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Combat Biases in Performance Evaluations

Updated: Apr 9



Performance evaluations are important in assessing an employee’s job performance, acknowledging their strengths, achievements, and accomplishments, and identifying areas of growth and development. In addition, they provide an excellent opportunity for the employee to discuss with their manager their career advancement goals. 


However, as noted in this LinkedIn article, most employees do not feel performance evaluations are an accurate reflection of their performance. A survey of Fortune 1,000 companies reported that 66% of employees were strongly dissatisfied with the performance evaluations they received, while 71% of employees perceived that their evaluations were unfair. Biases, unfortunately, play a big role in why employees feel their performance evaluations are unfair. According to Harvard Business Review, despite acknowledging the biases, a survey of 100 large organizations reported 57% of them weren't taking any actions to address bias in performance reviews. As noted in this article, biases not only affect talent development, but they also can negatively affect the organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.


What is Bias and How do They Affect Performance Evaluations:

In the article, “Types of Performance Review Biases & How to Avoid Them,” a bias is defined as an error in judgment that happens when a person allows their conscious or unconscious prejudices to affect their evaluation of another person. It usually implies an unfair judgment against or in favor of someone. 


While we would all like to believe that we are unbiased and impartial, humans, by nature, are biased. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work applying psychological insights to economics, demonstrated that most human decisions are based on biases, beliefs, and intuition, not facts or logic. In performance reviews, where a person’s job performance directly affects an individual’s salary, bonus, career advancement, or separation from the organization, biases can have a huge impact on an individual and their livelihood. Therefore, it is important to make sure your organization’s performance evaluation process is as fair and objective as possible.


What Can Your Business Do To Eliminate Biases in Performance Evaluations:


Understand the biases that exist within performance evaluations

The first step in eliminating biases in performance evaluations is to understand the different biases that exist in performance evaluations and learn how to prevent them. This will be crucial to ensuring your company has a fair and objective performance evaluation process. Conduct annual mandatory performance evaluation training sessions for any employee who conducts performance reviews. Each training session should: 

  • review the different types of biases;

  • provide concrete examples of how they can affect a performance evaluation;

  • train the managers on effective strategies to eliminate biases within the performance evaluation process 


Create a clearly defined performance evaluation process 

This step begins by examining your current process. Business leaders should ask the following questions: Do you conduct performance evaluations on a regular basis? Do you have a performance evaluation form that provides objective criteria where both managers and employees can review and rate their performance? Do you encourage and remind your managers to continually evaluate their employee’s performance by documenting employee achievements/accolades/milestones or, alternatively, areas of improvement/opportunity that your employees encountered throughout the year? 


Taking an inventory of your current process, identifying gaps in your process, and creating process improvements to close the gaps, will help your business create a clearly-defined and a well-executed process for all managers to follow in conducting performance evaluations. Additionally, this helps employees understand how their individual performance will be evaluated, and helps decrease the feeling that the process is unfair and ambiguous.


Agree on specific goals at the beginning of the evaluation period

At the start of each review period, the manager and employee should map out the employee’s goals for the year and define how it will be measured. This provides the manager and the employee the opportunity to log the employee’s progress towards achieving those goals throughout the year and not just at review time. It also eliminates any misunderstanding by the employee of what criteria their performance evaluation will be measured against.


Use objective, specific, and measurable evaluation criteria

Use quantifiable metrics and data when assessing an employee’s performance. One such way is by using a rubric to define the criteria from which an employee’s performance evaluation will be assessed. In utilizing the rubric system, managers and employees then provide metrics/data to determine if they met the evaluation criteria. 


Another way to achieve this is by eliminating subjective and open-ended questions on performance evaluation forms. Instead use objective measures to evaluate an employee’s performance. Examples of objective performance metrics can include: number of sales calls made, number of leads generated, percentage of growth of social media followers, number of blogs produced each year, etc. Review the role, expectations, and duties of each employee and create measurable objectives for an employee’s performance.


Use specific rating scales

In lieu of forms that have performance rating scales that list criteria such as, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, which can be subjective, use measurable criteria to define what Exceeds or Meets actually means. For example, on a rating scale of 1 to 5 (Doesn’t Meet to Exceeds), 5 (Exceeds) could mean between X-Y leads generated, and a rating of 4 (Meets) could be leads generated between Y and Z, etc. Another example of measurable criteria would be: 1 Meets Deadlines 50% of time, 2 meets deadlines 60% of time, up to a 5 which meets deadlines 100% of the time.  


Gather feedback from multiple stakeholders

Ultimately, an employee’s performance evaluation will be conducted by their manager. However, soliciting feedback from the employee’s peers, customers, direct reports, etc. will help attain a more comprehensive evaluation of the employee’s performance. This additional feedback provides a more thorough look at an employee’s performance, from different perspectives, which can help in eliminating a bias.


For more information on best practices to eliminate biases in performance evaluations, contact Reverie at thelab@findreverie.com.


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