One of the most challenging aspects in the performance review process is overcoming biases. A bias is defined as “a prejudice in favor of or against someone or something”. While all biases are not negative, biases can have a negative impact on employee performance. Employees expect their performance reviews to be fair and free of biases.
Many different kinds of bias can show up during the performance appraisal process. Here are five common ones:
- Contrast – This occurs when the manager compares an employee’s performance to other employees instead of the company performance standard. When employees are ranked in comparison, the result is that someone must end up at the bottom, even if they are exceeding the standard. In this situation, the problem isn’t the employee – it’s the goal or standard that has been set.
- Halo – An employee is rated highly in all areas because of one thing they do really well. I’ve seen this happen with sales people. The employee achieves their sales goals and senior management loves it. But behind the scenes, they create havoc and don’t have the respect of their co-workers.
- Horn – On the flip side, an employee is rated as a poor performer because of one thing they don’t do well. An example would be the accounting clerk who is great at everything but filing. It piles up because they procrastinate – resulting in the company eventually hiring a temp to get the filing caught up. In all other areas, the employee is a high performer.
- Leniency – A manager gives everyone on their team a “satisfactory” rating. Unfortunately, I’ve often seen this happen when a manager has a large span of control coupled with a common review date. The manager has dozens of reviews to work on and a heart full of good intentions. But somewhere in the process, the manager gets tired and starts giving everyone a satisfactory rating because it’s easy and doesn’t require any written supporting statements.
- Recency – The employee’s most recent behavior becomes the primary focus of the review. The results can go both ways. A poor performer does something terrific and their past performance is forgotten. Or an excellent performer makes a mistake and it weighs down the rest of the review.
If you’re looking for some resources to help managers better understand and handle these biases, I found a couple at a past Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference. “The First-Time Manager’s Guide to Performance Appraisals” by Diane Arthur goes into biases and much more. This book would be very handy for organizations that don’t need a full-blown performance appraisal training session – maybe because the company has just a handful of managers who give appraisals or only a couple managers need a refresher.
I’d also suggest pairing it with the book “2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews” by Paul Falcone. I know, there are a few people who are anti-phrases books but, for managers who are looking for creative inspiration when it comes to writing about employee performance, it’s helpful. Even for managers with solid writing skills, it’s not always easy to find the right words when an employee needs to improve their performance.
One thing I found useful in the “2600 Phrases” book were the phrases for meeting/exceeding expectations. As a HR professional, I’ve often had to work with managers to make sure when an employee’s performance was being reflected as either meeting or exceeding expectations, it was truly expressed in the proper area. You know, so an employee doesn’t misinterpret “meeting the standard” for “exceeding the standard”.
The more resources we provide to managers, hopefully the less bias we will see in performance reviews and the more comfortable they will get at discussing performance. This benefits employees, the organization, and the bottom-line.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at the 34th Street Graffiti Wall in Gainesville, FL13