In Employee Reviews, Use Personality Data to Build Awareness -- For Yourself and the Employee

Kevin Campbell

Kevin currently serves as a Senior People Scientist for Culture Amp's Customer Group. As a thought leader in the engagement space, he assists customers with survey question design, analyzing survey results, and advises on communication and feedback strategies at the organization, group, and individual level. in Work

A staple of working life, the employee performance review, is something many managers approach with a sense of foreboding. Delivering critical input, for example, can make some supervisors uncomfortable. This is to say nothing of how time-consuming reviews can be to prepare and deliver.

Many companies, in fact, have started ditching performance reviews altogether. That may be tempting, but experts have questioned the wisdom of that approach, especially if you're not replacing it with any alternative method of evaluating your team members.

Effective reviews can make a powerful contribution to the success of employees and companies alike. The problem with many performance reviews is that they're designed as one-size-fits-all tools, with no accommodation for different employees' work styles or their unique personalities. The performance review is also fraught with the potential for bias, something that, depending on our own personalities, we can be predisposed to.

So with that in mind, here are some tips to help you conduct unbiased, fair performance reviews through the prism of personality.

1. Understand all objectives.

"Ready, fire, aim!" We've all probably been there at least once, taking action before focusing on the full task at hand and therefore missing the target. Do that with reviews and you may squander the opportunity to grow employees as unique individuals in a way that will benefit all involved.

A review can and should be about more than an employee's past performance and a consideration of their compensation. It also should include forward-looking goals and steps to achieve them, tailored specifically to the personality in front of you. This helps to engage and develop employees. If the person is a planner, craft goals that take advantage of his or her methodical nature, precision, and attention to detail.

Related bias: Recency bias

When reviewing an employee’s performance, managers tend to focus on the most recent time period instead of the total period of employment. Avoid this recency bias by documenting employee performance across time, so your managers have an array of data points to review.

2. Understand the person.

We all have room for improvement, and candid, constructive evaluations can guide our development. You need to deliver both a performance assessment and an outline of future goals. For both these elements, be aware of who exactly you're talking to in order to increase the likelihood that you're being heard and understood.

The great writer George Bernard Shaw said it best: "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Just because you've composed and delivered a comprehensive evaluation report doesn't mean the recipient "got it." With a better understanding of who employees are, including how they receive and respond to input, you can tailor your message for maximum value.

Review the personality assessment you received on the employee during the interview process, and consider administering a personality test now. The personality assessment should be used as a key piece of information as you set goals and allocate roles, and it can likewise be woven into the review process.

Related bias: Similar-to-Me Bias

This is the tendency an individual may have to give more positive ratings to people with similar interests, skills, and background as oneself. If you know your employee’s personality, in addition to your own, you can benefit from being aware that you likely relate to certain characteristics of that employee more than others. Giving managers specific evaluation criteria to use during reviews can also help prevent this bias.

3. Tailor your message.

Be aware that a review, depending on how it is constructed and conveyed, may trigger an employee's fight-or-flight response - an involuntary reaction to perceived danger. Harness what you know about your team member's personality in order to keep that switch in the off position.

Some people are sensitive to criticism. That's not to say you shouldn't deliver constructive feedback to these employees. Instead, focus your message on how the employee can improve, rather than on a deficiency per se. Bottom line: understand your audience and craft your message accordingly. Need help getting started? Check out this list of 60 performance review phrases you can use to craft the right message.

Related bias: Gender Bias

When giving feedback, people tend to focus more on the personality and attitudes of women and the behaviors and accomplishments of men. Tailor your message with mindfulness of the individual’s personality and ensure that the language you’re using isn’t biased towards a certain gender. A well-designed performance review can help mitigate this bias by structuring the focus on situations and impacts. An effective review builds recognition that regardless of gender, personality and attitudes interact with environments to influence outcomes.

4. Remember to follow up.

As much as supervisors and employees may want to get the review process finished, it is an ongoing undertaking. There should be meaningful followup, more likely to be effective if it's tailored to the employee. If one's career personality includes being an "Inventor," for example, consider harnessing that person's creativity by asking her to develop an innovative new plan.

Thomas Edison observed that "opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Employee reviews represent an opportunity to drive employee performance, build better teams and to reduce turnover. But achieving success takes work - and personality-minded thoughtfulness.


This is an update on a post originally written by Joshua Spears, CPO for Traitify


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