An Assessment Tool That Creates Conversation – Not Defensiveness

Performance assessments – done well – inspire conversation. Done poorly, performance assessments invite defensiveness, excuses, posturing, and blame.

The ultimate goal of assessing performance is growth.

You’re on the wrong track if you use assessments to punish or correct. 


Don’t begin the process by assigning numbers to performance. “You’re a “7” on initiative.” I’m already defensive.

Defensive conversations waste time and creativity.


I invited a team of internal coaches to assess their performance. The goals of the exercise are:

  1. Self-discovery.
  2. Honoring strengths.
  3. Establishing forward-facing growth-goals.

The tool:

#1. Make a list of relevant practices/skills/behaviors. Use the list below as a starting place for internal coaches. Feel free to add items.

  1. Forward-facing curiosity.
  2. Pointing out inconsistency.
  3. Establishing accountability.
  4. Giving feedback.
  5. Seeking feedback.
  6. Listening.
  7. Creating a safe environment.
  8. Responding to failure.
  9. Establishing goals.
  10. Establishing stretch goals.
  11. Designing growth projects/plans.
  12. Leveraging strengths.

#2. Circle three items you’d like to assess.

#3. Draw a line on a piece of paper. Write one of the relevant skills at each end of the line. (See below.)

The left end of the line represents the worst possible performance. The right end of the line represents perfect performance.

#4. Place a mark on the line that indicates your current level of proficiency at the chosen coaching practice. Go with your gut.

assessment line

#5. Answer two questions.

  1. Why didn’t you place your mark further to the left?
  2. What might you do to nudge your mark further to the right?

#6. Suppose the line goes from zero on the left to ten on the right? What number do you give yourself for each of the three coaching practices/skills/behaviors you chose?

Assign numbers – after discussing performance – not before. The goal of assigning numbers is to track performance over time.


  1. Adapt this tool to any set of skills/practices/behaviors.
  2. Use this tool to seek or give feedback.

How might leaders have performance conversations that inspire rather than deflate?