Tuesday was January 31 – a key day in my (last minute) calendar. January 31 is the last date for filing UK self-assessment tax returns before a fine is imposed by the taxman. I know I am not the only person who submits tax returns at the last moment – although in the spirit of complete openness, January 2012 is actually the submission deadline for UK tax year that finished in April 2011. Nevertheless, this is one form of self–assessment that I never enjoy, which I have to complete every year, but that in reality is always easier to do than I think it will be.
My tax return is also a self assessment that is objective (on line form is a comprehensive step-by-step set of questions) and that has an unambiguous ‘scale’ against which I can assess my performance (tax bands are clear; I know how much I earned; I know how much tax I have paid). At the moment I hit submit – I know exactly where I am for this year, and I know how I compare to last year.
I am sure I am not the only one who finds any self-assessment to be a challenge, especially self-assessments that don’t have the structure of a tax return! How objective can any of us truly be about ourselves? How many of us have the ability to see ourselves as others see us? And even if we did, we are quite proficient at ‘filtering’ out anything we don’t like or don’t want to face up to?
I duly submitted my tax return a good two hours before midnight on Tuesday and as I sat there – momentarily feeling good about my achievement – I found myself wondering how I was doing more generally? The first month of 2012 has been very different from the first month of 2011. A year ago I had responsibility for people and budget, delivery and impact, innovation and partnership. In 2012 I have been living and working with increased ambiguity.
By its very definition, ambiguity is unclear, indefinite, or equivocal. So how do I assess how I am doing in face of increased ambiguity? What scale do I use?
I realised that any assessment of my performance has always been carried out by someone else – my parents, teachers, professors, managers, friends or family – and that those assessments have always been based on a widely accepted performance scale. Although I have often been able to feed my own opinions into the mix, the reality is that any assessment of how I am doing has always been done for me by someone else.
This then provides one excellent and high value way forward for me now – there are many individuals from the list above who I could easily ask how I am doing. And even if they each use a different assessment scale, any opinion they offer will be their own unique perception from their own personal vantage point.
But no matter how valuable these assessments by others turn out to be, I would still be missing the opportunity to assess my own performance – how am I doing? And moreover, if I can assess my own performance and can combine that assessment with clarity about what I want to achieve then – again almost by definition – I have the ability to grow and develop. And I have the ability to ensure I enjoy what I do, and feel good about myself along the way.
My self-assessment then will be two simple questions – what have I done that has energised me most? What have I done that should have turned out better?