By Anja van den Berg
Companies rely on the data provided by performance evaluations for critical business decisions. Succession planning, compensation adjustments and development initiatives are just a few processes dependent on accurate and fair performance appraisal information.
These evaluation decisions are among the most important processes that a manager is asked to do – and the consequences may make or break a career.
When so much rests on the validity of this data, it seems clear that eliminating bias and error in performance appraisals is a critical responsibility for supervisors, managers and human resources staff.
Unfortunately, research is proving the opposite to be true.
“Though we may think we’re making accurate, objective assessments during a performance review, the social and brain sciences have shown that bias is still baked into the brain,” says Dr David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.
“The traditional performance review is a confidential, closed-door meeting between no more than two people,” Dr Rock explains. “Research suggests it is also totally misguided.”
A study published by the American Psychological Association has indicated that as much as 62% of a reviewer’s judgment of an employee is a reflection of the reviewer, not the person getting reviewed.
Despite this, survey data from a recent summit on performance management indicates that 57% of companies aren’t doing anything to remove bias from their performance reviews.
To conduct smarter reviews, Dr Rock prompts managers to solicit the perspectives of other colleagues. Ideally, these will be co-workers who don’t work in the same capacity as the leader nor think along the same lines.
“Bias is built into brain function, which means it can be hedged against, but not erased. Everybody has their own subjective biases, but by surveying across people, you can get closer to an objective, more rigorous version of the truth. A manager can look for patterns in feedback rather than relying on his or her own singular, biased view.”
Leaders who crowdsource reviews can ask about a person’s value outside of the typical key metrics, in order to get a fuller, qualitative understanding of the roles the person plays.
On face value, this may feel like a breach of privacy: performance reviews are supposed to be confidential, aren’t they? Dr Rock explains that publicising the data-gathering works in everyone’s favour.
“The earliest benefit to crowdsourced reviews is that candidates feel more comfortable knowing their good work will be seen. Having more advocates generally translates to greater praise.
“But people can also take solace in the entire team being held accountable in the long run. Asking around gives leaders extra insight that may expose that seemingly competent employees are actually underperforming.”
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/01/why-most-performance-evaluations-are-biased-and-how-to-fix-them
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-work/201805/why-the-typical-performance-review-is-overwhelmingly-biased
APA PsycNet: http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2000-16508-012