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Managers not particularly good at rating their team

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

How often have you heard people say that they are a really good judge of others. I’ve said it about myself. Yet after over 30 years in a leadership position having hired and managed hundreds of people, I recently realised that I had made a serious error in my judgement.

One of the reasons that people believe that they are a good judge of others, is that they never check their assumptions about that person. They also continue to look for evidence to confirm their initial gut feel, and tend to dismiss/ignore evidence that is contrary to their initial belief set. So, they conclude that they are a great judge of others and have an “excellent track record”.

There is not much research in this area. Luckily, there is a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, in which 4,492 managers were rated on certain performance dimensions by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates. The study revealed that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ peculiarities of perception.

Actual performance accounted for only 21% of the variance. This led the researchers to conclude (in How People Evaluate Others in Organizations, edited by Manuel London): “Although it is implicitly assumed that the ratings measure the performance of the ratee, most of what is being measured by the ratings is the unique rating tendencies of the rater. Thus ratings reveal more about the rater than they do about the ratee.”

As a human its difficult not to have biases and even more difficult to be consciously aware and compensate for those biases. Good experience managers who have high EQ are more capable of doing this than those with less experience and low EQ. In any organisation, the likelihood that all your managers are above average is extremely small. The good managers/ team leaders are likely to be significantly better at judging their team than the average manager/team leader (read Top 1% is 10x more productive than average blogg).

Organisations as small as 50 will likely to have 4-6 team leaders, organisations with 1000 will have several levels of management with 150-200 managers. A large proportion of these will be making a significant number of errors in rating people, which will hinder effective talent management.

This is why organisations need data analytics that draw objective insights with no biases. This can be used to support weaker managers in their people decisions and highlight those that need more management/leadership training. It’s easy to mistake a “pretender” as a “rising star” (read Executive Psychopaths blogg) especially for an inexperienced manager. Such errors are extremely costly to an organisation in the short and long term.

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