Removing bias from the performance review

Bias in our daily tasks help us make decisions faster, but in the performance review, it can be damaging. Learn how to recognize your biases - and how to overcome them for the important performance review.

How we perceive the world is influenced by unconscious biases, and this does not always lead us to the right - or the fair - conclusion. Research suggests that even though we might perceive our decision-making to be highly logical and careful, we often take shortcuts to reach our conclusions.

These shortcuts help navigate smaller tasks quickly and without much energy. But when it comes to important tasks, such as the performance review, we must take steps to put our biases aside.

When bias becomes an issue

The performance review is a chance to align your employee with your organization's core tasks, build trust, uncover ambitions, and foster an atmosphere of inclusion and psychological safety. But how you approach the performance review can significantly affect the outcome.

Underlying biases, such as proximity and gender bias, can impact how managers at your organization review their employees and teams. These reviews can impact the opportunity to promotions and raises. Therefore, being conscious of biases and unveiling them is vital.

Take, for instance, the pandemic and the wave of remote work. Many employees continue to work from home, whereas some prefer to return to the office. Proximity bias can easily lead a manager to conclude that the employee working close to them in the office is more productive or performs better.

It is natural to build a closer relationship with the on-site employees, but it gets problematic when this influences the performance review.

The employee working from home might deliver higher quality work and have a set of skills more suited to the organization’s  current situation, but that can be hard to uncover without the right question frame.

Hybrid and remote work is here to stay, and organizations must address proximity and other biases when approaching the performance review.

Limiting bias in the performance review

The key to limiting bias in the performance review process is continuous dialogues with a structured and strategic question framework.

A well-structured question framework and continuous dialogues for all employees can ensure that:

  • Managers are aligned and take an equal approach towards all
  • Some of the bias clouding the review is removed
  • Employees receive a more fair and objective assessment and get equal opportunity to engage in 1-on-1s with their manager
"The problem is that when hiring, evaluating, or promoting employees, we often measure people against our implicit assumptions of what talent looks like — our hidden "template of success." These templates potentially favor one group over others, even if members of each group were equally likely to be successful." - Harvard Business Review, 2018

A defined set of questions for the structured 1-on-1s with your team members can ensure that the template for success is fairer for all.

Common biases and how to avoid them

There are several ways you can approach the question frame for the performance review. As long as it's aligned with your organization's core strategy and fair and equal for all employees, bias can be alleviated through this process.

Here are some common biases and how you can limit their impact on the performance review.

Recency bias

Recency bias is the tendency to emphasize the most recent results, bad or good. The performance review can result in an unfair judgment of an employee who might have delivered high-quality work but lost a few deals in the previous week.

Avoid recency bias by asking your employee to highlight their most successful tasks from the past six months. This will give you a more nuanced view of their performance and lead to a more fair review.

Another tip to avoid recency bias is to document continuous feedback, goals, and achievements and include these in the performance review process. When feedback is recorded over time, you get a clearer picture of the employees' wins and obstacles. We might think that we remember accurately, but much is lost if it does not get documented. Feedback, goals, and achievements should be recorded before, during, and after meetings to better secure a fair and un(recency)biased review.  

Halo effect

The halo effect is a cognitive bias where we tend to let a few subjective traits of a person heavily influence the way we perceive them. If an employee has one or two qualities that we value in people, we can draw the conclusion that they are doing outstanding work - without actually reviewing their work.

The performance review is an excellent opportunity to counter the halo effect because it gives you the chance to have a meaningful dialogue with your employee, where you get to understand them more in-depth.

Take this opportunity to review their performance on multiple dimensions. Ask about their successes and failed projects, dive into their well-being and engagement, uncover their personal and professional development ambitions, and prioritize to allocate the required time to do the review well enough.

Similar-to-me bias

Similar-to-me bias is the tendency to favor people who are similar to us. This bias might have been useful in the beginning of human evolution, where only trusting your own tribe could mean life or death.

But in the workplace, this bias is not very helpful. Research shows that people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and genders create better-performing teams. The healthy competition between different views, life-worlds, and opinions ensures better decisions and performance.

To alleviate similar-to-me bias from the performance review, make sure you define what success in their particular job looks like. A shared framework can ensure that the assessment you arrive at is based on their actual performance and skills and less on the subconscious influence of your subjective likes and dislikes.

Let Duuoo do the work

Duuoo is designed to alleviate bias from management in several ways. You can choose a performance review template from Duuoo's question bank created by researchers, psychologists, and other experts. It is also possible to create your very own template and assign it to part of or the entire organization so that all employees are assessed equally and fairly.

Between meetings, you can set and align goals and agreements and request and receive feedback documented over time. Finally, Duuoo facilitates inclusion and diversity questions and meeting tracks, designed by experts as a tool for you to uncover institutional, structural, and cultural barriers for minority groups while fostering psychological safety.

Want to learn more about what we can do for you? Book a free demo today.

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