Evaluating value and valuing evaluation

I started working for myself last year. I now have nobody to blame for the following things:

  • My well-being at work
  • My work-life balance
  • My opportunities to develop and learn
  • Whether what I do makes any difference to anyone.

To help me with the last one in the list, I have just completed my Year One Review.

I wanted to share what I have learnt from this about how to know if what you do is worth doing. Of course, you can evaluate your work by how much you get paid for it (and this can be a useful rule of thumb). However, if your aim is to make progress and your work is based on values, then knowing about your impact is a crucial part of staying motivated. You need to see if you are making a difference and you need to see how well you are living up to your values.

This is what I have learned from trying to understand the impact of my work over the last year.

  • State your values are so that your goals are value-based, not just technical.

At the start of the year, I listed the values that I wanted to work to. At the end of the year, when I reviewed what I had done, I came back to these and looked at how my work had measured up against them. I found things that were linked to these values that I could do better and this helped me to set goals for next year.

  • Set outcomes and judge yourself against them in the spirit of learning, not of blame.

I included outcomes for all my projects as part of the agreements of work. I reviewed these at the end of the year and unsurprisingly didn’t meet some. It was difficult to acknowledge this, even to myself, and not to fudge the outcomes or look for someone to blame. I had to build my own mini learning culture and remind myself that it is important to learn from what I had not achieved.

  • If you believe you can do something then you should be prepared to be paid based on outcomes.

I agreed most of my work based on both the time needed and on the outcomes that I would achieve. However, I did quote for one project purely on a payment-by-results basis: I said I would write an article and if it was published then I would be paid my fee; otherwise I would only be paid half. This project didn’t go ahead in the end but it was a first step for me on the path to outcomes-based payment.

  • Build evaluation into all your work from the start to the finish.

I was fortunate over the last year in doing projects for two organisations that consider evaluation important and who seek information about impact. As well as setting outcomes for each project, there were built in methods to gather information both about quality (how well I did) and impact (what difference I made). I used surveys to gather information about content, presentation, learning and how this would be used. I had the chance to follow up with people about whether they had used their learning in the way they expected to. I also received information about how people were using resources that I had put together. The next step for me is to think about how I measure the impact of other aspects of what I do including twitter and blogging (which I am still quite new to).

  • Make time to use what you learn from your evaluation activity.

At the end of the year I reviewed all my projects and looked at what I had done, how well I had done it, and what difference it had made. I then spent time analysing what it told me about what I was good at and what I needed to improve on. Finally, I set myself some learning goals and some work goals for next year.

I am lucky in being my own boss and so I can decide to invest the time to do this. Even so, it was difficult to carve out the three days that it required and I had to keep in mind that this was a worthwhile investment. Having done it, I know even better than before that this work sharpens my thoughts about what I am doing and why, and strengthens my motivation to do it well.