Keep in mind that you're interested in the content provided in these self-assessments and that if you want your productivity to increase, your employees to perform and your company to be successful on the long run, then you need to give up the habit of treating these reviews as if they're not that important.
Before we give you the key-elements of a self-appraisal (the ones you should be looking for, analysing and asking from your employees), keep in mind that many employees may struggle with unclear objectives, unknown performance standards and unrealistic expectations.
Also, pay attention to the fact that while you obtain useful information, the self-appraisal should also help the employee inform the manager when it comes to, for instance, the need for training or necessary resources to make future success possible, as Successfactors.com states.
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Here's a self-evaluation for performance review guideline, provided by the previously mentioned source. This should help you have a better use of any reviews you will receive in the future.
A self-appraisal should:
Restate objectives. Keep in mind that paraphrasing job objectives gives the manager a clear picture of how well an employee understands job performance expectations.
Highlight most significant achievements. Ask your employees to highlight all of the major achievements during the review period, together with the achievements made early on in the performance review period. In case you have an online talent management system, this information can be entered into the database as it happens.
State why the achievement matters. At this point you should expect your employees to tell you how the achievement has profited the company in bottom-line results, either by increasing revenue or decreasing expenses. Note that in case he doesn't give this information or seems to be unaware of the effects of his work, then the problem is of management and communication and you need to fix it.
Emphasise when employee actions or conduct was an important factor in success. Employee conduct or behaviour is commonly taken into account in the performance rating.
Acknowledge challenges. It's important to also understand what the employees see as goals or as challenges and what were the things they believe made them struggle at a given time.
Offer specifics to improve performance in the future. The feedback you get from your employees is very important. The bigger the company, the most likely it is that in-between management level you deal with cases of miscommunication and blind spots. Make sure you never lose grasp of direct feedback and clear communication.