The vast majority of employees believe they are in the top ten percent of performers at their company.
I wanted to find the exact reference for this statistic, but a quick search of the internet didn't result in finding it. Because of that, I can't quote the exact percentages. The number I've heard is ninety percent, and based on my personal experience, I believe it.
How can this be?
In short, because employees are reasonably good a judging others, but exceptionally poor at judging themselves.
Why? On the surface it seems like a person should understand their own performance better than the performance of anyone else.
But they don't.
My theory? When thinking about one's self, each person has both an internal and external view point. When thinking about others, only the external view exists. The internal viewpoint includes knowledge of the motives, explanations, challenges which the person has to deal with or overcome. The internal viewpoint colors the external perceptions of self in a way that can't happen with other people.
An exampe -- you fail to win a new account for your employer. The external viewpoint others have of you is as a failure, at least on that project. End of story. You, however, know that your manager assigned eight other projects to you. You also know that calling on that particular customer is very difficult -- they are condescending, and are already predisposed to buy from someone else. If you bring these points up, they tend to sound like excuses to your peers or bosses. Or even whining.
So which view is correct? Both. But if you are measuring who the company performers are, only the external viewpoint matters. Same thing happens with the coaches top tier of sports teams -- the win is what matters, not the struggle, the obstacles that must be overcome, etc. As an employee, you are judged in the same fashion -- if not by your managers, then certainly by your peers.
You want to be realistic about your own performance? You have to ignore the internal viewpoint -- something that is hard to do.
Because of the distortion of the internal view, it's not hard to understand why such a large percentage of people seem to be clueless about their own performance.
The part of the whole dynamic that irritates your boss happens when she has to give you feedback.
Now I know that a lot of managers will wimp out and inflate the employees performance -- it is the path of least resistance. Most managers don't enjoy confronting their employees.
If the manager actually tries to tell the employee how it really is, they tend to get defensive, complain, become angry, argue, or go into denial. Then, once the discussion is finished, a good portion of those employees run back to their co-workers looking for affirmation of their performance. And the other employees, also wanting to avoid conflict, usually agree.
But what's really real here? The kindly words of a co-worker, or the harder position of the manager?
So if you want to avoid being clueless about your performance, then...
...Try -- really hard -- to see how your performance looks to the outside world. Do your best to ignore the internal viewpoint.
...When your manager has the courage to tell you the truth, listen with an open mind, and try to figure out what you need to do to improve. Don't justify. Don't argue. Don't go into denial.
...Don't fool yourself into believing that just because co-workers agree with you, you're right and the manager is wrong.
...Don't stick around if you're a horrible match for the job, or the manager's expectations. You might never realistically make it into the high performer category (assuming that's important to you) because of something related to your basic personality or the way you think or work. Those kinds of things usually can't be changed -- at least not by very much.
And managers -- suck it up and be honest. Giving employees an overly rosey review just perpetuates the cluelessness which you dislike.