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Limiting the impact of bias on performance reviews and termination processes

August 23, 2021
August 23, 2021

Bias can affect employees in any workplace, in terms of how they feel about their work environment and how much they put into their jobs. This blog post taken from the HealthStream article, “Understanding the Cost of Bias at Your Organization,” based on a webinar presented by Jeremy Short, a HealthStream subject matter expert on bias, diversity, and inclusion. Short shares that we all have some bias, a prejudgment that helps the brain sort and categorize the world around us. It creates shortcuts for faster decision making based on past experiences and upbringing, or on information that your brain has told you ahead of time. Biases can be positive or negative. A fundamental step in understanding bias is to accept its existence. 

Look Out for the Influence of Bias During Performance Reviews and Termination Processes

Performance review and termination processes should always be based on accurate assessments. Letting an employee should be based in non-performance. Likewise, in order to retain someone, they need to be performing. A problem occurs when someone who is not performing is kept on the team, due to inaccurate assessments. The greatest damage to an organization occurs when we lose people who could make an impact and drive meaning because they have not been correctly assessed and in turn are not engaged. When a valuable employee is lost due to inaccurate assessment or termination, their turnover hurts the organization. 

Four Ways to Combat Turnover Linked to Negative Bias

Here are some ways to avoid losing valuable employees: 

Codify Performance – Determine the key drivers for performance. You want to establish 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 performance and how to measure that behavior, then you’re going to 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. It is very important to consider what a person did over the course of the assessment period rather than relying on a single recent episode. 

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 that employee. And more importantly, that it was communicated. Too many times, 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 like termination. 

Ensure Preparation for Performance – Be certain that employees are prepared to deliver on performance expectations. Either they have the required expertise or are appropriately trained. They also may need tools and resources necessary to accomplish their goals, and the organization may need to equip them. If an employee is not capable of achieving a task that you’re looking for, then bias can creep in, creating immediate and long-term problems. 

The reality of the workplace is that we all have biases and a perspective that is going to push us in certain directions. No matter where you work or live, there will always be someone who hits that necessary bias for you. That’s okay, as long as you engage them so that they can bring their best selves to work and be successful. To do this, you should offer awareness training, expand your awareness, focus on your biases, and standardize your processes to include clear demonstrable methods for measuring success. If you provide clear expectations for your employees and offer clear hiring criteria for onboarding, you’re going to do a lot to reduce bias in your organization. 

Create an Inclusive Culture to Manage and Address Equity

A workforce and organization that understands the importance of recognizing unconscious bias, diversity in the workplace, cultural competence, and health literacy not only improves peer-to-peer and caregiver-to-patient relationships, but also has the power to influence your organization’s culture, place in your community, and bottom line. Explore HealthStream solutions that support workforce diversity and inclusion.