Whether or not you believe in making New Year’s resolutions, there’s something about the year coming to a close that triggers a need for reflection and assessment. What did you accomplish over the past year? What did you learn? Where do you see gaps or the need to change or improve? The holiday season is all about celebrating, spending time with loved ones, and appreciating those aspects of our personal lives for which we are thankful and grateful. Why shouldn’t we do the same in our professional lives? After all, your co-workers, your employees, your boss(es) are all part of your successes.

 If you’re a business owner or manager, how do you acknowledge and express your appreciation for your employees, the people who carry out your mission daily? Larger companies often rely on a formal performance review process to evaluate employees. Top producers are recognized and rewarded with raises or year-end bonuses. Underperformers are motivated and equipped to do better.

In the North Bay, however, 80 percent of businesses are small employers with fewer than 50 employees. We have a reputation for incubating successful, trail blazing start-ups, but smaller employers don’t always have the resources to support a formal review process. There are other means of accomplishing this, though. Self-evaluation can be a highly effective way to engage with your employees about not only their job performance but also their attitudes and aspirations.

In a self-evaluation, employees respond to a series of questions to help them assess their own performance. This guides employees through a process that allows them to focus on various aspects and nuances of their work, including all the components of the job itself, their goals and achievements, where they seem themselves falling short, and any professional development they may need.

One of my clients, Paul, was referred to me a few years ago because his career was stagnating with his current employer, a successful start-up technology company. When he was hired with five years of manufacturing engineering experience under his belt, he was told that as the company grew he would have opportunities to advance into management. Over the next three years the company did grow but Paul did not move into management. What happened? I discovered that this company had no formal review processes in place, nor any career development programs. Why is that important? We all need constructive feedback on a regular basis to acknowledge our accomplishments and areas for improvement to continue to grow as professionals.

The self-evaluation process can foster candid, constructive dialog between employees and management. Instead of the boss filling out a form and essentially passing judgment on an employee, the act of self-evaluation leads to introspection on the part of the employee to honestly assess his or her own performance, convey accomplishments and challenges, and express career growth interests. Rather than performance evaluation being just another management chore to be checked off, self-evaluation can become the catalyst for improved internal communication while empowering employees to take greater responsibility for their job satisfaction.

In Paul’s case, we worked together to put a self-evaluation process in place and he started on the journey of evaluating his performance with co-workers and management. He was able to identify his strengths and weaknesses and together we developed an action plan for him. The good news is that Paul made the move into a manufacturing management position with increased compensation – but with a different company that recruited him. The bad news is that his former company lost a valuable asset, a costly mistake which could have been avoided.

By the way, self-evaluation should include management. If you’re an owner or manager, how do you rate yourself as a leader and a professional? It’s important to hold yourself to the same and higher standards as you do your employees. And if you’re really game to open the lines of communication, ask your employees to evaluate you. Whatever your role, it’s important to keep bettering yourself professionally and to make yourself as marketable as possible to be able to adapt to changing business needs and circumstances.

I mentioned year-end bonuses previously but the reality is that not everyone receives bonuses, nor are many companies in strong enough financial position to give out bonuses. On top of this, if yours is one of the companies that have had to impose work furloughs or pay reductions to stay afloat, no doubt this has created some resentment in the ranks. For those who have had to make such sacrifices, it’s harder to feel thankful. But maybe this is all the more reason to make sure you acknowledge employees, co-workers, and bosses. You can certainly express your appreciation for their part in weathering tough times and pulling together.

After all, a bonus is, by definition, an unexpected extra. It’s not a given. So if you are neither giving nor getting a holiday bonus, maybe this can be the year you do something for yourself. Find a way to show yourself a little appreciation for your accomplishments of the past year.

And whatever you do, enjoy the Christmas party -- but don't over do it.•••

Jennifer Laxton is the president of ESA Consulting, located in Santa Rosa www.esa.com. ESA is a consulting company providing talent acquisition, workforce planning and career coaching services. You can reach her at 707-525-1010 or jklaxton@esa.com.