Your typical performance review could be a biased one
It's experience bias, or the all-too-human tendency to believe our own interpretations constitute the whole, objective truth.
By David Rock & Beth Jones (At the Workplace)
Published: Tue 15 Jan 2019, 8:07 PM
Last updated: Tue 15 Jan 2019, 10:10 PM
The traditional performance review is a confidential, closed-door meeting between no more than two people. Research suggests it is totally misguided. Though we may think we're making objective assessments during a performance review, bias is still baked into the brain.
Studies, for instance, have indicated that as much as 62 per cent of a rater's judgment of an employee is a reflection of the rater, not the person getting reviewed.
Despite this, survey data from a recent summit we hosted on performance management indicated that 57 per cent of companies weren't doing anything to remove bias from their performance reviews. It's no wonder companies that prize traditional reviews are quickly becoming dinosaurs.
Yet these evaluation decisions are among the most important processes that a manager is asked to do. The traditional review structure assumes that leaders who have tracked an employee's behaviour over a period of time are the best authorities to judge whether the employee has missed, achieved, or surpassed his or her goals.
This assumption itself is biased. It's experience bias, or the all-too-human tendency to believe our own interpretations of the world constitute the whole, objective truth.
In reality, people perceive the world differently from one another, and no one interpretation is objectively correct.
Biases like these get us into trouble for a couple reasons. The first is they happen outside conscious behaviour, so it's difficult to address them on our own. The second is they compel us to reject the beliefs of people who see things differently, since we conflate different with wrong. To conduct smarter reviews, managers should solicit the perspectives of other people.
Granted, even collective feedback will have an element of bias in it, but if five of seven colleagues notice X about Tom, then it's a reasonable bet that Tom should address X. It's like seeking multiple opinions for a medical diagnosis, or how a reporter interviews a range of sources to get to the facts that matter for a story.
The earliest benefit to crowdsourced reviews is that candidates feel more comfortable knowing their good work will be seen. But people can also take solace in the entire team being held accountable in the long run. For crowdsourced reviews to be effective, it's essential for managers to let their teams know prior to review cycles that others will be asked about performance. This creates a positive social pressure to do well, in addition to boosting transparency across an organisation.
Beth Jones is Lead Consultant and David Rock is Director at the NeuroLeadership Institute.