Performance Evaluations – Share the Burden with Joint Evaluations

Stereotyping continues to be a persistent factor in evaluating individuals for new jobs, new assignments, promotions, and compensation – and this can cost companies money.

When the wrong people are given jobs or responsibilities based on unfounded assumptions about individuals based on their gender, ethnicity, or other demographic status, productivity decreases and top talent goes elsewhere. Companies lose their competitive edge.

Yet stereotyping is often done unconsciously, and despite decades of work around creating inclusive workplaces, it continues to influence decisions about who gets what job.

This is the dilemma a set of Harvard researchers approach in a new working paper published last month. The study,  “When Performance Trumps Gender Bias: Joint Versus Separate Evaluation” [PDF], offers a simple solution to the problem, which should appeal to those interested in fairness as well as those interested in maximizing cost efficiency.

According to the researchers, engaging in joint performance reviews rather than individual ones causes managers to focus on past performance and behavior, rather than on stereotypical assumptions, and can offer a corrective to unconscious bias moving forward. Here’s how.

Influencing Behavior

The researchers, Iris Bohnet, Alexandra van Geen, and Max H. Bazerman, suggest that joint performance evaluations cause researchers to rely on comparisons of individuals’ performance, rather than on “cognitive shortcuts” (stereotypical assumptions) about their abilities. They write, “Evaluators are more likely to focus on individual performance in joint than in separate evaluation and on group stereotypes in separate than in joint evaluation, making joint evaluation the money-maximizing evaluation procedure.”

The reason, they suggest, comes down to the science of decision making. They explain:

“A change in assessments depending on the evaluation mode is compatible with the System 1/System 2 distinction made in behavioral decision research where people have two distinct modes of thinking that are variously activated under certain conditions: the intuitive and automatic System 1 and the reflective and reasoned System 2…”

System 2 thinking can provide better, more informed decisions about individuals’ performance. It can be triggered by comparison. But it has another benefit. The researchers explain:

By The Evolved Employer

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.
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