Performance review time can be a very triggering time if you struggle with Impostor Syndrome. When you believe that you may be a fraud or incompetent, and you are asked to complete a self-review, it can be a time rife with self-sabotage & anxiety. Here are some suggestions for common behavioral responses to the performance review trigger and what you should try instead.
Performance reviews can also make you feel defensive especially when surprising critical feedback is delivered.
It can also be a time when you are getting messages from your organization that is coded in language that is quite ambiguous. This coded language requires investigation and decoding because it can provide information about the way an organization is or is not valuing its employees, evaluating your future at the organization, or conveying certain cultural standards.
Performance reviews can also be a time when unconscious bias is rampant. These biases are very common.
The last one on the chart is very important for all of us – Self-Rater Bias. It’s important to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling in general about yourself when you complete your self-review. Negative feelings about yourself can cause you to rate yourself lower than is accurate.
If you are a manager, the rest of them are important for you. It’s incredibly critical for you to be honest with yourself, and to want to improve your performance review process. Many managers have found themselves engaging accidentally in one or more of these biases. It’s fairly normal. What’s NOT ok, is knowing that these biases exist (and you may be engaging in them), and then ignoring them and not improving your performance review process. If you want to make a change, (I am thrilled that you have read this far – really proud of you for wanting more for yourself and others), here’s what you should consider doing instead:
Confirmatory Bias – Find a way to integrate all data. It’s ok for a narrative to be BOTH-AND and EITHER-OR. For example, it is possible for an employee to be excelling at technical tasks, but struggling with team management. It’s helpful to be able to provide all the feedback from the review narrative, not just one storyline.
Shifting Standards – Make sure you develop concrete targets and criteria and expectations are consistent. Get feedback from other managers if you are struggling with whether everyone is being rated on a similar scale.
Halo/Horns Effect – Give special attention to the review for employees that are your “Golden Child” and “Trouble Maker” – make sure you are being open to seeing areas for development for your “Golden Child” and being able to see areas of contribution and strength in your “Trouble Maker” – get additional support if this is a struggle for you.
Similarity Bias – Watch for situations in which you are drawn to supporting an employee because they are your “mini me” – get objective support to provide a critical eye on ways you could develop this employee better
Primacy Effect – Be careful about being rigidly wedded to your first impression – they are NOT always right. Take into account the entire period for which the person is being reviewed.
Recency Effect – Take really good notes on each of your employees throughout the review period and be careful not to evaluate them solely on a recent failure or even success.
Central Tendency Bias – Sometimes, this one is baked into the way that you MUST review because you are rating on a curve or only allowed to give a certain number of “1s” or “5s.” Instead, fight for your employees’ true scores even if you have to go to bat for them or provide supplemental documentation to warrant their rating, and even if it violates the distribution – not every team falls nicely into a curve because the sample size is too small. Teams are often 5-20, not hundreds of people large.
Also, get away from the punitive notion that everyone is a C and then only exceptional employees get As and Bs. This can lead to driving employees in very unhealthy ways. If an employee does their job in a way that meets the criteria for the assessment grade, give it to them. No matter how many others do – it means you hire and manage great talent; not that you are a softy or a bleeding heart.
Leniency Bias – If you have trouble with conflict, this one can often get you. Make sure that if an employee needs to work on particular skills that you give them that feedback and if you struggle to even identify the pieces of feedback, gather collateral data from clients, partners, and other stakeholders who worked with this person.
Idiosyncratic Rater Bias – It’s important to value skills that you don’t have, but you should not overvalue them even if the employee’s skills have been covering for your own deficits. It’s a useful moment to identify what the skill deficits are and begin to develop a plan to work on them, as related to your role. Also, if you are particularly fantastic at a certain skill, you should be very aware of any tendency to be hypercritical of others, in that area. Other raters can be helpful in getting a reasonable appraisal of their skill level on the particular area.
Performance review time can be a very difficult time, fraught with a lot of anxiety and potential for bias, and impacting someone’s career negatively unnecessarily. Find the time to give your review and your direct reports’ reviews the time that they need and deserve, to reduce any bias from the process, and to provide the necessary feedback that encompasses their/your performance from the entire period.
What performance review best practices have you incorporated into your process?