Article: Here’s how unconscious bias can distort performance reviews

Performance Management

Here’s how unconscious bias can distort performance reviews

In order to benefit employees and the company, performance reviews need to be objective and free of prejudice. Heres how to ensure that.
Here’s how unconscious bias can distort performance reviews

Forming biases and making snap judgments about someone is a natural tendency of the human brain. And when a process of evaluating someone’s performance is concerned, it is only customary to assess people based on perceptions. But how objective is our perception of someone? Does a person’s age, sex, race, belief, or sexual orientation create unconscious bias in our judgment?

When critical decisions like succession planning, promotion and advancement, development initiatives, compensation adjustments, and engagement plans are dependent on accurate and fair appraisal data, it’s important to ensure that the results are bias and error free. Here are a few common unconscious biases that can creep during a performance appraisal and how to mitigate them:

Recency and spillover bias

This bias occurs when the recent actions of a person overshadows past trends and behavior. So, when managers fail to see the entire picture of an employee throughout the year, it leads to a recency bias. Similarly, spillover bias happens when managers keep on rating someone based on past performance and fail to consider the recent variations in their work. This kind of bias can demotivate employees. Eventually, it will make them resent the system and it will negatively affect their performance. 

Ditching the annual appraisal system in favor of quarterly or bi-annual system can help to overcome this bias. 

Horns and Halo effect

This bias essentially refers to our perception of people and assuming whether a person is naturally good or bad at his job. This pre-conceived view of an employee can arise due to various natural tendencies or personal affinities. The ‘horns and halo’ effect can affect the objectivity of reviews as managers would like to favor people who are similar to them. The impact of this effect can lead to higher ratings for an employee and failure to recommend areas of improvement to them. 

Favoring 360-degree review system where an employee is assessed by his co-workers, subordinates, and managers is a suitable way to eliminate this bias.

Bell curve-bias

When there is a five-point or three-point scale of performance review, managers tend to rate employees in such a way that the majority of them stack in the middle of the bell curve. As employees are ranked in comparison, some of them end at the bottom even when their performance is considerably better than the rest. This kind of bias is disheartening for the employees and they do not get an objective view of their performance against their peers. They do not know about the areas of improvement or the skills they need to focus on, thus creating a negative impact on their performance. 

To mitigate natural tendency tactics like stack ranking, companies should base performance evaluation on relevant competencies. Managers should focus on creating an individual development plan and appraise their employees about their strengths and weaknesses. 

Leniency bias

This kind of bias is usually common among managers who have been overseeing a large workforce. In such cases, the manager gives a satisfactory rating to most of the employees as they are under pressure to review a number of employees. This kind of bias leads to most of the employees getting a satisfactory rating with no objective inputs. This can be detrimental to the employee morale and it gets in their way of professional development. 

To overcome this bias, measures should be taken to ensure that each review is constructive and customized to an individual’s performance.

Looking out for such unconscious biases and developing effective systems to eliminate such prejudices from the organization is a big step that employers can take to make their workplace fair and transparent. 

Image Source: The CareerMuse

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Topics: Performance Management, Employee Relations

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