A Teachable Moment

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Expert Perspective by Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board

In his April 24, 2010 article for the Wall Street Journal (Goldman Puts Spotlight on Self-Evaluations) author Joe Light writes of the recent congressional hearing around the fraud case brought by the SEC against Goldman Sachs:  “Self-evaluations are nearly ubiquitous at corporations and often are used as part of a “360-degree” review process, in which the employee is assessed by superiors, peers, and subordinates… After the publicity of the Goldman case, companies may think twice about keeping them around for so long, say employment experts.”

Rather than wade into the political cesspool that surrounds the Goldman Sachs investigation and hearings; or comment on the ethics, morals or reasonability surrounding Goldman’s approach to hedging bets, we will contain our comments to self evaluations and their place in the HR toolkit.

Self assessments are an important tool in performance evaluations.  First, they have been used with great success to reward individuals whose contributions might go unnoticed by managers and supervisors.  Second, they can assist managers with sometimes difficult performance discussions where the employee’s perception of his performance is not consistent with (and, in fact, greatly exceeds) the reality of his contribution.  

The chance that a self evaluation is made public in a setting like these congressional hearing is what?  One in a million? Or maybe one in 100-million?  With low odds like that, why would companies consider jettisoning a useful and effective tool?  Simply stated, these Congressional hearings around Goldman’s actions should not be the impetus for companies (even for Goldman for that matter) to change their policies around performance reviews or records retention. 

The “teachable moment” here is not to stop self evaluations, but to raise awareness about when these “private” documents can become public, and how the language in these documents might be understood should it be read by an outsider. 

Contact Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board at edie.kingston@grahall.com

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