A Cynics Guide to Yearly Performance Reviews – (sadly) it’s that time again

Yes its that time of year again where people with direct reports everywhere go through the process of dishing out the results of annual performance reviews. For many it’s a time of tears, disagreements, and general discontent.

It’s a time when you’ll probably sit in a room with other leaders and argue the case for your employees to try and get some of the limited “top” gradings. Vocal and skilled debaters will get their people an unfair rating at the expense of a less well represented peers team.

It’s a time when everyone will deny there’s a distribution curve in one conversation, but then tell you you’ve “too many highs” in another. The words forced distribution will send senior managers into a cold sweat.

It’s a time you’ll wonder if that positive attitude you have, dishing out the compliments to your team, was such a good idea as it is cited back at you as a reason you should have marked them higher. You said they had “done a fantastic job” in that one thing after all. A time when every piece of acknowledgement of someone doing their job will be held up as proof of exceptional performance and how unreal the person is.

It’s a time when you will need to battle recency bias, that unfortunate human condition of us remembering the most recent performance (good and bad) of someone rather than the whole year. Amazingly some people will have got very helpful near the end of the year…typically from around the time they are reminded to fill out their performance appraisal.

It’s also a time were you will battle proximity bias, and try not to favour those employees who are around all the time, you have coffee and lunch with, or generally are in your eye line more often than others.

It’s a time where you will have to convince some really good staff members that your ~insert whatever your middle grade is that 75% of people get is~ really is a fantastic achievement and that they are doing amazing. Sadly they may very well be doing so, but there will be people who are just above poor performers that will be in the same grade.

It’s probably a time when you will highly motivate a very small cohort of your staff; but demotivate an even bigger group.

I have no doubt that at least some of the above will resonate with a lot of readers. Sadly ALL will be very familiar to a large number. So what can you do about it?

Well here is some things to try:

  • Incorporate performance into monthly meetings or 121s; it shouldn’t be a year end surprise to them
  • Make sure objectives stretch individuals
  • Have an adult conversation with the employee – if your company is not considerably out performing competitors, it’s hard to justify everyone being high performers, so be honest about that
  • Make sure everyone knows that doing their job, is not exceptional performance
  • Make sure you are not succumbing to biases
  • Make sure the vocal arguers are not “winning” the calibration battle

They say the definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results….so do anything differently and break the cycle….