By Caitlin Bethell, Head of Psychology
During the last several years, we have seen more and more organisations move away from traditional performance management processes. Starting with technology companies, such as Microsoft, large professional services firms, Accenture and Deloitte also followed suit. By late 2015, an estimated 70% of companies were reconsidering their performance management processes. A shift in the process was needed. Performance management had become stale and futile, employees saw it as a tick-box exercise – 74% of UK employees shared that they did not find traditional performance reviews useful and that the process was time-consuming and pointless.
Traditional performance management is centred around an annual performance conversation in which a manager would provide feedback to their employee. They would often be linked to getting a pay rise or moving to the next step in the organisation. Feedback would be provided but examples given from several months previously at a point neither manager nor employee could remember. Since companies have been moving away from the traditional approach, they have been implementing on-going performance conversations that happen throughout the year. This ensures that employees are receiving regular feedback on their performance and how they can improve throughout the year.
It can still be argued though that performance appraisal processes within organisations are not inclusive in practice. One of the key issues that can be described by employees is that they often feel that the feedback they are receiving is biased and disconnected from their work. This is suggesting that they believe the feedback they are receiving isn’t fair. As we know, biases are errors in judgement that happen when a person allows their conscious or unconscious prejudice to affect the evaluation of another person. Within performance management, this can lead to inflation or deflation of employee ratings, which can have serious implications further down the line.
An example of this could be recency bias where managers tend to focus on the most recent time period, rather than reviewing the total time period. Another example might be the central tendency bias where managers will rate most items in the middle of a rating scale to not seem extreme, however as we know in performance management, we want people to stand out. A final example might be gender bias. When giving feedback to women, individuals will focus more on their personality and attitudes, rather than their behaviours and accomplishments as they do for men.
So, what can organisations, and leaders, do to move away from these biases in order to create a more inclusive performance management process? We have listed some of the ways we would go about doing this:
- Set clear goals.
Through providing clarity on what an individual should be working towards, we will start to remove some of the biases and prejudices on judging their performance. If they meet their goals, it’s a win. If they don’t, it can be a conversation around why they didn’t get there. But through putting a clear plan into place, managers can avoid providing feedback which may be seen as a personal attack.
- Get multiple people to feedback on performance.
Biased reviews happen because you are receiving the evaluation of one person at one point in time. An employee will be working with more people than just their manager, and potentially will work closely with others in the team. By introducing a 360-degree approach to your performance review, regularly, you will gather more frequent feedback from a more diverse group of people. In turn, you will get a more balanced view of performance.
- Use more inclusive language.
This is much easier said than done but remind people to check their language when talking about others. Even with good intentions, people can often slip, and words can convey prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination. If you are worried about what you are saying might be taken the wrong way, the likelihood is that it will. Practice using inclusive language with trusted colleagues beforehand. If you have a difficult message to deliver, sharing it with someone else beforehand can be a good way of ensuring you deliver the message constructively and inclusively.
- Ask employees how they are.
Or better still, ask them to lead the conversation – after all this is about their performance and development. Engaging with your employee on a personal level can help you build a trusting relationship with them. They will be more likely to share and feel included. Providing employees the autonomy to lead their performance conversations can also help them feel included and empowered. You will still need to provide feedback, but it could be done in a way where the employee brings up where they believe they have underperformed.
Moving organisations towards having more inclusive performance appraisals is an effective first step to more inclusive practices and culture. Opening your mind up to new ways of working and having inclusive and authentic conversations with your employees will begin to build trust. If employees feel that they have had a constructive performance appraisal, they are more likely to go away feeling listened to and supported. Through having more effective and inclusive performance conversations, organisations can take a step towards being more productive and successful.
For more information on how to create more inclusive workplace practices, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
 “Why more and more companies are ditching performance ratings”. (2015). Forbes.
 “UK employees losing faith in annual performance management cycles”. (2018). YouGov.
 “The fairness factor in performance management”. (2018). McKinsey Quarterly.
 “Zugata Insights #3: Identifying the Source of Bias”. (2018). Culture Amp.
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