Avoid Availability Bias In Performance Evaluations

Cognition, the act or process of thinking, enables us to process vast amounts of information quickly. As we are consciously thinking about one specific thing, our brain is processing thousands of subconscious ideas. Unfortunately, our cognition is not perfect, and there are certain judgment errors that we are prone to making, known in the field of psychology as cognitive biases. They happen to everybody regardless of age, gender, education, intelligence, or other factors.  For leaders, these errors often impact their leadership effectiveness.

One of the challenges leaders face is availability bias when conducting performance evaluations.  Availability bias is the tendency for a direct report’s recent positive or negative action to “spill over” to other areas the evaluator’s perceptions of them. This bias happens a lot in employee performance evaluations. For example, if a direct report has been late to work for three days, leaders may remember this and conclude that they are lazy and don’t care about their job. There are many possible reasons for this; perhaps their car broke down, their babysitter did not show up, or there has been bad weather. The problem is, because of one negative aspect, they may assume that the direct report is a poor worker and that may unfairly influence the overall evaluation of them.

Empowered leaders document all the behaviors of their direct reports for the whole performance evaluation period. They review those notes when preparing their performance evaluations and try not to let recent or singular events influence their evaluation and develop more successful direct reports.

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