Co-authors Anh Vo, M.A. and Brian Cole, Ph.D.
Through all the changes that the pandemic has imposed on the corporate world, critical aspects of the business can fall by the wayside. Performance evaluations are one such aspect, and in these uncertain times, keeping those evaluations fair and equitable is of utmost importance.
Bias: Conscious, Unconscious, Proximity
We all have biases – even as leaders. There are two types of biases: conscious biases are those we are aware of and act upon with forethought. But unconscious biases are predispositions that we may not even be aware we’re acting upon—and new ways of working, especially remotely, make these biases even more important to address.
The success of each employee in a hybrid model is impacted by the preferences of leaders. If a leader supports remote working, check-ins and meetings will be more virtual-friendly. But if they’re keener on in-office presence, their preferences will tend toward face-to-face meetings. This is called proximity bias.
Let’s examine the surprisingly strong effect of these biases, based on recent research:
- Remote workers are 38% less likely to receive bonuses than those employees working in-office.
- Remote workers are 40% less likely to be offered training.
- Remote workers encounter six times the year-over-year increase in gender pay disparity.
The bias of every leader—conscious or unconscious—can lead to inequitable evaluations.
To have an equitable evaluation process, we must focus on both behaviors and outcomes: what employees get done, no matter who they are or where they’re getting it done. A two-tiered system—where remote workers feel at a disadvantage—does not work in the long run. Leaders must create visibility and ensure that everyone knows what behaviors are critical and how they impact team goals and objectives.
Transparency and communications are even more important. Take your time, slow down processes when necessary, and leverage regular check-ins to facilitate performance observation. You don’t always have to see someone working in order to observe them. Ask your employees open-ended questions about how they are accomplishing their work, and review the outcomes – this will provide excellent insights into their performance level and quality.
The High Value of 360 Performance Reviews
Pre-COVID, companies didn’t wholly embrace conducting 360 performance reviews, as those can be perceived as expensive and time-consuming, despite their proven effectiveness. And now, some companies are waiting to conduct evaluations until the pandemic is over. Some argue that annual standard evaluations are ineffective. This simply isn’t working. With COVID and remote work, traditional evaluation methods are in desperate need of change.
Under these new circumstances, streamlined 360 performance reviews can be leveraged to focus on individuals whose critical, functional behaviors contribute to team and departmental goals. 360 reviews also can gather information cross-functionally from those with opportunities to observe and experience the critical metrics.
So, consider using 360 reviews to gather input from an individual’s peers, internal and external customers, and others directly impacted by their work. This process also promotes collaboration, as the entire workflow is involved in the feedback process and all involved are accountable for outcomes. By involving those closest to the critical behaviors, the result of the data is more equitable. It eliminates biases—proximity, conscious, and unconscious—which results in the data itself becoming more equitable.
Using these focused 360 reviews gives an opportunity for multiple levels of the organization to provide input—in stark contrast to traditional organizational feedback, in which a manager will review their direct reports and that process will slowly work downward through the business.
Are the employees and managers aligned on who should be involved in providing feedback and what behaviors are expected? This is a critical success factor to these new kinds of reviews. Consider three domains—my work, my team, my customer—as a standard framework to evaluate employee productivity, regardless of an employee's location.
Fast-Cycle Feedback Loop
By focusing on critical behaviors, managers and employees can have effective conversations about personal development that promote peak productivity. Another tool to assist us here is a Fast-Cycle Feedback Loop.
Building in these fast-cycle feedback loops helps you adjust, iterate, and improve—which results in circling back to the team to generate ideas for desired behaviors:
- Leaders have the responsibility to clearly state goals and roles, define what success looks like, state their expectations, and get the behaviors going.
- Team members can share gaps they’ve witnessed and identify critical behaviors.
- Leaders and colleagues provide feedback and coaching to ensure goal achievement.
The fast-cycle feedback loop can also highlight what is/isn’t working so that leaders can adjust critical behaviors, provide information on where gaps may be, and find out about them in a timely manner in order to remove barriers and provide needed support.
Equitable evaluations build trust, engagement, and accountability. By communicating how employees will be evaluated and who gets a say, you build trust via transparency. Engagement increases through employee ownership of behaviors. Utilizing this process, leaders and employees can identify gaps and pivot, with shared accountability to achieve the outcomes. Building upon a foundation of equitable evaluations is vital to creating an inclusive environment – both in-person and virtually.