Managing Bias in Talent Review

By Andrea Wicks Bowles | Senior Consultant

As we navigate the complexities of hybrid, remote, and in-office work arrangements, companies across the globe are facing the effects of shifting employee-employer relationships. In 2022, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that voluntary turnover (“quit rates”) was up 25% from pre-pandemic levels, and the McKinsey Global Survey found career development and advancement was a top motivator for leaving a full-time job in Australia, Canada, India, Singapore, the UK, and the US. Equitable Talent Review–or performance evaluation discussions with leaders and managers–is key to supporting employees during this critical time and gives companies a competitive advantage in retention. 

When considering Talent Review, we must not overlook the potential for unconscious bias, the unintentional mental shortcuts that affect our decision-making processes. Over the past 20 years, LCW has worked with organizations of diverse cultures and industries to root out unconscious bias as a passive influence on people management decisions. Often, we find that systemic and individual-level biases result in applying criteria inconsistently and implicitly selecting for preferences unrelated to job performance, while true “top talent” is overlooked. Through guided introspection, you can begin disrupting biases and more equitably assessing your organization’s future leaders for success.  

Here are some suggestions to help mitigate bias and frame subjective assumptions about employees before, during, and after the Talent Review process: 

BEFORE 

Raising awareness internally about your organization’s commitment toward equitable performance management is crucial in preparing for Talent Review discussions. The goal is to create an environment in which colleagues feel empowered to participate in an open, teachable dialogue that addresses potential bias. 

  1. Educate yourself with facts about unconscious bias and how it can affect people-management decisions. Share your findings about the possible impact of bias on the Talent Review process with colleagues.
  1. Discuss known preferences and characteristics that you tend to identify as “a good fit” (e.g., experience, appearance, speaking style, age, gender, education, family status, etc.) and prepare to look beyond what’s typically expected.
  1. Reflect on past Talent Reviews to evaluate potential bias, preferences, and levels of success.

DURING 

Talent Review requires a shared agreement between colleagues to support efforts in identifying and addressing potential bias. Encourage conversation, and discuss how to interrupt bias with respect and confidence as a means for enhancing your overall talent pool.  

  1. For every employee you review, consider the following:
    • Does this person remind me of someone else (including myself)? If so, who and in what way (positive or negative)?
    • How can I control for Affinity Bias—the statistically borne-out tendency for people (possibly including me) to be most comfortable promoting people like themselves?
    • Is it possible I’m shifting criteria to fit a preferred employee and discount others? Am I ignoring or discrediting data that doesn’t support my point of view about employees? 
  1. For employees that you question regarding leadership roles, ask yourself:
    • Is it because their profile is not “what we’re used to seeing?” Would we be having this same discussion if they were white? Or male? Or Buddhist? Or straight?
    • Are you associating your own career path experiences or the career path experiences of others who previously held the role to define “what is needed” to succeed in the role now? Reflect on the implications.  
  1. Seek behavioral examples instead of value judgments or personality criticisms when discussing individual employees during the Talent Review process. (“What else have they done the past 12 months?”; “What does the data show?”)
  2. Consider the potential that an employee’s culture may have taught them differently, and (if so) if the cultural difference may actually be an asset to the organization.

AFTER 

Debriefing the Talent Review experience allows for shared learning that will lead to sustained consideration of equitable performance management. This demonstrates your organization’s drive for continual improvement in employee engagement beyond the Talent Review process. 

  1. Review the outcomes of the process to identify gaps and patterns that may exist. Who made the cut, what characteristics did we tend to value more than others, and who did we pass over (and why)?
  1. Work with your leadership and VP of talent to introduce improvements to the process for next year that will help manage bias in the process.
  1. Repeat these steps next year. Through practice, we rewire our brains to more broadly assess and identify talent necessary for meeting future challenges and opportunities.

 

Bias mitigation is a skill that must be practiced, discussed, and intentionally integrated to improve people-management decisions. Successful organizations will retain and promote from within while engaging contributions from the diverse workforce in an equitable Talent Review process. 



Looking to take the next step in equitable Talent Review? Our limited-time Performance Evaluation Bundles are discounted at 22% to help you close out 2022 with intentional investment in disrupting bias.