Mitigating Bias in the Assessment of Employees

Mar 30, 2023

IBA, as the premier business brokerage firm in the Pacific Northwest, is firmly established as a respected professional service firm in the legal, accounting, banking, mergers & acquisitions, real estate, and financial planning communities.  Periodically, we will post guest blogs from professionals with knowledge to share for the good of owners of privately held companies & family owned businesses. The following blog article has been provided by Todd McBee of Puzzle HR (

Mitigating Bias in the Assessment of Employees

Executive Summary
• Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking resulting from the brain’s attempt to take shortcuts when interpreting information, which can distort our perception of reality.
• Biases can impact performance evaluations by leading to subjective and unfair assessments, hindering employee growth and organizational success.
• HR professionals and employees alike think performance reviews are inaccurate. Ask your PuzzleHR specialist how to enhance your evaluation process, and click here to register for our Live Virtual Learnings!

Your brain is biased. But so is everyone else’s. As human beings, we like to think that we make rational decisions based on logical thinking. The truth is that our minds are often influenced by unconscious biases that can distort our perception of reality. Biases are a concern when it comes to performance evaluations, as leaders must keep these fair and impartial.

What is a Cognitive Bias?
The human brain is excellent at information processing, but sometimes it tries to take a shortcut when interpreting information. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking resulting from the brain’s attempted shortcut. Cognitive biases are typically the brain using its pattern recognition and simplification skills to process information faster. While these unconscious rules of the brain are intended to make navigating the world easier, they may oversimplify and lead to negative assumptions, incorrect readings of situations, and unfair perceptions.

Biases and Performance Evaluation
Cognitive biases can impact performance evaluations by distorting how we perceive an employee’s skills, abilities, and achievements. These biases can lead to subjective and unfair assessments, hindering employee growth and organizational success.

Affinity Bias
• The tendency to gravitate toward people who are similar to us
• Affinity bias may manifest through higher-scoring performance evaluations for people who are similar to the evaluator.

Halo/Horns Effect
• A cognitive bias in which one positive or negative trait influences how we think about someone’s overall character
• In a performance review, this may look like one strength unfairly outweighing multiple weaknesses or vice versa.

Fundamental Attribution Error
• The tendency to attribute another person’s actions to their character and our actions to our circumstances
• In evaluations, leaders may identify employee difficulties as a failing of the individual’s personality but may ignore their own biases against the employee due to their situation.

Confirmation Bias
• A tendency to focus on information that confirms an existing belief
• Leaders may focus only on the weaknesses of an employee they believe is struggling, or the strengths of an employee they believe will succeed.

Recency Bias
• A memory-related bias that favors recent events over past events
• Employees who have impressed their evaluator more recently than others may receive stronger positive evaluations, even if they perform at the same level as other employees.

Salience Bias
• A cognitive bias in which we focus on information or events that are more emotionally striking
• This bias may result in employees who heroically complete stressful tasks being perceived more favorably than employees who consistently complete exemplary work with low stress.

Mere Exposure Effect
• The tendency to develop a preference for people and things due to proximity, familiarity, and frequent exposure
• This bias may manifest in performance evaluations as evaluators giving higher scores to employees with whom they work closely.

Objectivity Illusion/Bias Blind Spot
• The belief that we are more objective and unbiased than others and the resulting inability to identify our own biases
• Leaders who cannot identify their own biases are likely to project these onto their employees through performance reviews and in the workplace.

If you have questions relating to the content of this article, Todd McBee would welcome the opportunity to answer them.  Mr. McBee can be reached at (425) 260-6454 and

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