You sit down, have a chat, check some boxes and be done with it.
If you ever sat through a performance review that felt not only like a complete waste of time, but even detrimental, you are in good company. Just follow online conversations and you’ll learn that often this is an experience that is suffered through rather than an opportunity to grow.
Performance reviews have no chance of getting it right.
From an administrative standpoint it might seem efficient and effective to do standardised performance reviews. Over 100 years of research studies aren’t so supportive of this procedure.
Scales: Until today, there is no scale format that is accurate, objective and credible.
Data Accuracy: We know today that raters — even despite training efforts — make errors and the resulting data is not necessarily reliable, valid and accurate.
One of the first big aha-moments happened in 1920 when the “halo error” was first discovered. The halo error, says businessdictionary.com, is
A mistake or bias that can occur in evaluating an individual’s performance where they are consistently rated based on the evaluator’s overall impression, rather than on their actual performance in various categories.
360° appraisals: Multi-source ratings differ in the conclusions and no one knows for sure whether this system is effective.
Demographic effects: Age, gender and race seem to play almost no role when the rater had sufficient time to observe the performance. But also this hypothesis needs to be tested still.
Cognitive processes: Not to go into too much detail, but when it comes to recalling memories in order to rate someone’s performance our brains cannot be trusted to reflect reality.
Managers don’t like performance reviews and the organisation suffers.
A study from 2017 looked into what factors might influence your attitude towards performance appraisals. Bottom line of this research?
“… performance appraisal is fundamentally an uncomfortable and emotional process for managers, which results in their adopting defensive attitudes.”
Reason #1: Because of their employees.
The managers interviewed for this study agreed that “performance appraisals are an emotionally loaded experience”:
- You never know how employees might react and which direction the emotions take. Can you handle sitting with someone who’s crying? Especially when they’re crying because of your evaluation?
- Some employees might even get defensive about a low rating and actually take joy in that type of argument. This can be frustrating when you know — and have the facts — that their performance wasn’t up to scratch.
- Others refuse to take ownership for their actions and performance and at times even overestimate (or inflate) their own performance rating.
- Lastly, the relationship you’ve built over the year is either based on openness and trust. Still, you might be fearful of giving negative feedback and harming the relationship by doing so.
Reason #2: Because of their own experience.
If you are a manager conducting performance reviews with your employees, you have been on the receiving end of this process more than once as well. And if you got mostly stellar reviews yourself, you had no chance to experience and learn how other managers deliver negative feedback. As a result you might not feel ready or even a unable to handle negative performance appraisals with your own employees.
Reason #3: Senior management isn’t helping.
You look to senior management as role models on how a performance appraisal is supposed to be done. The frameworks they provide can be helpful — or skewed to political and personal agendas. How can you feel comfortable with a procedure that you believe might be unethical or unfair?
Reason #4: Because of the performance appraisal itself.
Besides determining the bonus, you might wonder what the purpose of this whole procedure is. Or you’re not clear on what the appraisal should measure and how objective and subjective ratings fit into that. You might even be wondering why this happens only once a year. And then there’s the message you need to bring across: Do you shy away from negative feedback because it’s so emotionally draining? Or do you leave out the positive elements because you need to focus all the deficits?
The issue is that your own negative attitude might lead to “reduced employee support, inaccurate performance appraisal ratings and, consequently, negative employee perceptions of the performance appraisal process”.
This is an outcome more harmful than helpful to your organisation.
How can we improve performance appraisals?
That’s the million-dollar question. Two researchers propose to personalise the appraisal. They suggest to appraise employees based on their
- specific job descriptions
- knowledge, skills, abilities, and other personal qualities
- individual strengths and virtues
I would add to take basic psychological needs into account. From self-determination theory we know that our needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are drivers for our motivation. And the level of these needs varies based on person and circumstance.
Do you have performance appraisals to help employee development or to fulfill administrative purposes?
I’m with the researchers as they write:
“Focusing on developing employees (rather than rating them) creates a better employee experience, increases motivation, and has the potential to remove administrative hassle and to improve the performance of the organization.”
What’s your opinion?
Nicole Tschierske… who hates to see her colleagues suffer through performance appraisals and teaches leaders how to do it better.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.