CREATING A FEEDBACK CULTURE, WITHOUT THE BIAS
To leverage the power of diversity, it’s important to ensure that everyone - regardless of gender, race, age, background, etc - has access to the same level of support and growth opportunities.
The career development process (aka performance management process) is highly susceptible to the influence of unconscious biases. Stereotypes and assumptions can influence how and what feedback is given.
A study from Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research finds that men and women receive very different feedback, shaped by gender stereotypes. Women are more likely to be described as “helpful” or “collaborative” while men are more likely to be given feedback on their individual performance. Similarly, women received 2.5 times more feedback for being too “aggressive” in their approach. Over time, this has an impact on an individual’s performance and their opportunity for advancement.
While much of the research has been done on gender bias, it stands to reason that unconscious biases impact the feedback that everyone gives and receives. Fortunately, the research also suggests some tips to help counteract these biases and enable us to give feedback that is more fair, consistent and useful.
TIPS FOR GIVING UNBIASED FEEDBACK
Remember to Brave Your Bias, as unconscious biases can significantly impact assessments and feedback. Check your assumptions and then ask yourself why it’s important to give that person that feedback, and how they will grow from it.
We tend to like people who are like us (affinity bias). Think about the relationship you have with the person, and ask yourself if the similarities or differences could be influencing your feedback (either positively or negatively).
Clearly define your expectations in advance. Discussing and documenting goals in Reflektive provides a helpful framework, and helps ensure that you hold everyone at the same level to the same standards.
Consider other perspectives to get a more complete picture of the person’s performance and be open to perspectives that are different than your own (the Reflektive recognition wall can help). Consider the benefits that different skillsets or approaches can bring to the work.
Base your feedback on the individual’s actual performance, not a stereotype. Imagine the person in a different social group (department, gender, ethnicity, etc.) and ask yourself if your feedback would be the same.
Take the time to understand the other person’s perspective and try to isolate whether performance is driven by the individual’s personal characteristics or the situation (fundamental attribution error). Keep your feedback focused on things the individual can control and actions they can take to grow and improve.
Give feedback frequently and in real time. The closer it is given to the actual work, the less biased and more helpful it will be.
Focus on the current situation, and look for behavioral evidence that is directly related to the specific project or timeframe being discussed. Make sure you are evaluating based on facts and not your impressions (horns and halos biases).
Use verbs over adjectives to help you focus on behaviors and actions. Avoid using emotionally charged words like abrasive, bossy, emotional, always and never.
Be authentic and mindful of your non-verbal communication. Your facial expressions, tone, and body language can convey a very different message than your words.
The key to avoiding unconscious bias is to be aware of it and understand how subtly it can creep into our decision-making processes. Putting systems and structures in place to help standardize decision making is also critical to countering bias.
Here are some other steps we advise to tackle the issue:
Be brave enough to question your assumptions
Get into the habit of taking a moment to pause and ask yourself ‘why am I thinking this way?’ Be wary of your first impressions or gut reactions as those often are driven by unconscious biases.
Be brave enough to look for it
Be alert to the types of situations where you are particularly vulnerable to unconscious biases, such as when you are stressed, tired or multi-tasking, and make an effort to be more deliberate in your approach.
Be brave enough to own it
The intent to be unbiased isn’t enough to eliminate bias. Take advantage of opportunities to self-reflect and consider the subtle ways your biases may be influencing your actions, behaviours or decisions.
Be brave enough to focus on the individual
Make an effort to view others based on their personal characteristics rather than stereotypical ones. Avoid broad generalisations such as ‘all millennials want…’ or ‘working mothers never…’ or even “why can’t the planning team ever...’
Be brave enough to be uncomfortable
We all have a tendency to ‘like people like us’ (this is an ‘affinity bias’); it’s comfortable to surround yourself with people who are similar to you. Unconscious bias operates when there is a lack of information, so push yourself, and your team, to seek out opportunities to immerse yourselves in environments where you may be out of your comfort zone.
Be brave enough to understand differences
Our comfort with people ‘like us’ can also have a negative impact on those who are ‘different’ from us. Look for ways to increase contact among different people or groups, and actively look for complementary skill sets and perspectives. Learning more about others will help prevent your biases from filling in the gaps.
Be brave enough to embrace the positive
It’s often easy to find things to praise in people who are similar to us, but push yourself to regularly find the positive in people with different backgrounds, workstyles, personalities, etc. Actively addressing the positive will not only help that person, but is also likely to help you prevent unconscious and unintended slights.
Be brave enough to analyse your decisions
Push yourself to look for the evidence and the objective data to support your decisions (particularly decisions that directly impact another’s performance, growth and career path).
Be brave enough to change your perspective
Consider the situation from the perspective of different people or groups, and be open to exploring multiple viewpoints. Think about how you would feel if the situation were reversed, or how would you feel if someone said that about you or treated you in that manner?
Be brave enough to help someone
Volunteer to be a mentor, either through a formal programme or informally. More specifically, look to work with someone who is different than you in some way – you will both benefit from the difference in perspectives and experience.