Get ready for a performance appraisal
What would you like to achieve at your job in 2010?
Tag and Catherine Goulet
Whether you're hoping for a promotion and raise, or simply want to stay employed, you should be preparing now to prove your value to your employer.
If you haven't already done so, start compiling a list of your contributions throughout 2009. Otherwise, when performance appraisal time comes around -- as it does for many employees at year end or early in the new year -- you may be in for a surprise like the following:
It's performance appraisal time at your company and you are expecting a glowing review. During the past year you performed to the best of your ability and played a major role in one of your team's most important successes. But when you see your appraisal, you are shocked.
Not only has your supervisor criticized you for problems you feel you had no control over (your presentation was late because your computer crashed!) but your role in the successful team project is downplayed. What's going on?
Despite the popular belief that "we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others," research on performance appraisal suggests the opposite.
While some workers can accurately assess their own and others' performance (interestingly, those who are depressed tend to be among the most accurate), most employees see themselves more positively than their co-workers and supervisors see them.
This is because of differences in how most people assign blame when things go wrong or give credit when things go right.
According to Attribution Theory, pioneered by Bernard Weiner of UCLA, a key factor in evaluating performance is whether we attribute successes and failures to internal or external causes.
When judging our own performance, many of us fall prey to "self-serving bias" -- we tend to attribute our successes to internal factors, such as our own effort and ability, but attribute our failures to "forces beyond my control."
In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, employees working on group projects were asked to estimate what percentage of the group's results they were personally responsible for.
When a group project failed, team members typically downplayed their involvement; their estimated contributions added up to less than 100%. When a group project succeeded, participants were more likely to say they had made substantial contributions and the group's totals added up to more than 100%.
Biases can also occur when a supervisor is evaluating a subordinate, as Terence Mitchell and Steve Green discovered in their research on leaders' evaluations of employees.
While an employee who performs poorly is more likely to feel it was because of external factors ("the job was too difficult," "I didn't have the support I needed," "my computer crashed," etc.) an untrained supervisor is more likely to assume the poor performance was due to internal factors such as the employee's attitude or lack of effort.
Other biases may also be involved. For example, if a supervisor is dependent on an employee, they are more likely to explain poor performance as externally caused rather than say it was the employee's fault.
To overcome such tendencies, some organizations use 360-degree feedback as part of the annual review process. With 360-degree feedback, an employee is assessed by a variety of people in addition to the supervisor, such as co-workers, direct reports, even suppliers and customers in some cases.
While 360-degree feedback provides a fuller picture of an employee's performance, it does not eliminate the individual biases of the people giving feedback. As a result, most companies with 360-degree feedback systems use the findings for employee development rather than performance appraisal.
As long as supervisors continue to do performance reviews, there are steps they can take to make the process as fair as possible. Mitchell, author of People in Organizations, recommends that supervisors use multiple sources and multiple types of data.
Supervisors should rate their direct reports every week on how they are doing on different tasks and compared to other employees.
"Then, when it is review time, you have judgments over time, tasks and people," says Mitchell, a professor of psychology and business administration at the University of Washington.
"Employees are likely to accept it and act on it when you show them the data, and you make more accurate inferences by gathering the data."
And for many employees, that may mean no more unpleasant surprises at annual review time.
Tag and Catherine Goulet are founders of FabJob.com, a publisher of career guides offering step-by-step advice for breaking into a variety of dream careers. Visit www.FabJob.com to subscribe to their free career newsletter.