In any organisation, the vitality and productivity of its workforce is crucial. Gauging this contribution through performance assessments can act as a stimulus for growth or can become an obstacle when subject to biases. A noteworthy bias often overshadowing the review process is recency bias, tending to replace objective judgement with the impact of recent happenings. This piece delves into the depth of recency bias within the context of performance evaluations, its implications, and the ways to mitigate its influence. Our investigation draws on a wealth of insights from organisational psychology research and successful industry practices.
What is Recency bias?
Performance assessments are not merely a corporate ritual. They serve as strategic instruments to measure employee performance, provide meaningful feedback, set targets, and determine crucial outcomes such as promotions and compensation changes. However, these evaluations can be subjective and susceptible to cognitive biases. The issue of recency bias, where the most recent events or behaviour unduly influence the evaluation, often overlooks a consistent history of performance.
The principle of recency bias suggests that an individual’s latest actions or achievements disproportionately sway evaluators, sometimes casting a shadow over the individual’s past endeavours. This cognitive bias can distort assessments, potentially obstructing both personal development and organisational progress. Research within the field of organisational psychology underscores the significance of recency bias in performance evaluations. Studies indicate that individuals tend to give greater weight to fresh information when forming impressions (Todorov & Uleman, 2002).
This bias can twist evaluations, leading to sub-optimal decisions and employee dissatisfaction. Thus, recognising and combating this bias is crucial for fair and accurate evaluations. In the business world, several companies have identified the potential downside of recency bias in performance evaluations and devised strategies to curb its impact:
Strategies to reduce recency bias
Google, for instance, cultivates a culture of continuous feedback. This involves real-time performance evaluations, ongoing coaching, and constructive criticism, effectively reducing the effect of recency bias on annual reviews. This continuous feedback approach promotes a focus on long-term development rather than recent incidents.
Adobe adopted the “Check-in Model”, a system that encourages regular discussions between managers and employees about progress, difficulties, and goals. By taking into account a wider timeframe for evaluations, this method lessens the influence of recency bias. Deloitte implemented a similar approach with their “Performance Snapshot” system, providing employees with continuous feedback and conducting frequent performance evaluations. This broader information base minimises the impact of recency bias, allowing a more comprehensive and accurate assessment.
Though the above examples offer valuable insights, there are further strategies to help reduce the impact of recency bias in assessments:
- Embracing a multi-source feedback approach can provide a more well-rounded view of an employee’s performance, as it involves varied stakeholders such as colleagues, juniors, and customers. This diverse feedback can counterbalance the impact of recency bias.
- Encouraging self-reflection and documentation among employees can help maintain a record of their achievements, skills, and challenges throughout the evaluation period. When this record is referred to during performance discussions, it provides a balanced perspective and combats the undue influence of recent events.
- Lastly, focusing on clear criteria and objectives during performance evaluations can reduce subjectivity. Transparent expectations and predetermined metrics can significantly lessen the possibility of recency bias, leading to more accurate evaluations.
Performance evaluations are key to the success of any organisation, but the presence of recency bias can threaten their effectiveness. By understanding the sway of recency bias and taking proactive steps to mitigate its impact, we can foster a culture of fairness and objectivity that ultimately benefits both individuals and organisations.
Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2002). Spontaneous trait inferences are bound to actors’ faces: Evidence from a false recognition paradigm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(5), 1051-1065.