Blog: How do biases influence performance management?

Performance Management

How do biases influence performance management?

Do you think you are rational enough? Do you think you are pretty calculative in your decisions? For those who thought yes, let me tell you - none of the decisions taken by human mind are rational.
How do biases influence performance management?

I stepped into a meeting room. The organizer was late. All of us started doing something or the other. Few went to have coffee, few started replying to emails, few started scribbling on the notebook; most started Whatsapping. Each of us filled the silence, the open loop, with something which we felt was right to do at that time. Don't worry, it's not a vague example of cognitive biases that I am putting forward. It's the human mind that tries to complete the loop. 

People familiar with Zen would be able to reflect on this concept of Enso, the incomplete circle. We complete sentences, we fill the silence, we assume when data is not sufficient. We complete the circle. That's where biases germinate. Most of us denote bias to be NEGATIVE. It’s just the way we complete the circle, which might be positive or negative.

People only see what they are prepared to see.

Why do these biases exist in performance management system?

  • We have been so trained to look at the impact in terms of metrics, what has been achieved, that it masks the HOW part of achieving results. In organizations where competencies are also measured, managers have a tendency of blurring the impact of metrics over the how aspect as well.

  • We all have our own judgments, beliefs around how things should be done. Whenever you say “I feel/believe he/she should have/could have done this in XYZ way”, we are introducing our biases to the situation. We need to rate what the person did and NOT on what he/she could have done. 'Could haves' could be accounted for while giving development-related feedback.

  • Data is never enough. We look for more data to close the loop or sometimes use the ‘noises’ that have filled our mind all these days about the person.

As managers and HRBPs, it becomes important to be cognizant of the decisions we take as it’s OUR responsibility to drive a fair and meritocratic performance management system. One of the best ways we can decrease the influence of negative biases is to be AWARE of them!

Some biases that you can relate to -

  • Anchoring: It is a common tendency to rely too heavily or ‘anchor’ on one of the traits or piece of information when making decisions. We selectively see few things and not others, depending on our focus, or what we happen to be focusing on at that particular time.

  • Choice-supportive bias: It is a tendency to remember one's choices as better than they actually were; where we tend to over-attribute positive features to options we chose and negative features to the options not chosen. When you choose something, you tend to feel positive about it, even if that choice has flaws as it’s self-affirming.

  • Confirmation bias: It is the tendency to look for what confirms our beliefs and ignore what goes against our belief system. It implies that we selectively listen only to information that justifies our preconceived notions/ideologies, which eventually leads to a biased decision.

  • Similar to me bias: Research shows that when managers rate their respondents, the more similar the employees are, the higher rating the manager tends to give to him/her. We tend to be overwhelmed by people like us. We like and relate well to people who remind us of our own self. Hence, this affects the way we decide ratings or them!
  • Framing effect: Tendency to react to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it is presented, viz. - as a loss or gain. People might react to 98% project completed and project yet to launch differently. People tend to avoid risk when a positive frame is presented, but seek risks when a negative frame is presented.

  • Dunning Kruger effect: Sometimes people tend to rate themselves higher, despite not being competent at that level. If you've ever been with someone whose performance isn’t that good and they're not only clueless that their performance is bad, but they are foolishly confident that their performance is good, you likely saw an example of Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.

For every decision made in the performance management process, whether it involves giving ratings, providing feedback, or having a career development conversation, it is essential that a manager asks himself or herself –

Questions that an employer should ask himself/herself:

  1. During my professional journey, what are the biases that I was a part of?

  2. Does the employee in case look similar to someone? Am I associating this person with an experience I had before? How fair am I?

  3. Am I different from my employee? Do we have different work types? Is it wrong to have different work styles? At the end of the day, is it helping my team to get the same or better results?

  4. Now that I know that I might have stepped into biased decision making, how do I try to be objective by using data?

As an employee, we have the right to ask questions about the decisions taken by our managers. The development conversations would help us carve our professional journey. Here are some pointers for managers and employees to look for in a performance conversation.

  • Consider the timing: Performance conversations are not only meant to be done while communicating ratings but on an ongoing basis as well.

  • Target the behaviors and not the person you are giving feedback to: The aim isn’t to change people, but help them exhibit behaviors that would help organizations and individuals achieve success.

  • Quote instances where the behaviors were worth appreciating or need to be improved: Feedback without quoting instances makes it a perception or judgment than a constructive feedback. This would help the employee to know what to continue, stop or start.

As an employee, we have the right to ask questions about the decisions taken by our managers. The development conversations would help us carve our professional journey.

  • State what is expected out of the person for the next endeavors: All the should haves and could haves can occupy their place here. Make the employee know what you see him/her doing next.

  • Mention how the employee and YOU can together help him/her achieve the future goals: This will not only help the individual achieve milestones and develop themselves but would build TRUST in your relationship.

  • Enable the employee action on the development feedback: Most of the development would happen on the job and it’s important for us as managers to provide opportunities to the employees for the same.

Last but not the least, we are all biased and we are selectively blind. Let's keep this in mind before we take important decisions, especially when it is not only impacting us but is also impacting the ecosystem at large. We are humans and can't be done away with perceptive judgment, but it's our duty to be fair to the extent we can.

What are your views? Let me know at

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Topics: Performance Management, Performance management systems, Employee Relations, #appraisalseason

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