Tips and Tricks

Addressing Bias in Performance Management with Confirm

Christine Hovsepian

September 7, 2022

Productive performance reviews help your employees grow within your company. However, if any bias clouds your results, it can derail improvement.  Biased performance reviews hurt employees’ motivation and engagement.

Here’s how to minimize bias in performance reviews and nurture your team’s growth.

How Does Bias Impact Performance Management?

Implicit bias is part of human nature. Though often unintentional, we are hardwired to distinguish our “in-group” from our “out-group.” Meanwhile, stereotypes or assumptions affect how we perceive others’ behavior.

Implicit bias is a type of cognitive bias. Others types of bias include:

  • confirmation bias, which directs our focus to information that supports our beliefs
  • the halo effect, where  we amplify the strengths of people we like
  • the horns effect, which makes us hyper-focus on the flaws of people we dislike

These biases lead people to make subjective or unfair choices, which is a problem when those decisions concern managing or promoting employees.

Implicit bias often shapes how we reward and penalize employees. It can lead to:

  • Inconsistent standards for employees based on their demographic or behavioral characteristics
  • Disproportionate incentives or discipline
  • Vague feedback
  • “Changing the goalposts” when evaluating employee performance
  • Inequitable development opportunities
  • Difficulty setting and evaluating performance goals

All of these can hurt your employees’ well-being and motivation. That’s why it’s important to identify and address implicit bias.

How Performance Management Solutions Can Help

Most performance review systems rely on manager reviews or 360’s. These are ripe with implicit biases due to the limited visibility a few evaluators have of the employee.

Confirm is the only system using Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), which unveils more objective, clear performance data with sample size. This helps overcome implicit bias.  Instead of relying on infrequent, top-down reviews, you gain a broader perspective, allowing you to fairly assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Your performance evaluations become more accurate — and promotional decisions more equitable.

Reducing bias boosts your team’s motivation and engagement.  According to Coqual (PDF), 34% of employees who experienced bias have withheld ideas. Among those who didn’t perceive bias, only 13% held back.

Plus, you can provide fair opportunities for advancement. Coqual found that only 15% of employees who experienced bias got a promotion.

Here’s what a data-based approach to performance management (perf) lets you do.

Evaluate Employees Equitably

Performance reviews are more actionable with real data behind them. Employees want to know that they’re being evaluated fairly. Data-backed reviews stoke their confidence and provide clear guidance for their growth.

A perf solution such as Confirm gives you conclusive insights, by using Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) to source verifiable feedback from your entire company. This helps you equitably measure and incentivize great performance.

Additionally, use demographic data (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) to identify if bias exists in the organization. Confirm can help you measure and control for these biases when setting performance decisions like promotions or performance improvement plans (PIPs).

When employees believe they’re working in a meritocratic company, they’re more likely to engage. This, in turn, results in, fair evaluations, which reveals your top talent who’s primed for promotion.

Discover Breakout Performers

Calibration sessions are often a “sorting” session of employee performance based more-so on company and managerial politics, than true performance. In calibrations, managers opine on who they believe top performers are, leading to subjective decisions.

Confirm’s ONA data shows how each employee performs through their coworkers’ eyes. Using this data, you can identify your organization’s top talent and gain valuable insights into their strengths. This makes it easier to cultivate new leadership and avoid political negotiating between managers.

You’ll see the best employees who’ve been overlooked due to implicit bias. You can then give them well-deserved rewards for their hard work.

Identify Employees’ Top Skills and Achievements

Managers’ observations typically shape employees’ reviews and rewards.

But do you have verifiable data on who would be best for certain opportunities? Traditional performance management tends to omit these insights.

Confirm lets you search for employees who excel at a specific skill or behavior. It uses ONA to reveal the strengths their co-workers have noticed and managers often miss. This makes it easier to provide opportunities without bias.

Know Who to Promote, and Who Not to

Performance management should reward accomplishment.  But implicit bias can lead one to ignore or downplay another’s achievements, and typical performance reviews may omit them entirely.

Let’s say your marketing team organized a successful conference last year. Your employee Susan said she took the lead, so you’re considering promoting her. She’s around your age, with a similar background, and quite extroverted.

You offer Susan the promotion. You discover this builds resentment among Sofia and Marquiste, who actually did much of the day-to-day conference planning. They often dealt with Susan taking credit or talking over them. Worse, they heard Susan and some coworkers make fun of Sofia’s accent and question Marquiste’s education.

Confirm’s ONA data reveals that Sofia and Marquiste organized the marketing team. They pulled resources together for the conference, and others noticed. You’d see that their coworkers praised their leadership and communication skills. Meanwhile, Susan has no such praise.

A clearer picture of each employee’s contributions lets you recognize and reward them appropriately.

Prevent Common Biases in Performance Reviews

Implicit bias hurts workplace equity and engagement. It also leaves certain employees without actionable feedback. For example, a survey of tech companies’ performance evaluations found that women usually received generic remarks about their personality. In contrast, men got highly detailed reviews of their work.

Those findings reflect the top-down approach of manager’s observations. If bias creeps in, there’s nothing to counterbalance it.

Insights from the entire network, though, unveils specific skills, behaviors, and patterns that better reflect true performance. Organizational Network Analysis reveals opportunities for growth.

Continuously Assess Performance

Implicit bias tends to become more pronounced in the absence of new information. Thus, annual performance reviews are more susceptible to it.

As managers reflect on an employee’s entire year, they may forget long-past projects. This is called recency bias, and it further limits managers’ feedback. They’re more likely to rate employees for recent projects. For anything they can’t recall, they rely on surface-level assumptions.

We recommend running an ONA performance cycle quarterly.

Good performance management regularly tracks your employees’ accomplishments. That way, when it’s time for performance reviews, your managers will have plenty of data to reduce both recency and implicit biases.

Need More Information?

Good performance management makes your team feel engaged and appreciated. That’s most effective when you reduce bias. Fair, actionable feedback nurtures growth and boosts retention. It also lets you offer fair opportunities and incentives. A data-driven solution with Organizational Network Analysis makes all this possible.

To learn how Confirm can help you reduce bias, request a demo now.

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