All managers want their respective teams to function well and meet or supersede team goals. Getting the team to achieve over and above expectations, however, requires more than encouragement or inspiration. The manager will need to keep the team focused on the goals consistently if energy is going to be applied appropriately by each team member.

Setting clear standards (against what you will be measured) and clear expectations (exactly what we are hoping you will achieve) are critical factors when managing the performance of team members. When expectations are vague, poorly defined or unachievable, performance management becomes a nightmare. Key result areas need to be laser-sharp and measurable to avoid uncertainty.

In his book, Management by Objectives, George Odiorne warns that two kinds of flaws may exist in a performance appraisal if the standards are vague, viz. the halo effect and the horn effect. The halo effect is the tendency of the leader to overrate a favoured employee, potentially happening for a number of reasons according to Odiorne:

  • Effect of past record – because the person has excelled in the distant past, performance is assumed to be good in the recent past
  • Compatibility – the tendency to rate people whom we find pleasing of manner and personality more highly than they deserve
  • Effect of recency – an outstanding job done last week can counterbalance a mediocre performance over the rest of the year
  • The one-asset person – the one who is a glib talker, has an impressive appearance or an advanced degree tends to get better ratings than the person who lacks these often irrelevant attributes
  • The blind-spot effect – this happens when the manager doesn’t see certain defects because they are just like his or her own
  • The high-potential effect – judging the person’s paper record rather than what has really been accomplished
  • The no-complaints bias – the employee who doesn’t have any negative issues and says that everything is great is likely to go over well

The horn effect, on the other hand, again according to Odiorne, is the tendency to rate a person lower than the circumstances justify, for example:

  • The manager is a perfectionist – expectations are so high that the manager is often disappointed and rates an employee lower than deserved
  • The employee is contrary – the manager vents irritation with the employee’s tendency to disagree too often on too many issues
  • The oddball effect – the eccentric, the individualist and the non-conformist get low ratings simply because they are different
  • Membership in a weak team – a good player in a weak team gets lower ratings than if a member of a strong team
  • The guilt-by-association effect – the person who isn’t known well by the manager is often judged by the company that he or she keeps
  • The dramatic-incident effect – a recent blunder wiping out the effect of many months of excellent work
  • The personality-trait effect – the person who is too arrogant, too brash, too meek, too passive, etc., or who lacks some trait that the manager associates with good employees suffers in the appraisal
  • The self-comparison effect – the person who does the job differently from the way the manager did when it was still his or her job suffers more than a person whose job the manager has never done

If realistic standards of performance have been effectively established, both the halo and horn effects can be avoided or even eliminated. Effective performance management requires clear and well-articulated goals and standards as a foundation for measurement.

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