareness in a very short period of time.

These tools are a great short-cut to jump-start anybody's path to greater self awareness. The down-side of these tools is they usually take for granted that one's type is fixed -- the idea is "this is who you are" and that's not going to change. That's one reason I so strongly advocate using several different models so at least they gain a wider perspective on "who they are."

Once you get Gen Zers familiar and comfortable with self-assessments, they might find they like it. If they really catch the bug, there is a good chance they will go on-line and find any number of self-evaluations that are more (or less) to their liking. You might even consider assigning them to go on-line and do some self-directed learning by finding a number of self-evaluation tools, trying them out, and letting you know which ones they think are best. Over time, you will build up a considerable catalogue of these tools.
Get them self-evaluating by measuring everything... at least everything that matters.
More and more organizations are integrating into their cultures a regular practice of "measuring." The question is: What are they in the habit of measuring? Too often what gets measured most is removed from what individuals feel they can actually control. So the "numbers" they are always hearing about don't tell them very much about their own performance and how they themselves can specifically improve.

When it comes to using self-awareness to drive continuous improvement, the key is measuring concrete actions within the control of the individual.

Once you get your Gen Zers into the habit of regular self-evaluation, take it the next level by having them start measuring the concrete actions within their own control --- the ones that matter --- every step of the way.

In other words, teach them to keep score for themselves on everything they actually do at work. Help them create their own self-evaluation tools to monitor, measure and document everything they do - or even better you can help them create their own self-evaluation tools:

  • For every project, there should be a project plan, including every goal and deadline along the way, complete with guidelines and parameters for every goal. Why not teach Gen Zers to use project plans as tools for ongoing self-evaluation? Every step of the way, they can track where they are on every goal.

  • For every recurring task or responsibility, there should be standard operating procedures, complete with checklists. Why not teach Gen Zers to use those standard operating procedures and checklists as tools for ongoing self-evaluation? Every step of the way, they can track their progress on every task, one "check" at a time.
  • To measure activities, log every activity.
  • To measure time, create schedules and time-logs.
  • If you can get them in the habit of using these kinds of self-evaluation tools to monitor their own performance - measuring their own concrete actions against clear measurable goals - you will put them squarely on the path to continuous improvement. These tools also give you a great tool to guide your ongoing guidance, direction, support, and coaching when it comes to discussing their ongoing work. Their score keeping will double as a great source of ongoing real-time documentation.

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