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Mitigating Bias in Performance Reviews

Our culture, background and experiences create biases which influence the way we perceive others. These biases, often unconscious, frame our world-view. So when we are in the position of making a judgment on someone else’s work or career, we need to understand our personal biases in order to provide the fairest review possible.

Factors influencing performance evaluations

Similarities and differences

As a reviewer, you may feel more comfortable with an individual who shares your interests, background, work style, or personality. Based on these similarities between you and the reviewee, you may give them a higher score than what they deserve. Similarly, when you and the reviewee are very different from one another, you may feel less comfortable or have a poorer perception of the individual and therefore give them a lower-than-deserved score.

Stereotypes and unconscious judgements

It is easy to assume that an individual has certain traits, attitudes, beliefs and values because they belong to a certain group (i.e. age, gender, religion, project team, etc.). For instance, if an individual was previously part of a certain project team on which they did not perform well, it is easy to assume that they are also not performing well on their current team.

Level of comfort with the reviewing process

Bias may also be caused by factors related to the review process itself. If the reviewer does not feel comfortable with the process, or a certain aspect of it (like the rating scale or rating sheets) this may also negatively affect their score. The more comfortable you are with the process, the more accurately your scores will reflect the reviewee’s actual performance.

Distractions

A key requirement for accurate performance scores is focus. Distractions will result in rushed scores, which won’t be an accurate reflection of the reviewee’s performance.

So, in order to mitigate reviewer bias

  • Be aware of your own biases before the commencement of the reviews.
  • Know the process and the reviewee’s profile (performance objectives).
  • Explore views that oppose your own when comparing scores with other reviewers. Be open-minded. There may be something you missed.
  • Test your assumptions. Ask yourself whether your scores reflect the actual performance of the individual or whether it rather reflects differences between you and the reviewee.
  • Allocate sufficient time to the provision of scores. Don’t rush. Avoid distractions.
  • Be self-aware: never review someone if you’re not in the right frame of mind.
  • Review your own review: question the decisions you make. This can also be done by discussing your score with a second reviewer.

Questions to ask before reviewing an employee’s performance

The following questions has been provided by Traub (2013, p.8):

  1. What kind of biases have I experienced myself? How have these affected me?
  2. What part of my own agenda is being served by my decision?
  3. Does this employee, or their situation, remind me of someone else? Is that association applicable to this situation?
  4. Are there differences in work-style or approach between me and the person I’m evaluating? If yes – are they wrong, or just different? Might they yield the same results or will these differences influence my rating of the employee?
  5. What are this employee’s career aspirations? Is this what I imagine or are they what he/she has told me?
  6. What strategies and tactics can I put in place to engage fully and consciously – to put my filters aside?

(Source: Traub, L. (2013). Bias in performance management review process: creating an inclusive talent pipeline by understanding our filters. Cook Ross Publications.)

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