Article: Managers, avoid these performance review biases

Performance Management

Managers, avoid these performance review biases

Unconscious bias can affect how accurately and fairly managers assess their employees' performance, resulting in unjust outcomes.
Managers, avoid these performance review biases

The annual organisational ritual of performance evaluation is one that everyone involved, from employees to managers to the Human Resources (HR) team, hardly looks forward to.

While the purpose of this evaluation is to identify areas of strength and improvement, share constructive feedback, and develop strategies to address any identified gaps, the evaluation often ends up being a last-minute exercise that doesn’t necessarily deliver on its promise of a meaningful, growth-focused evaluation.

Instead, as managers try and collate data and feedback to piece together an assessment, the result is often an unplanned, ambiguous, and unsatisfactory discussion layered with multiple ‘unconscious biases’ that are often subjective. Coupled with the unpreparedness, these biases have a negative influence on the process of evaluation. 

As humans, we are all biased in one way or the other. Our brain often jumps to assumptions and conclusions without us truly being aware of them. In his research, Nobel Prize winner, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, demonstrated one simple truth: the vast majority of human decisions are based on biases, beliefs, and intuition, not facts or logic. 

So, it isn’t all that surprising when we bring these biases with us to performance assessments and evaluations. In this specific context of performance evaluations, unconscious bias can affect how accurately and fairly managers assess their employees' performance, resulting in unjust outcomes. While we all may be biased, being aware of these biases is the first step to minimise their risk and impact in the workplace. 

Here are some common biases that a manager needs to be aware of and overcome.

Recency bias

By definition, the recency bias is the tendency to focus only on the most recent time period instead of the whole year.

This is a common bias among managers and leaders who are unprepared for the evaluation and are assessing the whole year’s performance days or hours before the review. This is often the result of a lack of data/records about a person’s contribution, performance, achievements, and challenges during the entire year.

One needs to understand that an employee’s recent performance may be a result of a positive or negative external event, and it cannot be used as an accurate measure of their value as an employee. 

To ensure that the recency bias does not impact performance assessments, managers and leaders can benefit from setting up a process of collecting employee and peer feedback at different stages throughout the year.  

Halo/Horns bias

The halo/horns effect is when a positive or negative impression of someone overshadows other traits. For example, a person who had early success on a project gets labelled as a great performer without any proof of the same throughout the year.

The opposite is also true, if the manager values qualities like being extrovert or outspoken, then an introvert or a typically more reserved employee on the team leaves a negative impression that dictates how their performance is perceived.

In order to make balanced evaluations, it is absolutely essential to focus on the present, and pay attention to facts and behaviours instead of past accolades or ‘failures’.

Similarity bias

Research suggests that similarity breeds trust. Simply put, we tend to be drawn towards people who are like us - whether it is their backgrounds, personality traits, interests, or skills.

We are often positively disposed to such people and while there is nothing wrong with that, in the context of evaluations, it can lead to unfavourable outcomes. For example, a manager may be willing to overlook and even justify the actions of an employee being reviewed, simply because they believe in the same ideologies and have the same interests.

In addition to making performance reviews inaccurate, this bias also ends up making the workplace less inclusive and diverse. Therefore, it is important for leaders to ascertain a fixed and specific format for the performance review that allows for lesser bias - for instance, asking managers for specific feedback and examples of an employee's performance instead of a generic positive/negative review.

Convenience bias

The convenience bias demonstrates itself in our inclination towards moderating feedback i.e., neither too good nor too bad. Of course, the middle path, in a lot of ways, is a convenient one to hold as it is least likely to cause any friction and confrontation. However, it is highly likely to reduce the objectivity of the data, and subsequently the performance review. 

To tackle such biases, it will help to remember the purpose of these evaluations. Performance reviews are meant to serve the purpose of growth - for the organisation and the individual both. Therefore, managers could benefit from working on how they can better communicate feedback without the fear of conflict and help improve the organisation’s overall performance.

Negative bias

Some of us are optimistic by nature and some always seem to find the glass half empty. This tendency means that managers only focus on what has gone wrong and barely on what has worked.

As a result, the quantum of reinforcement feedback people get is far lesser than redirection. Such feedback is often not valued.

Since many of these biases occur without our conscious knowledge, we have to try harder to avoid them. This includes examining one’s own actions, perceptions, and judgments. The best way to address them is to ensure the feedback (both positive and developmental) is recorded and communicated throughout the year and not just at the last moment.

This is necessary to keep the goal of boosting organisational performance and building a culture of learning and growth, in sight and avoid the biases.

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Topics: Performance Management, #appraisalseason, #RethinkPerformanceandRewards

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