5 Common Performance Review Biases That Managers Need to Overcome


One of the most challenging aspects in the performance review process is overcoming biases. A bias is defined as “a prejudice in favor of or against someone or something”. While all biases aren’t negative, biases can have a negative impact on employee performance. Employees expect their performance reviews to be fair and free of biases.

Many different kinds of bias can show up during the performance appraisal process. Here are five common ones:

  1. Contrast bias occurs when a manager compares an employee’s performance to other employees instead of the company performance standard. For example, if employees are ranked in comparison, the result is that someone must end up at the bottom, even if they are exceeding the company standard. In this situation, the problem isn’t the employee – it’s the goal or standard that has been set.
  2. The halo bias happens when an employee is rated highly in all areas of performance because of one thing they do really well. An example would be the salesperson who always achieves their sales goals and senior management loves it. But behind the scenes, they create havoc and don’t have the respect of their co-workers.
  3. The horn bias is the opposite of halo. An employee is rated as a poor performer because of one thing they don’t do well. For instance, an accounting clerk who is great at all aspects of their performance but filing. The filing piles up because they procrastinate – resulting in the company eventually hiring a temp to get the filing caught up. In all other areas, the employee is a high performer.
  4. Leniency bias occurs when a manager gives everyone on their team a “satisfactory” rating. This can happen when a manager has a large span of control coupled with a common review date. The manager has dozens of reviews to work on and a lot of good intentions. But somewhere in the process, the manager gets tired and starts giving everyone a satisfactory rating because it’s easy and doesn’t require any written supporting statements.
  5. Recency bias happens when an employee’s most recent behavior becomes the primary focus of the review. The results can go both ways. A poor performer does something terrific and their past performance is forgotten. Or an excellent performer makes a mistake, and it weighs down the rest of their review.

If you’re looking for some resources to help managers better understand and handle these biases, here are a couple from the SHRMStore.

“The First-Time Manager’s Guide to Performance Appraisals” by Diane Arthur goes into biases and much more. This book would be very handy for organizations that don’t need a full-blown performance appraisal training session – maybe because the company has just a handful of managers who give appraisals or only a couple managers need a refresher.

“2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews” by Paul Falcone is perfect for managers who are looking for creative inspiration when it comes to writing about employee performance. Even for managers with solid writing skills, it’s not always easy to find the right words when an employee needs to improve their performance.

A big challenge for managers is properly expressing when an employee is meeting or exceeding the company’s performance standard. Resources like the books above can help managers craft clear comments so an employee doesn’t misinterpret “meeting the standard” for “exceeding the standard”. In addition, the more resources we provide to managers, hopefully, the less bias we will see in performance reviews and the more comfortable they will get at discussing performance. This benefits employees, the organization, and the bottom-line. 

Originally posted on the HR Bartender blog.



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