Our company uses a regular soft skill evaluation/review. It's a one-on-one meeting with the direct boss and the results are not public. It has some aspects like how goal and result oriented the employee, how does he or she work together with other colleagues, how does they handle changes or solve problems, etc. Every aspect has a few levels. Every level contains 1-5 sentences like these:

  • The employee appreciates the point of view of others and is considerate of them.
  • The employee considers the effects of every action, creates a priority list, and makes result-oriented decisions.
  • The employee measures the results with his or her own standards.
  • The employee favors new, more effective methods.
  • The employee aims for concrete goals.
  • The employee creates a balance between the needs and the goals of the clients and those of the company.

We have to bring their own examples to the review meeting showing how we behaved according to the sentences above.

I don't really like this meetings mostly because

  • it's not too comfortable,
  • it forces the reviewed employee to be in a defensive position,
  • and I just don't like to toot my own horn.

Furthermore, sometimes the reviewer and the reviewed employee do not evaluate the prior activities the same way. Sometimes these discussions refresh bad old memories and leads to arguments about old projects which I think should have been discussed right after the issue not in the review meeting half year later.

Is there a better way for soft skill reviews? Should I suggest any other way of this review and should we do this kind of review at all?

  • First off, does the review happen one-on-one or in a group? Second, who are the reviewers - your direct boss, one level up, a panel? Third, what is your influence on decision-making in your company? (if we are to give you ideas, will you be able to implement them?) Truth be told, the wording of the "levels" is extremely vague and cannot be productive; it increases the burden of reporting substantially and rewards employees with daily CYA files instead of top performers... Jan 24 '13 at 13:04
  • @DeerHunter: I've updated the post. I'm in the middle management.
    – user7407
    Jan 24 '13 at 15:47
  • 2
    How you phrase things in the review can help. For example which is better? "Here is a list of things you failed to achieve last year" vs "Here is a list of things we need to work on this year". Jan 24 '13 at 17:10

Yes! You certainly should be doing this type of review and there are changes you can suggest to improve upon your situation.

Allow me to elaborate.

1. The half yearly soft skills sessions

These are a fantastic idea, that the company is willing to sit with each employee on a regular basis and address their skills allows them to interact on a communal level with what you are doing well and where you could improve.

However the way they are going about it seems to be causing some issues. It seems like this is the Only type of review meetings that your company does. (Correct me if I am wrong) Therefore ALL issues are being addressed in this meeting as it is the only opportunity to do so. Therefore the meeting drifts away from a review and ends up becoming more of a debate which is an uncomfortable experience to all parties involved.

This leads me to point two:

2. Suggest a 'Project End' review

It seems like all of the issues from a project are left unaddressed and are then left to be discussed in the soft skills meeting. A potential solution to this is to have a review meeting at the end of each project with all involved.

In this meeting you can discuss:

  • What went well with the project, what the client liked
  • What could have been done better, perhaps something everyone thought would work didn't work, why? how can this be addressed in the future?

Remembering of course to be as positive as possible and to keep it work based.

By work based I mean this approach is correct:

I feel the way we implemented our deployment of this project caused unnecessary friction with the client and could be improved by X Y Z

And this approach is incorrect:

Jimmy totally screwed up the deployment! This really annoyed the client and got us all in hot water with management! Jimmy what were you thinking!?!

The idea of the reviews is improvement, always improvement, this both means improvement in technical skills and improvement in inter-staff communication and morale.

3. Conclusion

This then means that you have a review solely for discussing project related issues meaning the review about YOU can be kept to just that, you.

If you feel the discussion is turning into you having to defend yourself or having to debate about things you can simply say

I don't feel this line of discussion is suitable for this review. Could we continue discussing my soft skills and address these issues at another time?

This both allows you to keep the meeting focused on your technical skills and allows you to suggest an alternative time to discuss unrelated project issues.

Hope this helps you in some way!


There are several major deficiencies that I see in the practice of soft skill reviews in your company, besides the three fairly subjective points you named.

Whenever you design a feedback/reward/punishment mechanism you have to consider what behavior it tends to promote. Putting the burden of proof on the employee creates incentives to embellish the past, gloss over real problems and turn attention away from work to talking about one's greatness. It is a truism, but also a result of experimental psychological studies that perception of one's actions is always biased in a horrendous variety of ways.

How can this be corrected? The simplest way is to make the superior responsible for keeping tabs on subordinates' successes and faults. Yes, it means more work for the managers and is not quite novel, but it works. The best reward out there is giving credit where credit is due, and showing the reviewee his/her achievements are appreciated and shortcomings noted.

This brings us to the second deficiency: letting the employee talk too much robs the reviewer's initiative and turns the table, while also driving his/her mindset away from earnest self-assessment. Keep the balance of talking firmly skewed in favor of the reviewer.

The third weakness of the practice is its subjectivity and ambiguity as long you adhere to the stated list of aspects :

  • "The employee appreciates the point of view of others and is considerate of them." - a constraint against rude unacceptable behavior. A great constraint, but if management action on cases of rudeness isn't prompt and effective and is postponed till the scheduled review, it becomes a failure.

  • "The employee considers the effects of every action, creates a priority list, and makes result-oriented decisions." - A mix of banality and paternalism.

  • "The employee measures the results with his or her own standards." - Yikes! This can be interpreted in oh so many different ways that I can only shrug this point away.

  • "The employee favors new, more effective methods." - What about old, proven, efficient methods?

  • "The employee aims for concrete goals." - And these goals are determined by whom? Right, management!

  • "The employee creates a balance between the needs and the goals of the clients and those of the company." - Plainly wrong. Satisfying clients' needs is (in a commercial establishment, anyway) a constraint, but in no way an objective. Bottomline comes first, to be maximized. Should hasten to add that this item is in no way relevant to soft skills, it's the single most important thing in the whole review.

It is this ambiguity in criteria that produces confrontational outcomes. Get rid of newspeak and call a spade a spade - state what the boundaries of acceptable behavior are and stick to those definitions.

Anyway, just my 2 cents...

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