How to game your performance appraisal

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Performance appraisal season is almost upon us. Here are a few tips on how you can get an appraisal better than what your performance truly merits.

First, work hard and try to deliver good results in the weeks and months just before the boss begins to write your report card. It is okay, maybe even smarter, to have slacked a bit in the preceding months. He won’t remember it as much as he would your recent behavior and performance.

Recent memories trump
Research suggests that our recall of events is influenced by the order in which they occur. Recent episodes are recalled more fluently and given greater weight than those farther in the past. Called Recency Effect, it is triggered by Availability heuristic, a thumb rule of the intuitive mind that brings things quickly to mind. Interestingly, we tend to believe events that come to mind quickly occur more frequently. So, go ahead and take it easy but remember to accelerate towards the end.

Bhaiyyaji Ishmile
Second, smile especially nearer the appraisal time. Keep a cheerful disposition. Be agreeable. You do not have to agree with your boss. And no, you certainly do not have to flatter him. Just be cheerful and positive.

We make decisions based on likes and dislikes. Work of Paul Slovic, Antonio Damasio, and others have conclusively established that emotions are not just natural but ESSENTIAL for decision-making. We perceive fewer risks in options we prefer, greater in those we dislike.

A research found that school children that smiled were treated more leniently for minor transgressions than others. So, go ahead and be pleasant. Your boss will like you and may give a better rating.

DO NOT Mess Up!
Third, do not make a bad mistake. If you do and it causes your team or boss anguish or loss of face, you are doomed.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has shown that we tend to become risk seeking when faced with choices between losses. If you have made a bad mistake, even if it was a rare one, your boss may see you as a losing proposition. Negative emotions about you will strengthen his perception of risk. He may not only rate you poorly, he may try to palm you off to some other team, job, or part of the world.

What if you did?
If you made a costly mistake, recognize that you caused your boss pain. Your strategy should be to alleviate the MEMORY of that pain as soon as possible.

The experience of pain and its memory are distinct. Several experiments, some by Kahneman, have shown that residual memory of pain is conditioned by last impressions and not cumulative pain. When pain eases towards the end of, say, a surgical procedure, we evaluate the experience on the basis of diminished pain, not the cumulative suffering.

If you have messed up badly, alleviate the pain as soon as possible. Say sorry to your boss and teammates, take responsibility, and make amends. Smile and be cheerful, but contrite. They might be willing to give you another chance.

Are you listening Boss?
These tips are based on acclaimed academic work in cognitive Psychology. If you follow them, you will have a high probability of being assessed better than your performance and behavior might warrant. So, go ahead and make them your own.

Finally, here is a question for senior managers. What are you going to do now that you know people can game the system?

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