Performance review

Don't rely on your memory

It's not as dependable as you think

Written by Dr. Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Performance review

Trusting your memory is dangerous at the best of times. Trusting it to help you recall good or not-so-good aspects of a team member’s performance is possibly negligent.

The primacy and recency effects play a significant part in our recollection of just about everything. These effects can be demonstrated when people are asked to recall items from a long list.

The strongest recall is for items at the bottom of the list (e.g. the most recent) and the items at the top of the list (e.g. the prime or first items).

This same tendency applies when you try to remember the performance of a team member over an extended period. You’ll remember what they did yesterday and at the beginning of the year. Most of the bits in the middle are a blur.

The obvious remedy for this dilemma is to record key aspects of performance as they occur. However, such records fell out of favour many decades ago when people were embarrassed to have little notebooks full of gold stars and black marks next to the names of their staff.

Leaders feared these records would be lost or compromised and followers felt spied upon. Although these concerns and fears are understandable, the alternative feels much worse.

Not having records of performance means the leader, and the follower, have to rely on their fragile memories in order to capture and manage performance.

Two possible tactics might help to overcome the problems of both recording and not recording performance outcomes.

Tactic one is to have much more frequent performance conversations. The common approach of having an annual performance review is far too infrequent to be valuable and makes it impossible to recall the nuances of a person’s performance.

Tactic two is to share your notes with your team member. If team members get to read the notes, they get a good sense of how they were perceived at the time, and are less likely to be suspicious of what is being recorded in the previously hidden notes.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

Set up a schedule of frequent performance discussions. The more frequent they are, the less formal they will need to be.

An annual review feels like a major event, whereas a monthly review is a quick catch-up to check on progress.

Tell your team members you plan to capture significant aspects of their performance, both positive and negative, and you will share all the notes you take with them at the performance discussions.