The Top 8 Problems in the Performance Appraisal Process

Having covered the difference between performance management and performance appraisal, as well as drilling down into the why, what, how and who of the performance appraisal process, now it’s time to talk about some of the hang-ups that can occur with the process.


Below you’ll find 9 of the most common errors that occur in the performance appraisal process, along with some handy advice for how to avoid them.

  1. Bias. We all have our biases, whether they come out as a general positive or negative feeling about something or someone. The trick, of course, is to not let those biases cloud your approach to the performance appraisal process. Remind yourself that you’re trying to be as objective as possible about reviewing an employee’s performance, and your biases can steer the process into a highly subjective direction. They can also make your appraisal efforts inconsistent across different employees, and being consistent is a key feature of a process that is fair. Just because you may not like a person doesn’t mean the evaluation of their performance must reflect that. Keep it as objective as possible.
  1. Stereotyping. This one may feel similar towards bias, but it’s a little bit different. It’s not so much about liking or disliking someone as just assuming a person fits a certain mold, whether that stems from the person’s race, gender, ethnic background, religious beliefs, political views or a host of other characteristics. When you start applying labels based on a person’s membership in some kind of group, you’re engaging in stereotyping. Like biases, stereotypes can also be either positive or negative. What you have to do is look past the labels and really get to know the person whose performance you’re evaluating.
  1. The Halo (or Horns) Effect. Sometimes you’ll have a generally positive or negative overall feel about an employee, and it’s all too easy to let that general feeling color your appraisal of specific performance aspects. It’s important to take each criterion and judge it on the evidence related to that specific criterion. If all the specific performance aspects are coming out with similar appraisals, stop and check yourself for the halo or horns effect. Any given employee will probably display areas of weakness as well as areas of strength, so keep that in mind to avoid coloring the entire appraisal by an overall impression.
  1. Leniency, Central and Severity Tendencies. These three mistakes are all about distribution errors, meaning the overall distribution of appraisals doesn’t match up to the classic bell curve. Some appraisers are lenient and score everyone as above average, while others might score everyone as average, while still others might tend to score everyone as below average. More than likely, there should be a range of evaluations where there are some standouts, some poor performers, and some average performers as well. If all your appraisals are coming out the same, make sure you’re giving the full range of performance measures adequate consideration.
  1. Similarity Error. Birds of a feather do tend to flock together, which is the root of this mistake. Some managers will automatically give higher scores to employees that are more like themselves and lower scores to those who are different. Keep in mind that you’re evaluating their performance and results, not how much they are or are not like you. Objectivity and respect for diversity are the ways to keep from making this appraisal error.
  1. The Recency Effect. Another common error is when appraisers focus in only on a short period of time right before an appraisal takes place. If performance appraisals happen once or twice a year at your organization, it’s important to remember that you’re evaluating performance over the entire period, not just a small part of it. Otherwise, you’re not being fair to someone who has done a great job but only recently begun to falter, or vice versa. Avoiding this error entails having a good process in place to capture performance information throughout the period being reviewed.
  1. Compare/Contrast Error. It’s also important to keep in mind that you’re not comparing or contrasting employees against each other. You should be appraising each individual’s performance against a set of standards and criteria. Contrast error can bring down scores of good performers because if they are compared against high performers, the contrast makes them seem less than average when in fact they are good if they fulfill the specific criteria of what is good.
  1. Attribution Error. This is a tricky one because it involves allowing your subjective opinion on what might have caused certain behaviors or outcomes, and allowing that to cloud your judgment. Never assume you understand why an employee behaved a certain way, and don’t let that into your appraisal process. Stick to the objective criteria that have been laid out and how the employee’s performance compares to them.

As you can see, the performance appraisal process contains many places where mistakes and errors can occur. This is why it so important to train your managers and supervisors on how to engage in a fair and objective appraisal process.

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