How to Stay Ahead of Performance Feedback
It’s hard to resist the lure of more data. Expanding performance assessments with 360º reviews helps mitigate the effects of individual bias and better support the needs of individual employees, but overburdening employees and managers with additional assessments won’t provide the accurate information you need. Here are some lessons we’ve learned on hitting the feedback sweet spot—developing a comprehensive yet manageable performance management process.
Additional Performance Feedback Helps Mitigate Bias
Subconscious biases are a natural and unavoidable part of the human experience. When the brain interprets information, it builds on imperceptible assumptions formed through a life’s worth of experiences and attitudes. But failing to account for biases in performance management decisions can lead to misunderstandings at best and charges of discrimination at worst.
Adding performance feedback from additional perspectives is one way to counter some of the effects of subconscious bias on performance management outcomes. These biases include:
Affinity bias, also known as similarity bias, refers to the implicit connection people tend to form with others who share similar interests, experiences and backgrounds. Unchecked, this can lead to favoritism for employees similar to their manager and resentment from other team members.
Confirmation bias is the inclination to draw conclusions about a situation or person based on your personal desires, beliefs, and prejudices rather than on unbiased merit. This bias interprets situations through assumptions about gender, race, age, height, beauty, and more.
Recency bias explains the tendency to put more weight on more recent events and experiences. Limiting performance assessments to annual reviews increases the effect of this bias as earlier accomplishments fade from memory.
Self-rater bias refers to the tendency to rate one’s own performance based on self-image instead of objective accomplishment. This can lead one employee to discount their performance due to poor self-image while another inflates their performance to match their ego.
How to Counter Bias in Performance Feedback
To counter bias, many organizations incorporate 360º reviews: expanded assessments designed to look at an employee’s performance from every angle. These reviews generally include self-review, manager review, and one or more peer reviews. However, just adding more reviews doesn’t guarantee more accurate, unbiased results. The structure and strategy of your assessment process also determines where additional assessment is needed and clarifies how much performance management is too much.
How to Measure Performance
While the stated reason for performance management is to help employees improve, performance reviews have picked up a lot of baggage over the years as time-strapped managers crammed a year’s worth of HR-related questions into one short session. Compensation, bonuses, career trajectory, even continued employment have all been tied to performance evaluations.
Some of these topics are consistently affected by the employee’s performance, while others (especially the compensation concerns) often depend on a variety of factors outside the employee’s control, or even the manager’s purview. Choosing the right cadence for discussing different factors of the employee experience can help managers and employees give each topic the attention needed to account for biases.
One BambooHR employee-related her experience at a former employer doing extensive annual reviews for a team of 15 people. With all the reviews held at once on top of her regular duties, she was putting in late nights to keep up. When she found herself at the office on Saturday evening, she decided to get out her figurative rubber stamp and agree with the self-assessment information she had available for each employee. This choice substituted her own biased judgment with the self-rating bias of her team members so she could finish a time-consuming, repetitive task.
For employees to mentally invest in your performance management process, they need to feel that it respects their time. Additional performance feedback only helps if those involved in giving it have the time to do assessments accurately.
Help Leaders Interpret Performance Data
Making it clear how leadership interprets performance data also helps assessment participants invest in the process. Everyone involved needs to trust the process enough to be completely honest, and that includes giving negative feedback. When people know exactly who will see their feedback and how that feedback factors into important decisions, it’s easier for them to put aside fears of retaliation and answer honestly. Technology can help provide employees with the anonymity necessary to feel comfortable providing honest peer feedback.
Developing Clear Assessment Questions
But an honest answer isn’t automatically an unbiased answer. How the assessment questions are phrased and presented can activate biases and lead to inaccurate responses as participants interpret what is being asked.
For example, having an employee rate themselves on a scale from poor to excellent is an invitation for self-rating bias, more focused on how humble or self-promoting employees feel they should be to give the “right” impression than on any real definition of excellence.
Instead of abstract ratings, assessment questions should focus on concrete details where possible. For example, BambooHR Performance Management keeps assessments focused on actions, asking what an employee does well and what they could do to improve as the most substantial questions on self, peer, and manager assessments.
Using Performance Data to Make Good Decisions
While a large part of performance management involves avoiding decisions based on inaccurate perceptions, it’s equally important to use accurate information to make decisions and put them into action. Asking employees for their feedback then ignoring their suggestions only serves to shift your company’s reputation from ignorant to uncaring.
To build trust in your performance management process, the relationship between assessments and decisions needs to be clear, with outcomes backing up what you promise. This doesn’t mean you have to accept every employee suggestion, but knowing their challenges and concerns can help you address them when announcing decisions.
Ninety-four percent of employees said they would stay with their employer longer if the employer invested in their careers. Employees need to know how they can develop with your organization, so BambooHR Performance Management includes two questions for employees and managers to reflect on their long-term goals.
For the Employee:
- How well does my company recognize my value?
- What would have the greatest impact on my ability to do my best work more often
For the Manager:
- If Charlotte got a job offer elsewhere, I would…
- How engaged is Charlotte at work?
These questions are subjective evaluations, but instead of asking the employee and manager to judge the other based on biases, they focus on each person measuring their own feelings—a much easier mental lift. With the foundation of additional peer feedback and objective feedback, the manager can make their final decisions based on more than just their gut and personal opinion.
And when quantified in BambooHR performance reports, responses to these questions can signal any misalignments between manager and employee perceptions, highlighting areas where additional support is needed. For example, if the manager loves the employee but the employee doesn’t feel appreciated, taking time to communicate may close the gap between perception and reality.
As you set up or expand your performance management process, ensure your managers have clear direction on your organization’s policies for compensation, career advancement, and professional development. They can use this direction to interpret assessment results and make decisions that help their teams meet personal and company performance goals.
Find Your Performance Feedback Sweet Spot
No two teams are the same, so there’s no one prescription for the number and type of assessments in a perfect 360º review. BambooHR Performance Management now has the ability to assign up to ten co-workers to give peer feedback for every employee, but, as mentioned earlier, more data points doesn’t always offer additional insight. Your managers will need practice and solid relationships to find the balance between recognizing clear performance trends and spotting hidden issues when deciding how extensive to make their assessment.
Here are some principles to consider when deciding how many reviews to have and who should contribute:
- Use peer review feedback for hard skills: Some managers may oversee many different disciplines, such as different stages of software development or different parts of marketing creative. Peer feedback can provide more focused opinions on employee skills that may not be an obvious part of the bigger process.
- Collect feedback upstream and downstream: Ideally, each team in your organization has seamless connections with the others—marketing influences sales, sales influences customer support, and on down the line. Peer feedback from the teams on either side of the handoff can provide insight into an employee’s effectiveness outside the narrow scope of their own department.
- Supplement assessments with regular informal feedback: At its most effective, performance management shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone involved. As managers interact with employees during their daily duties, they can deliver both encouragement and course corrections that set the stage for the formal performance appraisal.
With the right strategy and technology, your organization can find a happy medium with its performance feedback: a system that delivers accurate performance information to the people who need it in a timely manner, all without getting in the way of great performance.
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