Why are performance reviews inaccurate - and what can we do about it?

by Anine Myhre Jensen

 

«Oh no! It`s that time of the year again». These days many organizations kick off the season with goal setting processes. These goals will become the foundation for performance reviews that determine whether your performance is at the expected level. Maybe you have had ongoing conversations with your manager regarding your performance throughout the year, or perhaps you are among those who have little face time with your manager and the appraisal is the main arena where you discuss development and performance. Regardless, the chances are high that you question the accuracy and objectivity of your performance review at the end of the appraisal process.

 

So why do we question a process that is supposedly rigged to create an objective platform for evaluating performance?

 

With good reason. Our brain is wired in such a way that it will organize information into categories in order to process it more easily. This can lead us to make snap judgements about people based on factors that are completely unrelated to their performance. These biases can demolish evaluations and make the performance review both inaccurate and unfair.

 

Research shows that a range of biases and common behaviours can can give either a positive or negative spin on a performance review.

 

  • In performance reviews, managers may recall or interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceptions about the employee, also known as confirmation bias: «I knew she wouldn’t be able to reach this goal, as she has said that this is not her strongest suit».
  • Similarly, the feedback may be that «Christine does not claim the space she´s given. She needs to be more confident when managing project meetings,» while «Christopher needs to focus more on developing his skills in meeting management». Here, the same problem is viewed positively or negatively. Could it be related to whether the employee is male or female, also known as gender bias?

 

  • The Halo effect, where one positive trait is assumed to be linked to others, is often a consequence of our natural tendency to favor people that are similar to us: «His communication style is very direct, which reminds me of myself». These biases may lead to some employees receiving more coaching and support, which again leads to better performance and thus better reviews.

 

However, biases do not only affect managers who rate. When asked to evaluate their own performance, some employees may consequently rate themselves high even if their performance has not been that great.

 

  • Top performers, on the other hand, may be inclined to rate themselves lower. This is known as the Dunning Kruger effect, which happens when ratings are corrupted through a lack of knowledge about ones poor performance. Poor performers may rate themselves higher simply because they do not have enough knowledge about what is expected of them and what they should do differently.

 

Here are some steps you can take to overcome these biases, ensuring more objectivity in your evaluations;

  • To ensure reliable and constructive feedback, create task specific evaluation criteria
  • Gather evaluations from several sources, such as clients and colleagues, on specific tasks..
  • Discuss performance continuously throughout the year to make sure employees have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. This will also help managers recall their employees` performance more accurately.