The Introduction of Bias into Performance Reviews through Calibration Meetings

The Introduction of Bias into Performance Reviews through Calibration Meetings

Performance reviews are a critical component of an organization’s talent management strategy. They provide feedback, identify areas for improvement, and contribute to career development plans. However, the introduction of bias into performance reviews, particularly through calibration meetings, can significantly skew the outcomes and undermine the process’s integrity.

What are Calibration Meetings?

Calibration meetings, within the context of performance management, are a critical tool used by organizations to ensure fairness and consistency in their evaluation process. These meetings involve a group of people – usually managers, team leads, and Human Resources (HR) representatives – who come together to discuss and align on the performance ratings of employees.

The term ‘calibrate’ in this context refers to the adjustment of performance ratings to ensure they’re consistent across different managers and teams. This is crucial because different managers may have varying standards or interpretations of performance metrics, leading to discrepancies in how employees are rated. For instance, one manager might rate an employee’s performance as excellent, while another manager might rate a similar performance as just satisfactory.

During these calibration meetings, each manager presents their evaluations and justifications for the given ratings. The group then discusses these ratings, compares them against set benchmarks, standards, or even against the ratings of other employees. If discrepancies are found, discussions are held to understand the reasons behind such discrepancies and adjustments are made to ensure that the same yardstick is used across the board.

These meetings play a significant role in promoting fairness as they aim to ensure that every employee’s performance is assessed based on the same criteria, regardless of who their direct manager is. In theory, this should prevent any single manager’s bias from overly influencing an employee’s performance rating.

However, while the intent of calibration meetings is to eliminate bias, they can sometimes inadvertently introduce new biases. For example, if a particularly influential person in the meeting has a strong view about an employee, others might be swayed by their opinion, leading to a biased outcome. Similarly, unconscious biases can creep in during these meetings. For example, participants might favor employees who are more like them or discount the achievements of employees who are different.

The Role of Bias in Performance Reviews

Bias, in this context, refers to the unfair influence or prejudice that affects the assessment of an employee’s performance. Bias can be conscious or unconscious and can manifest in various ways, such as favoritism, stereotyping, or the halo and horn effects.

Statistics on Bias in Performance Reviews

Recent studies reveal alarming statistics about bias in performance reviews. Research by Harvard Business Review found that 61% of women received feedback on their communication style compared to just 1% of men. Similarly, women were 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback (as opposed to either positive feedback or critical objective feedback).

A study by Stanford University revealed that racial bias also plays a significant role. It found that Black employees were rated lower than White employees by an average of 0.79 points on a five-point scale.

The Introduction of Bias into Performance Reviews through Calibration Meetings

Calibration Meetings: A Breeding Ground for Bias?

While calibration meetings are meant to standardize ratings, they can often become avenues for introducing bias. Here’s how:


Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon where people strive for consensus within a group, often disregarding their personal beliefs or alternative solutions. In calibration meetings, this can lead to a majority opinion swaying the overall rating of an employee, even if it doesn’t accurately reflect their performance.

Power Dynamics

Power dynamics can also introduce bias. Senior-level participants may unduly influence the outcome of the meeting, and their opinions might be taken as the final word, regardless of the input from other members.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories, can also play a significant role. If a manager enters a calibration meeting with preconceived notions about an employee, they are likely to interpret discussions in a way that confirms their initial assessment.

Mitigating Bias in Calibration Meetings

While the potential for bias exists, there are strategies organizations can use to minimize its impact:

  • Training: Anti-bias training can help attendees recognize and manage their biases.
  • Structured Discussions: Having a structured format can ensure that all voices are heard and that decisions aren’t unduly influenced by a few individuals.
  • Objective Criteria: Using objective performance criteria can help to focus the discussion on facts rather than subjective impressions.

In conclusion, while calibration meetings aim to promote fairness and consistency, they can inadvertently introduce bias into performance reviews. Recognizing and actively combating these biases is crucial for organizations that want to maintain the integrity of their performance review processes.


Harvard Business Review


Psychology Today

Verywell Mind


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