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Only Read This Article If You Are Above Average at Work

I have to start out by being honest with you. Some of you are not following directions. I suspect several below average performers are reading this. I’ll cut them some slack though, because they probably don’t even know it.

Why? Most people are rather poor at self-assessment. This phenomenon starts early in life. In a study from a few years back, for example, US students ranked 21st out of 30 developed countries in science proficiency.

But guess where students ranked themselves: First. Despite underperforming against most of the industrialized world, Americans still think they are at the top of the academic heap. Now I am all for building up children’s confidence, but at some point, it must be matched with performance. And academically, US students just aren’t holding their own against the rest of the world.

In the workplace, similar attitudes prevail. Try this the next time you are speaking to a group. Have them anonymously write “Above” or “Below” on an index card based on whether they think they are an above or below average employee. The number should be about even, but it is doubtful that people will self-report that way.

So where does this lack of self-awareness come from? In the workplace, it comes from leaders who are unable to give honest, open feedback. Whether they just aren’t present in the gemba (work area), or they are not familiar enough with what their team does, or are simply uncomfortable telling people that they need to improve, the result is the same. If the leader doesn’t help the person get better, it is unlikely to happen on its own. Most people won’t settle for mediocrity if they know what to do to perform at a higher level.

I’ll give my thoughts on what leaders can do to help team members get a better feel for their performance a little later. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Let us know about how your boss has coached you, specifically when your self-assessment didn’t match his or hers. And if you are a leader, let us know how you go about giving feedback, especially when your team member doesn’t agree with your assessment. 


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