Seven Tips For Identifying And Managing Behavioral Bias In Performance Evaluations

Seven Tips For Identifying And Managing Behavioral Bias In Performance Evaluations

In a time marked by emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion, most managers are working overtime to avoid passing judgment on, making assumptions about or discriminating against employees based on factors like gender, sexual orientation, parental status or ethnicity. Instead, they’re making a conscious effort to extend equal opportunities to employees of all backgrounds.

But managers are still human, and even with the best intentions, they are still prone to bias. As Brené Brown notes in her recent Netflix special, The Call to Courage, “It’s not a question about whether you have bias or not; it’s what biases do you have, and how many, and how bad and how deep?”

Bias often goes unrecognized. While cultural, gender and other demographic-based biases are some of the easiest to identify, there are more intrinsic, behavior-based biases that can affect how managers evaluate employee performance — and even how employees assess their own performance.

One example of this is how employees react to change. Humans have unique ways of processing change, and managers may be impatient or intolerant of employees showing emotions differently than how they express their own.

Failure to identify and address these biases can result in misguided performance conversations that leave both employees and managers feeling dissatisfied. Because performance evaluations are often directly tied to compensation increases, bias can have a costly effect.

I want to clarify that it’s nearly impossible to eliminate bias, and complete eradication isn’t a realistic goal for managers. However, it is our collective responsibility to be honest with ourselves about our own biases and do everything in our power to minimize them.

The first step to minimizing bias is to learn how to recognize it. The performance review process is a breeding ground for biases and an important opportunity to identify which come up for you. Below are some of the most common types of bias that infiltrate the employee evaluation process.

1. Leniency bias happens when one manager is either stricter or more forgiving than his or her peers when evaluating and rating performance. Some managers are consistently harder on employees than others, perhaps because their own managers are/were hard on them.

2. Contrast bias is a result of comparing team members against one another, even if they’re in different jobs or at different levels. Neither employee gets evaluated fairly because metrics and expectations for each are different, but they are still measured against one another.

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