For many companies, performance review season is kicking off. Although every organization relies on a different evaluation process, most follow a predictable pattern of assessments of their work, feedback, and rating their performance. Underlying this process is the belief that by reflecting on performance and codifying it in an evaluation form, we will be able to assess their merits objectively, give out rewards fairly, and offer useful feedback to help them develop in the next year. But while we may strive to be as meritocratic as possible, our assessments are imperfect and all too often biased.
Two biases are our main culprits; recency bias and proximity bias.
Recency bias is the tendency to place too much emphasis on experiences that are freshest in your memory—even if they are not the most relevant or reliable. So how do we help others and ourselves overcome this bias? It’s important to document performance at different points in time throughout the time period. Did someone just complete a 3-month project? Great, send those involved a request for feedback so you can get some data on how well they did. Did someone just complete internal training? Awesome, request feedback from the instructor about their participation. This way, at the end of the year, you have more frequent data points from throughout the entire time period.
Proximity bias is the tendency to favor people with whom they work closely or in person, occurring more within the remote and hybrid working environments we have become more accustomed to since the pandemic. One study found that remote employees are less likely to be promoted than employees who come into the office, despite being 15% more productive. More than 44% of remote workers reported worrying that their in-office colleagues would be favored by their boss. Regular check-ins with remote employees by the managers help overcome this bias. This SHRM article for more information on proximity bias.