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How Do We Ensure Performance Appraisal is Fair?

Dr. Lee Kang Yam
Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Fair Performance Appraisal

In my performance management training, I often get asked whether performance appraisals can be fair. Let’s explore this question in this article.

Fairness in performance appraisal means adhering to the following criteria:

1. No favouritism

2. Without prejudice and discrimination

3. Not influenced by external pressures or persons

4. Free from self-interest

1. No Favouritism

First, no favouritism means supervisors do not play favourites and give opportunities according to individual abilities and motivation.

Supervisors should appraise each staff according to their achievements, contributions and work behaviours and not based on personal likes and dislikes.

Playing favourites can demoralise the entire team and cause productivity to fall, so it is in the interest of most supervisors to abide choose and recognise staff according to abilities and contribution.

2. Without Prejudice and Discrimination

Second, without prejudice and discrimination can mean avoiding rating errors such as ‘halo’ effect, where staff are judged favourably due to positive qualities or attributes. For example, bias occurs when an attractive-looking staff receive a higher performance rating due purely to good looks and manners.

On the other hand, ‘horn’ effect occurs when staff are judged based on negative qualities or traits such as asking hard questions in meetings, making a minor mistake or deem not professional-looking enough etc.

Discrimination can also occur when supervisors include other factors such as race, religion, gender or even from certain schools to make their final judgment.

Most supervisors can abide by these criteria provided there is training to reduce rating errors such as ‘halo’ and ‘horn’ effects.

3. Not Influenced By External Pressures Or Persons

Third, supervisors should not be influenced by external pressures or persons when making their appraisal decisions.

While supervisors should consider the views of their bosses, peers and team members of the staff when considering the overall performance and contribution of the staff, they should avoid being pressured by others who offer no clear evidence and logical reasoning about the staff.

I believe the third criterion is challenging to adhere to, especially if the pressure comes from senior management and the Human Resource Department to change a performance rating or moderate the rating for purposes of forced distribution or ranking. Such pressures to change a rating could be due to the supervisor being too lenient or not providing specific and strong evidence to back up the performance rating. Training supervisors to use appraisal criteria and assessment metrics could reduce this challenge.

Another way to harmonise the supervisor’s appraisal with the overall performance appraisals from other supervisors is to use performance calibration sessions for supervisors to compare their ratings, defend their decision and moderate their judgment to achieve overall organisational consistency in performance ratings.

4. Free From Self-interest

Fourth, supervisors should recognise and reward the staff according to their actual performance and contributions and not according to their personal interests. For example, supervisors are not fair in their appraisals when they feel threatened by their high-ability subordinates and consistently give them a lower rating than their actual performance for fear that the staff would progress higher than them.

Organisations can implement performance calibration sessions to detect and confront these cases.

Human Resource Business Partners can also proactively review the distribution of the overall performance ratings of each team and department to determine consistency and alignment between actual performance contributions from each staff and their performance appraisal ratings.

When supervisors make appraisal decisions following these four criteria, the performance appraisal can be considered as fair. I will explore the issue of objective performance appraisal in my next post.

Information on Performance Management courses:

For Managers

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