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4 Ways to Combat Bias in the Workplace with Performance Reviews

Jul 13, 2022| Reading time: 10min

BY Ivori Johnson

Director of DEIB

From years of systemic discrimination, learned behaviors, and prejudiced cultures and values, our brains often jump to conclusions about certain groups of people, whether we realize it or not.

And these unconscious biases are stronger than we think. According to renowned neuroscientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Erik Kandel, 80-90% of our decisions and judgements are formed unconsciously.

When these biases leak into the workplace, they can have serious repercussions on culture and performance. Furthermore, when your team doesn’t feel that they can show up as themselves and with the full breadth of their ideas and creativity, both your people and business suffer. 

Gallup estimates that employees who experience bias are three times more likely to be disengaged at work, costing companies around $450-$550 billion annually. It’s rare these employees stay; those who are discriminated against are also more than three times as likely to leave their current jobs within the year.

So how do we effectively combat bias in the workplace?

While there is no single, definitive answer, there are a series of steps that can help prevent discrimination. One important way is by creating a fair, objective performance review process — something that has traditionally been imperfect in organizations of all shapes and sizes. By refining performance review initiatives to increase impartiality and facilitate equity, companies can help ensure fairness at every level.

Again, prioritizing equality at work is a holistic initiative, so the following strategy is only a place to start. However, this crucial step can make a serious impact. Below are four ways how an objective performance review initiative can help combat bias in the workplace.

1. Set Clear Goals to Ensure Objectivity

The nature of performance reviews has been largely subjective. When our unconscious biases come into play — whether they’re towards race, gender, ethnicity, ability, or otherwise — they can hold people back from growing professionally.

With employee evaluations, there’s simply no room for subjectivity. That’s why it’s important to give employees and teams clear goals, objectives, and KPIs from the start. Therefore, when performance review time rolls around, your people know the concrete expectations. 

With a people analytics platform with performance management functionality, hiring managers can create and share these definitive objectives with their teams. Be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Be transparent about how goals align. The right dynamic platform fuels transparency and alignment to a company mission. From there, you can design Objective and Key Results (OKRs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for departments, teams, and individuals that roll-up into each overarching goal, so everyone knows exactly how they fit into the larger picture.
  • Have a standardized, objective system. Set an organization-wide review process so employees know what to expect and what’s expected of them for their level and position. This should include evaluation forms, prompts, and rubrics that the entire business can adopt and follow.
  • Set holistic goals. OKRs and KPIs don’t have to be focused around productivity. For more well-rounded reviews, include goals around professional development, leadership opportunities, communication styles, and more.

2. Have a Comprehensive and Continuous Review Cycle

Employees are unsatisfied with the traditional annual review cycle. A study by Adobe notes that nearly 60% of employees believe that having a review once a year has “no impact” on their performance. Instead, ongoing feedback is preferred; 76% of employees would like to have monthly conversations about their work.

ChartHop supports continuous, contextual performance management and empowers teams with the data they need to uncover biases in their review process.

Implementing continuous and comprehensive reviews can help managers have more fair and valuable conversations with their employees about performance. Why? Simply knowing employees and what’s going on in their personal and professional lives can help prevent bias and spark more extensive audits.

Luckily, a performance management tool allows you to:

  • Review from all sides. In addition to upward-downward reviews, you can implement and track 360 reviews, skip-levels, and self-evaluations. This gives leadership the full picture to eliminate or minimize personal biases.
  • Communicate frequently. Whether it’s hosting weekly 1:1s or bi-monthly check-ins, managers should communicate with their employees on an ongoing basis. Standardized 1:1 forms allow you to ask for consistent feedback, document roadblocks, and create a plan before reviews roll around.
  • Conduct DEIB reviews. Data-based reviews will help you gather insights on how your organization is doing. For example, if you look back to see if only men were promoted in the last two cycles, or that women are paid less than men, you have a bias issue on your hands. Ultimately, being informed and having these conversations going into performance reviews will help your equity efforts. 
  • Host calibration meetings with inclusion professionals or unbiased groups. Share individual performance metrics with senior staff to ensure objectivity, especially when it comes to promotions, raises, and equity. Additionally, inclusion professionals can help spot and call out bias in the group to ensure consistency between decisions and meetings.

3. Provide a Space for Constructive Feedback

Oftentimes, reviews use an arbitrary rating scale to measure how well people are performing in the workplace. But simply assigning a number or an adjective to someone’s performance doesn’t promote success. Instead, people need specific, granular feedback to address issues and inspire growth.

When it comes to using performance reviews to combat bias, provide a space for constructive and explicit feedback. Then, consider the following:

  • Be conscious of language. Data shows our unconscious bias can creep up into the language we use to describe performance and roles. Educate your managers on the implicit bias of language so they’re cognizant of the words they use and what they can infer.
  • Use data and metrics. Business leaders need numbers, especially when it comes to constructive criticism. Data won’t solve all your problems, but it can help leaders interpret performance and provide feedback that’s bias-free, relevant, and actionable.
  • Create a plan. It’s important for managers to use data when developing performance plans. That way, employees know what their new objectives are and how they can meet them, all with the support of their manager.

4. Support Employees with Reliable Resources

Performance reviews are valuable, but employees still need ongoing support in other areas if they’re going to succeed. From career pathing and professional development, your people need a space to consistently turn to if you want them to succeed.

The right people analytics platform will also have an employee experience portal, which allows your people to: 

  • Own their career path. Your employees can access everything they need to drive their own success, including performance plans, training completion rates, and 1:1 feedback from managers. All of it lives in one, accessible resource for them to leverage.
  • Contribute to the review process. Give your people a place to anonymously assess the review cycle to ensure fairness and implement change as needed.
  • Have a system of record. Your platform should act as a single source of truth for everyone to use. From an HR perspective, this ensures a space to store reviews, document problems, and record cases of bias. At the aggregate level, leaders can then see if there are large-scale organizational issues that need to be addressed, then take action accordingly. Make sure your platform includes robust access permissions so  performance data is viewable to only those who need to see it.

Start with Performance Reviews, But Don’t Stop There

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single answer to stopping implicit bias from creeping into the office. But knowing the role performance reviews play in perpetuating bias and deliberately designing them to be more objective is a good first step.

Ultimately, use performance reviews as a springboard to fostering a more equitable workplace. With the help of technology, you can set the foundation for inspiring fairness across business operations and giving your employees a place to thrive.

Performance reviews are just one avenue to ensure equity for your people. To build sustainable initiatives, you need to start by diving into your diversity metrics. Learn how to do so with our Comprehensive Guide to DEI Reporting.

Read our guide here

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