Leaders are always influenced by their personal preferences, biases that are a product of an individual’s personality, work style, and work history. A manager who spent 20 years working in startup environments might have a very fast-paced approach, while a manager with an engineering background will have preferences that lean toward detail and process.
Those preferences and biases aren’t necessarily good or bad—they just exist. People are a product of their environments, and there are successful leaders with a wide range of preferences. While it is important to embrace the uniqueness of your individual leadership style, it is critical that you do not let those preferences and biases influence the way you assess employee performance.
When Personalities Collide
Checking personal preferences at the door is far easier said than done. A leader who values process and detail will have a hard time assessing the performance of a sales rep. Why? The core competencies of a salesperson may have less to do with detail and more to do with big picture. Likewise, leaders can have an equally difficult time conducting an objective assessment of an employee who is similar to them. This “halo effect” leads managers to see these employees in a positive light, even if job performance is less than stellar.
So what should leaders do? Teams are made up of diverse individuals. There will be employees who have similar personalities, preferences and work styles to yours, and there will be employees who fall on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. How can you conduct truly objective performance reviews of these types of employees, without letting your personal biases influence the outcome?
Data: The Great Equalizer
The key to objectively assessing employee performance is diversity of input. The more data points you collect, the clearer the picture. Peer reviews are an excellent tool for helping cut through some of the bias. Peer reviews also give employees the chance to see themselves through their colleagues’ eyes, and it gives them a greater understanding of how their job impacts others.
Self-assessments can also be valuable in reducing bias. They allow employees to think introspectively about who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Throughout the course of the performance review process, you, as a manager, can circle back to those self-identified strengths and weaknesses and work to see how strong and weak performance relate.
Personal preferences and biases can’t be avoided—but they can be neutralized. In order to approach performance reviews and assessments objectively, leaders must be willing to collect data from outside sources to ensure that they can conduct the kind of reviews that will help their team members grow.
About the Author: Beth Armknecht Miller is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm.