In most companies the new year starts with annual performance reviews...and many tips by bloggers on how managers and employees can best prepare for the annual meeting. I want to take a look at the stage before - when the actual evaluation happens. How do we judge how well others perform? When giving feedback we actually reveal a lot about ourselves, how we see the world, what we value and what not so much. There are some psychological phenomena involved when evaluating the performance of others. I call them the "Five Special Effects of Our Mind". Here they are - together with some hints what you can do about them:
#1 Similarity Bias
If we want to admit it or not, we love to surround ourselves with people who we feel are similar to us. It should not be surprising that we tend to believe that people who are just like us perform better than people who have different strengths. Ask yourself: What are the strengths of the person? What unique value does the person create that I am not able to deliver?
#2 The Halo (Horn) Effect
We see one great (bad) thing a person did and then let this impression influence the overall evaluation of the person. Ask yourself: Is the person ALWAYS doing this? Did this happen again and again? When was it different?
#3 Recency Bias
We tend to put more emphasis on things that just happened than things that happened five months ago. However, just because the performance of Tim was poor in the last two weeks does not give us a full picture of his overall performance and learning curve over months. To remember better, it helps to regularly write down things that went great and not so great.
#4 Memory Bias
A Memory Bias is a deviation in recall: memories are either recalled more easily or with more difficulty than they should be. We can also alter recalled memories so that they are different from what actually happened. In this case, it helps to ask others how they perceived a certain situation and what they remember easily.
#5 Central Tendency Error
User error! We love to rate people by using scales and while doing so we tend to group most people into middle level grades while having some extremes in the top and bottom. Some companies leave out the center items so that for example there is a satisfaction scale from 1 to 5, but no 3 that can be ticked. Another way to avoid central tendency bias is to rank people in a row from highest to lowest - which automatically means that not all can be “average”.
"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend" said Canadian novelist Robertson Davies. On this view, let's prepare our minds to evaluate others better!