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Keeping Bias Out of the Performance Review Process

April 8, 2021
April 8, 2021

Every performance review or termination should always be based on accurate assessments. If letting somebody go, there should be proof that they're not performing well. Likewise, if an employee is retained, there needs to be solid evidence that they are performing well. The problem occurs during a false positive, when a low performer is kept on the team, due to inaccurate assessments. The greatest damage is a false negative—when we lose people who could make an impact and drive meaning for the organization because they were not assessed correctly and/or we were not engaging them. When a valuable employee is lost due to inaccurate assessment, their turnover is a tragedy for the organization. Here are some strategic ways to avoid losing valuable employees:

Codify Performance – Determine the key drivers for performance. You should establish the real measurements that will demonstrate performance. Don’t rely on traditional measures and values without knowing that they make a meaningful contribution to performance. If you understand the performance that you’re looking for and how to measure that behavior, then you will have a better chance of assessing people constructively and supportively.

Avoid Framing -- Secondly, be aware of framing. Framing is when you tell the truth about someone and present it in a positive or negative light to influence a decision. A manager who knows what to look for in terms of performance is less apt to let any framing language impact the employee’s assessment. It is common to experience a leader vilifying or deifying a staff member based on one small set of factors. Remember the importance of considering what a person achieved over the course of the assessment period rather than relying mainly on a recent episode that is top of mind.

Communicate Expectations – Make certain not to rely on descriptions of an employee that are more a preparation for achievement than achievement itself. A meaningful approach to termination is to make sure that you fully understand the expectation that was applied to an employee. And more importantly, that you have communicated those expectations. Too often, a manager may assume an employee understands a key expectation that was never made explicit.  Matters that are vital and urgent merit a serious conversation prior to a serious action such as termination.

Ensure Preparation for Performance – Be certain that employees are prepared to deliver on performance expectations. Either they have the required expertise, or they need to be trained into having it. They also need to be equipped with the tools and resources necessary to accomplish their goals. If an employee is not capable of achieving a task that you're looking for, for whatever reason, then bias can creep in, creating immediate and more long-term problems.

The reality of the workplace is that we all have biases and a perspective that is going push us toward decisions that may not be in the organization’s best interest. Once we have built an awareness of bias, it helps to institute a structure of using clear assessments and consistent criteria as a decision-making foundation. When organizations support staff adequately with training and other tools, communicate expectations clearly, and rely on data about human resources decisions, then employees are more likely to feel they are treated fairly.

This blog post is based on the HealthStream Webinar, “The (Not So) Hidden Cost of Bias,” led by Jeremy Short, HealthStream’s subject matter expert on bias, diversity, and inclusion. For more than 20 years, Short has possessed a number of progressively responsible roles directing and leading Human Resources initiatives. Short is currently Director of Talent Management and Development at a health system in Cleveland, Ohio, and is an Adjunct Professor of Human Resources Management at Baldwin Wallace University.

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