A few years back I, along with the Management Committee of the organization, were in the middle of a high-powered Performance / Talent calibration meeting. One of my colleagues, higher positioned in the “power structure” of the organization proposed a superlative evaluation for one of his team members. There was a stony silence in the room, and one of my other colleagues, in fact highlighted some positive behavior of the team member. And the superlative evaluation went through!!!
I happened to know that virtually all of the present members (including my colleague who gave the positive behavior), have several strong feedback which would have put a different complexion to the proposal. So what is happening here?
Was my colleague, who gave positive comments, lying? No, he just thought of highlighting the “positive” example, while “suppressing” several examples of negative behavior pattern which he had mentioned to me in private several times.
What about my other colleagues, including me? What prompted us to silence?
The power position of the leader who was presenting the proposal apart, this is a behavior which I have seen to be the normal behavior I have observed across numerous such calibration meetings I have been part of in several organizations across countries. The participants, being human beings, are subject to what Psychologists will say about the “conformity bias” - it is far more natural for us to confirm to an existing view rather than challenge it. Add to this the organization “dynamics”, we seldom see a 360-degree perspective on the talent being discussed, even if many members of the calibration panel are equipped with this. When I investigated this with my colleagues later, it seemed to borne out of some thought processes as below
“If I challenge my colleagues’ viewpoint, he may challenge mine proposals - hence my proposals may be questioned. So why risk it?” Especially when that talent I am not “responsible for development”?
“my colleague may not be open for hearing a very different perspective from what he seems to have”
And even “why should I harm the prospects of somebody?” and so on…
Besides there are other elements at work
- Most of the leadership team members (apart from the direct and matrix managers) have a very limited visibility of the person, and their feedback can be very circumstantial, and such a feedback can have very dangerous twist to the actual evaluation. Even if we know that these data are based on very limited interactions, they do influence our judgements significantly.
- The power and political equations also come into play – in the case above, the relatively powerful position of my colleague would have played a role in shaping the feedback (or lack of it) of others.
- For most of others, who do not have any view of the employee being discussed, it may seem a monumental waste of time. These meetings last for a long time and results in fatigue which prevents good discussion.
- Finally, as it so often happens in case of many people decisions, very few data is used – so the discussion degenerates into “opinion or views”
So what do we do? Does it mean what the calibration process intends to achieve is not valid?
The reason for calibration is to get a 360-degree view of the candidate and helps in eliminating bias – the same is a very valid intent which can probably be better achieved in the following way
- Ask the participant BEFOREHAND to give their assessment / feedback – this will be especially useful if you can define the factors (not more then 4-5 at most) on which to give feedback.
- Gather as much data as possible – for a performance review calibration, the data can be around objectives and results. For a talent calibration, it can be performance trends (and not only performance rating) on various parameters, results of 360-degree survey and so on.
- Then you can arrive at a common consensus preferably in smaller groups involving few people who are likely to have a good view of the talent being discussed and / or who might have an active interest from a future career movement point of view.
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