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What is the 'halo effect'?

The "halo effect" is a tendency in performance appraisals to assess an employee as outstanding because of one very impressive trait or accomplishment on the assumption that her other accomplishments were equally impressive. For instance, you were so impressed with the speed at which Patricia works that you ignore her rudeness to customers or failure to call back customers with the information they request.

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Sometimes, managers commit the "halo effect" because they are thinking of a recent incident, forgetting all those past incidents in which the same employee wasn't so superlative. Rather than consider the entire year's performance, these managers let one positive incident influence the twelve-month evaluation of the worker.

Managers may also be guilty of the "halo effect" when they have a rapport with an employee. The manager likes the individual, who is very pleasant to the manager, so he or she gets a good evaluation despite a mediocre performance.

The absolute opposite of the "halo effect" is the "horn bias," also called the "pitchfork effect." In this instance, there's nothing that the employee can do to convince a manager that the employee is a good worker. Maybe the employee began the year poorly and then turned the performance around. But the manager fails to recognize the change, letting the earlier past mistakes blind him to the significant improvement in the employee's work.

A good employee who associates with mediocre or average employees may also never be rated above average due to those friendships. Despite differences in the level of their performances, the manager rates the employee the same as his or her buddies.

What are the most common errors managers make in performance appraisals?

The "halo effect" and "pitchfork effect" are rating biases, and one of seven common errors managers make in appraising employees. Here are the others:

- They set poor standards of performance.

- They don't set aside sufficient time for the appraisal process.

- They spend more time talking than listening to the employees they are appraising.

- They don't document employee performance or they keep records that aren't valid for fair and accurate appraisals.

- They rate everyone's work as satisfactory.

- They don't incorporate an employee development aspect to the appraisal interviews.

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- They set poor standards of performance. The manager writes the standard without clarifying with the employee what his expectations are. For instance, a manager may ask an employee to improve "quality" but not define it. What happens? The manager tells the employee, "You really haven't improved the quality of your work." The employee responds, in turn, "How can you say that? I shortened the time it takes to process orders and I've increased the accuracy of data entry. What else did you expect of me?" Manager: "That's not what I meant by quality. I wanted you to. . . ."

- They don't set aside sufficient time for the appraisal process. Not only do some managers rush through the paperwork, maybe even completing it minutes before they meet with employees, but they speed through meetings as well. They hand a completed appraisal form to an employee and say, "Read this and sign it, please." That communicates to the employee that the manager sees the appraisal—and therefore performance management—as a mere formality. The consequence is that the employee sees no need to change his performance, regardless of what the document says. What's more, if the employee disagrees with the assessment, it may lead him to refuse to sign the document, demand to see the supervisor's own manager about the appraisal, or even seek out a lawyer if the appraisal means no promotion or threatens job security.

- They spend more time talking than listening to the employees they are appraising. You may think you know all you need to know to do a fair assessment of your employees, but you can't be sure unless you give them the chance to share their views about the jobs they are doing. If problems exist, the dialogue may also help you to get to their cause. During an appraisal interview, a manager should speak no more than a fifth of the time. The employee should talk the remainder of the time.

- They don't document employee performance or they keep records that aren't valid for fair and accurate appraisals. See answers to Questions 6.10 and 6.11.

- They rate everyone's work as satisfactory. Why does this happen? Some managers don't have information to justify a rating of poor—or good, for that matter. Or, in the case of a poor assessment, they may consider a satisfactory rating the safest, least confrontational way of handling appraisals. But classifying everyone's work as satisfactory or better deprives good workers of the recognition they deserve and poor performers of the information that might help them turn their performances around.

- They don't incorporate an employee development aspect to the appraisal interviews. Shortcomings in the current year can become the basis for discussion of development efforts with the employee for the next year. Failure to devote time to this only ensures a repetition of the same problems next year. Develop a program now to eliminate the weaknesses that this past year identified.

 
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