Humans are, by our very nature, prone to bias. There is simply no escaping it. Hard as we try to deny our prejudices and treat everyone fairly, our brains are wired to find mental shortcuts that make processing the world around us easier. These repeated patterns of thinking often lead to inaccurate conclusions.
Take the common following example: if a top performing employee shows up late for a meeting, you’re likely to excuse their tardiness due to something out of their control, such as an unexpected traffic delay. But if an employee with mediocre performance arrives late, your brain is more likely to assume they overslept or exercised poor time management. You subconsciously make quick judgments based on previous experiences and act accordingly.
While bias may be a part of being human, it can have damaging effects in the workplace. Leaders should make decisions based on data or multiple voices rather than leaning solely on their own assumptions. These four steps will help you check yourself and reduce personal bias.
1. Become self-aware. Acknowledge that you are biologically incapable of being completely objective. This admission makes you more open to recognizing biases when they arise and more mindful of your thoughts and actions.
There are a number of free assessments you can take online to identify your unconscious biases; take one to become aware of how biases may be affecting you.
2. Have frequent interactions with employees. If you rely on annual or semi-annual performance conversations, recency bias will take over and you won’t have the full view of employee performance. Continuously interacting and staying up to date with employees paints a clearer, more comprehensive picture.
We recommend conducting frequent (monthly or even weekly) 1-on-1 meetings with employees. Not only will you build a trusting relationship and ensure alignment, but you’ll also get continual updates on employee goals, perceptions, roadblocks, successes, and more. These help combat recency bias and inject objectivity into your performance appraisal.
3. Build your perception of employee performance from the ground up. Check yourself before jumping into evaluation mode. At this point, you likely have set opinions about employees (ie. lazy, productive, collaborative, unmotivated). But people are constantly changing, and your perceptions need to evolve with them. Continually review progress on goals, source feedback from other team members, and consider the progress the employee has shown since your last 1-on-1.
The Employee Snapshot is a great way to quickly check in on how an employee is performing.
4. Get input from other voices. Busy managers don’t interact with employees as often as their coworkers do, and they can provide valuable insight when evaluating employees. Sourcing feedback from them (or customers, if applicable) gives more context and helps eliminate the Halo Effect and similarity bias.
Following these steps won’t erase your biases, but they can reduce or prevent the negative impact they can have. In order to create a workplace that fosters trust and mutual respect, you need to proactively try to bury your biases and approach employee performance with an open mind.