October 13, 2011 HR, Leadership, Management

Distorted Performance Expectations

I spent the greater part of my day with leaders who are sometimes baffled by a performance issues. In many of these cases it is the result of The Halo
Effect.  The Halo Effect happens when someone possesses an outstanding characteristic or skill set and we allow our positive judgment of that single characteristic to influence our total judgment of that person.   So we end up evaluating that person exceedingly high on many traits because we are so magnetized by his or her performance in one trait. For example, if a person is very persuasive during one-on-one discussions, we may presume a host of related attributes: great presentation skills, potential sales star, group spokesperson. . .Do I feel a promotion happening here.

The effect is worth noting because it can wreak havoc with management. Supervisors responsible for employee appraisals can let the strong rating of
one critical area influence the ratings for all of the other factors tied into the halo effect.   Many times individuals are prematurely promoted or given roles they won’t be effective in.  Managers wonder why the individual isn’t performing the way they anticipated.  In fact they may be…just not in the areas mistakenly attributed.

There is an opposite effect that is equally insidious known as the “Horn Effect” (think of a little cartoon devil with horns). It works the same way. If a person seems particularly lacking in one key trait, that person will  often be labeled as deficient in other related traits as well. One simple example: If one is frequently late for work (even though there may be important extenuating circumstances known to the company), the word around the office is that (s)he is “not committed” or even “negligent” regarding work tasks.

What To Do:
Recognize the reality of each of these effects and how easy it is to be lured into their respective auras. When you start wondering why Phil in Accounting, who
graduated Phi Beta Kappa, is terrific at crunching numbers but fumbles at explaining their meaning and application, put on your Discernment hat. Break
down the elements of the job and begin to assess, based on observable, verifiable performance, what he does well and where he struggles. The first job
of a leader is to accurately assess reality. The sooner a manager can discern the high-medium-low performance areas, the sooner that person’s talents can be
used effectively and a developmental plan put into place.