If you were asked offhandedly to assess your work performance, chances are you’d say you’re smart, hardworking, well-liked by your coworkers, and respected by your boss. Maybe you’d mention you’re committed to the company and feel pretty good about the work you do. And maybe you’d even be right.
But unfortunately, the research is clear that most of us are pretty delusional about our own performance and behaviors. In fact, everyone around us–our manager, peers, direct reports–can typically evaluate us more accurately than we can evaluate ourselves. This fundamental reality of human psychology can make it difficult to build a strong case for a raise or promotion: How do you really know if you’re as skilled as you think, and will your boss even care about the areas where you say you excel? The good news is that there’s a strong science to distinguishing high performers from the rest, and it’s possible to apply that criteria to yourself, without reaching conclusions that are way off base.
Here are four questions to ask in order to give yourself an accurate performance review–ideally before your boss does the same, and blindsides you with feedback you hadn’t seen coming.
1. Do you deliver more and better results than others?
High performance is a relative standard; it changes depending on how others perform. Your case for a raise or promotion is strongest when you can show that you’ve delivered more than others. “More” could mean more quality, more service, more sales, or more speed. So identify how your manager or organization set success metrics, then sketch out precisely how you’ve exceeded those standards relative to your peers’ performance on those same measures. This is a numbers game where the data should speak for your accomplishments; the goal is to minimize subjectivity.
Not quite there? If your performance doesn’t compare as well as you’d hoped, the best fix is to focus and elevate your goals. Identify the three biggest contributions you can make to your company this year (and ask your manager if you’re not sure). Focus on really nailing your performance against those goals. Yes, you’ll have other things to do as well, but that’s ultimately what differentiates a high performer–they find a way to get it all done.
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2. Do you display the behaviors that drive performance (and manage those that don’t)?
Your company may already have a leadership model or set of values that it expects everyone to emulate. But you should also ask your manager which three traits or behaviors she believes help people become high performers. Ask for her candid feedback about whether you excel, are fine at, or need some work on each of them. You should also ask which behaviors you show when you’re stressed or tired that she’d like you to minimize or manage better; these are your “derailers,” and keeping those less-productive behaviors under control is just as critical to your success.
Not quite there? Changing behaviors is hard! That’s why high performers regularly ask others for feedback to gauge their progress. Choose the behavior you want to improve, and then ask a trusted colleague to flag when they see you practicing the new behavior. It can be as simple as, “Susie, I’ve got a favor to ask: I’m trying to not interrupt others when they speak in team meetings. Can you watch me in today’s meeting and tell me afterwards how many times you hear me do that?”
3. Do you have strong relationships?
Success is a team sport, so the higher the quality of your relationships with others, the more likely your boss will be to give you more responsibilities. But think wider than just your relationship with your boss; consider how you interact with your peers and other performing people in the organization, too. To get a handle on this, list the names of your manager, key peers, and other well-regarded people in your workplace, then rate the strength of your relationship with each on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 meaning they’d trust you with their professional life and 1 meaning you rarely or never interact. High performers typically score 4s and 5s with most people on their lists, even those they privately don’t really like.
Not quite there? You’ll need to build a high-quality personal relationship with anyone you’ve rated less than a 4. Invite them to coffee or lunch to get to know them better. Make small talk and learn about their interests, their family, and anything else that might help strengthen your rapport. Then take a fresh inventory 90 days later. Does that feel like playing politics? High performers call it relationship building.
4. Are you constantly improving your job skills?
Your manager isn’t only going to look at your current output when assessing your performance. He’ll also try to gauge how likely you are to keep showing great results in the future. The best way to convince him that you haven’t plateaued is to show your track record of continually improving your professional capabilities. So once again, make a list: Jot down the three most important capabilities for your current job and the one that’s most essential for the next one. You should be able to show that you’ve meaningfully improved on at least one of those over the past year, and have a plan in the works to improve on another over the following year.
Not quite there? You’ll grow fastest when you get challenging, important, highly visible experiences–whether they’re projects, temporary assignments, or full-time responsibilities. The key is to know which of those opportunities will accelerate your career the most. Ask a few successful leaders in your functional area (in- or outside your company) which professional experiences should be on the resume of someone who’s perfect for the job you want next. Use that list to see which experiences you need to fill the gaps.
We’re all wonderfully delusional about our own capabilities, which makes day-to day life enjoyable but asking for more responsibility or recognition a challenge. On the flip side, no one is exempt from that rule, and we can also take steps–like the four questions above–to mitigate it. The sooner you can bring an accurate picture of your own performance into focus, the better you’ll be able to persuade your boss that you really do deserve the raise or promotion you say you do.
Marc Effron is the founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group, where he leads the firm’s global consulting, education, executive search, and publishing businesses. He is the author of 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest).
Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a regular contributor to Fast Company and the author of The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential.