How to Remove Stress from Performance Appraisals
The performance review season can fill some managers and staff with a sense of dread; at the very least appraisals are perceived by many staff as a negative event. This fear is partially driven by a fear of the unknown or by previous bad experiences with performance reviews either at their present or at a previous company.
It doesn't have to be this way, when reviews are conducted properly they can provide a balanced and accurate assessment of an employee's performance and be a platform from which to set future performance goals, learning goals, and career goals. Reviews can act as both a performance optimization tool and a career development aid.
Despite this, even the most experienced managers make mistakes when conducting performance reviews, which limit the subsequent effectiveness of those reviews. Below, we have assembled a list of the most common mistakes made by managers in performance reviews and also given tips on how they can be avoided.
Too Much Subjectivity
There will always be some subjectivity in performance reviews. Many of the performance dimensions used in appraisals are intangible and cannot be easily quantified. For example, how do you numerically measure someone's communication skills or commercial awareness? You can't easily, which is why in these instances managers have to make a personal judgment. The problem is that personal judgment can be seen as highly subjective by the employee, causing them to contest the manager's appraisal of their performance, which can lead to resentment or even an argument.
There are two ways to address this issue of manager subjectivity in appraisals.
1. Ensure that you provide two or three illustrative examples which support your assessment of the employee's behavior. For example, if you believe the employee has poor communication skills, you should highlight at least two specific situations during the review period which reflect this weakness. If the examples are valid, the employee is likely to be more accepting of your subjective assessment as you have introduced a degree of objectivity, by providing evidence for your claims.
2. Use a goals based approach for assessing behavior. For example, when assessing communication skills, you might set a goal that an employee must give one departmental presentation and Q&A session a month. This is a far more objective way to assess communication skills.
Late or Postponed Reviews
Delaying or postponing the performance review for any reason is likely to create a bad impression. Employees may begin to feel that the appraisals are not considered important by the manager. This can cause the employee to disengage with the appraisal process meaning that they may be less receptive and cooperative when it comes to completing self-evaluations or participating constructively in the review meeting.
Failing to conduct interim reviews and surprising the employee with bad news in the appraisal.
Employees should never be surprised by feedback during an appraisal. If an employee has been performing badly during the year, they should have been told about this at the time or during interim reviews over the course of the year. The appraisal should not be the first time that the employee becomes aware of bad performance.
If you do end up surprising employees with bad news during their appraisal, you may find the employee to be defensive and less cooperative. They might also put forward the counter criticism of, “Why didn't you tell me about this before, so I could do something about it?” The employee would have a point to some degree. While it is the employee's responsibility to perform well, it is the managers responsibility to provide ongoing performance feedback during the course of the year, during monthly or at least quarterly interim reviews.
Placing too much emphasis on recent performance
It is a natural tendency for humans to place too much emphasis on more recent events when reviewing past performance. This is known as the 'recency effect' and can lead to an unfair or unrepresentative appraisal. The way to counteract the recency effect is to make regular notes of an employee's performance throughout the year; and ensure you reference these notes when preparing for the performance review discussion.
Failing to provide constructive criticism
Most people do not like to receive criticism. However, employees have a greater capacity to accept criticism from their manager if it is constructive, e.g. if the manager gives the employee direction, guidance and tips on how to improve. Too many managers fail to do this well and provide criticism in a way that is rejected, argued with or serves to demoralize the employee.
You should always, try and provide constructive feedback and offer support to help your subordinates improve; while at the same time making the employee aware that they are ultimately responsible for improving their own performance.
Failure to Follow Up
A good appraisal review discussion will result in the preparation of an action/development plan for the employee, which may include items such as training, job rotations, stretch assignments, increased responsibility, new projects, and/or more job variety.
Despite the best intentions many managers fail to follow through with the plans and promises made during the review discussion, which can lead to disappointment in the employee, which can ultimately contribute to the employee disengaging with the performance review process.
If you make a development/action plan with your employee during the review discussion, it is crucial that you follow through with it and meet your commitments.
Poor preparation, insufficient documentation
It is very obvious to an employee if a manager has not prepared properly for a performance review meeting; the feedback will lack substance and there will be limited documentation, evidence or examples. A manager who has not prepared properly for a performance review will lack credibility as a reviewer of the employee’s performance. Despite this, many managers go to review discussions unprepared, leading to a poor quality performance review.
Managers should always prepare in advance before every appraisal meeting.
Dredging up the past
Another common performance review mistake can be using performance data from previous appraisals, (outside the current review period), as part of the feedback for the current appraisal. This is not fair and will cause the employee to distrust the process. Only include feedback which relates to behavior that has occurred within the review period.
Like me Bias
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) conducted a study and found that there 'was a human tendency to favor employees who are like the managers making the employment assessment'.
Therefore, managers should be careful not to focus too much on style or approach and to pay more attention to outcomes such as quality, timeliness or ethics. For example, if a manager prefers subordinates to communicate with clients using a phone but a subordinate much prefers using new technologies like e-mail and Skype, there can be a conflict of styles. However, if the employee is getting good sales and customer satisfaction scores, then maybe the approach should be considered secondary to the outcome.