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What are some important things to avoid when evaluating the performance of my staff?

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Since there are no perfect managers, it is important to consider some common rating errors. These are typical traps that anyone can slip into without conscious effort. Here’s a list of the most common errors:

  • Varying standards. The same standards need to be applied evenly to everyone in the same job class.
  • Recency effect. This error occurs when you give heavier weight to recent performance rather than evaluating performance over the entire period. This error is very common and raters need to be conscious of the tendency to apply recency.
  • Rater bias (gender, age, experience, race, ethnicity). Biases of the raters may be subconscious and unintended. But you must not rate your staff differently because of your preference toward any particular demographic.
  • Halo and horn effect. This effect occurs when the entire evaluation is shadowed by someone’s stellar performance in one area (e.g., documentation).
  • Contrast errors. This error occurs when everyone is rated against the performance of others versus against standards. For example, if everyone performs very well in one area, and someone is not quite as good, you shouldn’t rate that person low. Rate performance against standards, not “everyone else.”
  • Central tendency, leniency, and strictness errors. When a rater scores everyone down the middle (central tendency) so that they don’t have to have any difficult decisions or because they are not diligent, the performance appraisal process is rendered useless. Likewise, if a rater rates everyone very harshly (strictness error) or rates everyone very highly (and it is unwarranted), again the process becomes meaningless.

If you don’t do appraisals routinely—routinely meaning you do everybody’s appraisal at the same time of year (instead of according to their hire dates)—review these errors before beginning the process just to remind yourself about them. It could make the difference between having a great and rewarding discussion with your staff and having the conversation be a waste of time.

Patty Kubus, RN, MBA, PhD

(March 2011)