Strategies for Eliminating Bias in Performance Reviews

Most organizations have a standard process for the annual performance reviews. Although they might slightly vary, in most cases, it involves a self-assessment by the employee, listing their accomplishments and areas for improvement. The manager then reviews the employee’s assessment and writes their review, rating the employee’s performance and offering feedback on how well the employee met expectations. While the process appears straightforward on the face of it, it often results in inaccurate or imperfect appraisals. The reason? Biases permeate the evaluation process since most organizations use an ‘open box’ for appraisals where managers respond to open-ended questions about an employee’s performance rather than a structured evaluation based on well-defined criteria.

Recommended Strategies to Eliminating Bias in Performance Reviews

The need for unbiased appraisals gains significance with more organizations hiring diverse employees. Acknowledging the existence of biases and minimizing their impact goes a long way in successfully retaining employees from diverse backgrounds.

How Biases Influence Performance Reviews

Managers can be affected by several types of biases, some implicit, which affect the performance evaluation process. Making them aware of the biases helps minimize their impact during appraisal. The common types of biases include:

Experience: One of the most common biases arises from decisions based on past experiences. An employee’s past performance sets preconceived notions about his ability, influencing a manager’s decisions. A star performer is viewed as a high achiever, even if they have not worked as hard as other team members over the past year. Similarly, the diligent efforts of another employee might not be considered good enough due to past situations where he underperformed.

Relatability: Managers tend to notice the work of employees they relate to as being like them, resulting in other employees being overlooked. The lack of relatability could result in lost opportunities for specific segments such as people of color or women.

Recency: Recent events are remembered more than those in the distant past. Therefore, reviewing performance based on the employee’s recent performance might not be a fair evaluation if an employee who delivered consistent results over several months has a setback just before review time.

Comparison: Comparing an individual’s performance against other employees might seem reasonable, but it can result in unfair evaluations and create a hostile environment that damages employee morale and impacts teamwork.

How to Minimize the Impact of Bias in Performance Reviews

Bias results in inaccurate appraisals detrimental to employee morale, leading to well-qualified and high-performing employees not contributing their best efforts. Training managers to identify biases is the best solution for eliminating their impact on performance appraisals. Providing a structured appraisal process where employees receive unbiased and actionable feedback is the best way forward, and the following guidelines can help better the process.

Base reviews on goals: Setting yearly goals in consultation with each employee provides a realistic point of reference against which performance can be reviewed. It also helps managers provide concrete feedback to employees on their achievements and need for improvement.

Set measurable indicators: Setting role-specific KPIs is a fairer way to measure an employee’s performance against the goals than reviews based on the manager’s perceptions.

Regular review and feedback: Instead of waiting an entire year to review performance and provide feedback, managers should make review and feedback an ongoing process or increase the frequency by providing quarterly feedback. It gives the employees continuous feedback on what they are expected to achieve and where they need to improve.

Rely on historical records: Instead of relying on recent performance or the past year’s achievements, managers should maintain a historical record of the employee’s contributions over a longer duration for a more realistic appraisal.

Create development opportunities: Besides reviewing performance against goals and providing feedback, managers must discuss career goals and identify areas of development to champion the employee’s growth within the organization.

Implement 360-degree feedback: Encouraging feedback and evaluation from several people is another effective way to rule out bias in performance appraisals.

The prevalence of implicit bias in the workplace is a leading cause of low employee morale and attrition as employees feel unfairly treated. Implementing a few simple measures can minimize the impact of biases and help build and sustain a more diverse workforce.

Recommended Podcast

Episode 75 : Embracing the Commitment to DEI

Recommended Reading

Forbes: How To Root Out Bias In Performance Reviews For Good


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