United States: 3 Tips For Appropriate Performance Appraisals

Each new year brings new resolutions. You might not be surprised to learn a 2015 Nielsen survey showed getting in shape was the most common new year's resolution for last year. This year is likely to bring more of the same. I know in my own household, Santa brought my wife and me matching Fitbits for Christmas. (St. Nick thought we'd prefer the Charge HR model over the original step counters or the souped-up Surge.) Apparently, we weren't the only ones getting into the Fitbit craze this holiday season.

I am happy to report my first foray into "wearable" tech has been pretty successful. I now have documented proof of my sedentary, slothful lifestyle instead of just a strong assumption. The Fitbit gives me feedback on all sorts of things related to my personal fitness. In addition to counting my daily steps, the device allows me to measure walks/runs, monitor my heart rate, track sleep, and estimate calories burned and the number of floors I have climbed. With the app, I can also track my calorie intake (although that requires both effort and a complete lack of shame) and both set and manage fitness goals such as exercise, weight loss, and sleep. Maybe—just maybe—the Fitbit will guilt me into changing that in the new year.

In the world of HR, the new year brings more than resolutions, it also brings the dreaded performance appraisal. Yes, that time when you and your managerial staff must work together to recall and recount an entire year's worth of effort for each of the umpteen employees under your control. Performance reviews are the kind of thing you're all gung ho about at the beginning, begin to get tired of about halfway through, and are so tired of doing by the end that you wish you'd never started. If that is you, don't feel alone. According to the Washington Post, nearly 10% of Fortune 500 Companies report they have either severely diminished the role of the performance review or completely done away with the practice altogether. But if your company is part of the 90% that still utilizes this process, your annual reviews might benefit from these helpful tips.

1. Be honest

This is a point I try to drive home with my clients over and over. Your review process is not worth the effort if it fails to accurately assess the employee's performance. Too often, managers tend to shy away from the potential conflict caused by a negative review and instead opt to fill the assessment with lots of back-patting or, worse yet, meaningless fluff. This does you and your employees no good. As an employment lawyer, I couldn't help but notice the helpful parallels between the feedback I get from my Fitbit and the feedback your employees get from the performance appraisal. The little devil on my wrist lets me know exactly what I have accomplished and, maybe more important, exactly what I have not. Indeed, the numbers produced by my Fitbit are honest and sometimes brutally so. But a funny thing happens when I look down and see how few steps I've taken or the negligible amount of calories I have burned: I am motivated to do better! An honest performance review can have the same effect. So this year, don't skimp on reality, even if it may hurt a little. You can't build a bridge without making a few cuts.

2. Avoid the "Horns or Halo Effect"

Let's face it, remembering is tough. The Horns or Halo Effect refers to our tendency to form a generalized positive impression of an employee based on a recent good or bad interaction. This can cloud our judgment and lead to a disproportionately high or low rating on all criteria even if the employee's performance over the entire rating period doesn't deserve it. If we rely on our memories alone to fill out a performance review, we are bound to miss something—likely several somethings. This is why it's important to document the ups and downs of an employee's performance throughout the year. Doing so will help you avoid unfairly skewing an employee's ratings.

3. Set objective goals

Lastly, to best avoid allowing unnecessary bias to influence your ratings, it's best to set objective criteria for the employees to meet on the front end, and assess whether your employees met those goals. While these goals do not have to be the same for everyone, the goals you set should accurately reflect the duties of each employee's position. This is especially true for new employees. For example, my Fitbit allows me to personalize my fitness goals by adjusting settings up or down. Here in the beginning, it's likely not smart for me to set a goal of running 20 miles a week. (Trust me—that ain't happening!) But I can set a goal to run for 30 minutes, three times a week, and build from there. These clear objectives give me something to work toward while not feeling discouraged by the enormity of the task. Likewise, your employee's objectives should be tailored based on their experience and expected outcomes. Setting unrealistic, or unachievable goals at the beginning can discourage your employees and make failure feel inevitable. On the flip side, setting realistic goals will encourage employees to perform, while giving you and your management team clear, objective metrics by which to assess their performance.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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