The health and economic crises of 2020 are affecting various industries and, as we enter performance review season, leaders have a responsibility to evaluate performance throughout their teams.
Appraisals are tough by nature however managers face particularly tough decisions during 2020. They must figure out how to reward those employees who are “stepping up” during these crises without inadvertently penalizing those who have needed to “lean out.” Compassion for workers, while very important, is not enough; companies must arm managers with the tools they need to fairly and effectively adjust performance expectations within their teams.
In an article posted by Harvard Business Review, speaks about the approach that Netflix took with appraisals and how they eliminated formal reviews. That’s right; Netflix does not have an anual performance management. They stated in this article that building bureaucracy and elaborate rituals around evaluating performance usually doesn’t improve it.
When Netflix stopped formal performance management reviews they instituted informal 360-degree reviews and kept them fairly simple: People were asked to identify things that colleagues should stop, start, or continue. In the beginning they used an anonymous software system, but over time it shifted to signed feedback, and many teams held their 360s face-to-face.
So, if you are not Netflix, how do we manage our performance appraisals in our company?
Lorie Mackenzie states that figuring out how to evaluate and reward employees fairly is hard even in the best of times. In this crisis, managers are facing a trifecta of conditions that make the task even harder because they’re likely to give rise to increased bias:
- First, in any crisis, managers are less likely to access their “slow thinking” brains and more likely to make snap judgements, which are often influenced by stereotypes and are therefore flawed.
- Second, ambiguity in how assessments are made can lead to more bias. Today, ambiguity abounds, from predicting the business impact of COVID-19 to retooling our ability to read performance in a remote workplace to deciphering the increasingly blurry line between work and life. As one manager put it, they need to“balance the need for flexibility that’s specific and supportive to the individual’s needs with the need to also somehow be equitable to others.”
- Lastly, the ideal worker norm, or the often implicit preference for workers who are typically able to leave home concerns at home and focus solely on work while on the job, can lead to bias, even in situations where workplace structures are being reexamined. This can be additionally burdensome to working mothers, who face inaccurate assumptions that their need for flexibility conflicts with their commitment to work. Compare that with fathers, who typically face less scrutiny over parenting needs as a result of a historical belief that they’re ideal employees who put work first. Thus, managers may inadvertently make more allowances for men who are homeschooling or caring for family members than for mothers doing the same.
We state the following 4 tips that can help managers perform appraisals during pandemic year:
- Reflect on your purpose: Strengthen your organization’s culture and values rather than weed out poor performers.
- Think about what you are evaluating: Performance is a measure of success against a goal, however most of the targets set before COVID-19 are no longer applicable. Drawing a mental map of the aspects to evaluate and communicate them to your direct reports prior to your session can help.
- Compassion: Do not focus only on deliverables while ignoring their home situations. Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, stated “the psychological impact of COVID-19 is hitting people in different ways, you need to give people a little more latitude”.
- Temporarily suspend rating: Rating employees with grades will be extremely difficult and biased. In LET Consulting we suggest a more flexible system that recognizes the hardship that your direct reports are enduring.
Remember to tread lightly with poor performers and be effusive with your rockstars. Use video for this conversation; it is more personal.
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Leopoldo Torres is an experienced, bilingual (English and Spanish) global consultant & NLP coach specialized in organizational culture transformation. He creates generative partnerships with individuals and organizations to define what success looks like – whether that is developing executives and high-potentials, driving team performance or designing and delivering leadership development programs.