Avoiding Cognitive Biases When Promoting Team Members

Sara Davis avatar
on May 03#best-practices
Promote a Team Member for the Right Reasons

Promotions are a big opportunity and often require careful consideration. But how do you make sure you are hiring the right person for the job and not including any personal biases?

Understanding bias

To make sure you are promoting the right person for the position requires an understanding of workplace biases. While most biases are unintentional, and often not malicious it's important to be aware of them to allow you to make the right decisions. So what are some common types of biases?

Diversity bias

Thinking highly of someone who is similar to you because of gender, race, personality, or even hobbies or goals.

Selective observation bias

Making a decision by having just a glimpse of an individual's work and often not seeing the whole picture.

Reciprocity bias

Comparing individuals to their peers may undervalue or overvalue team members based on how the team is comparing as a whole.

By understanding these biases, you can create systems and processes to help you make informed decisions during promotions. While it is impossible to completely eliminate biases, as humans by nature have biases - these steps will help you make an informed decision.

Evaluating employees

Marketers and eCommerce companies use the reciprocity bias to steer you into purchasing a certain product. By comparing an item's cost or value in comparison to another, they direct you to purchase by giving you the impression that one item is superior to another. When we evaluate our team members, we're often prone to this same bias. This can lead to some employees going unnoticed, and other employees looking exceptional when they might not be performing.

This can not only cause resentment in teams, but it can cause employee churn. Employees that feel undervalued or unrepresented often feel a decrease in morale and motivation, which also can lead to less productivity.

Steps to eliminate biases

Develop a criteria for evaluation

The first step in order to eliminate biases is to come up with a criteria for evaluation. The goal here is to be systematic or formulaic in the evaluation and take any emotions out of the process.

What exactly are you evaluating on? Write out a list of things you are specifically assessing and give each team member being evaluated a numeric score on a 1 - 3 scale. One being average, two being above average, and three being exceptional. For example, if you are hiring to promote a new content director your list might be something like this.

Employee name ______________


Breadth of range of content topics (rate 1-3)


Timeliness and management of due dates (rate 1-3)


Quality of writing (rate 1-3)


Teamwork and leadership abilities (rate 1-3)

Collect feedback

Gathering feedback from more than one team member allows you the opportunity to have more data. For instance, while you may know that Jim often leaves work early and falls asleep at his desk, another team member might think Jim is a star player and ready for the promotion. Whether you choose to collect data from an individual's colleagues, managers, or as a senior hiring team, the more data and input you have will allow you to make a more informed decision.

In Workast, we have the Forms extension that is a perfect solution for gathering feedback. Create a form (you could even have it be anonymous) - send it to the team that will be doing the evaluation, and get the responses sent back to you - all without leaving Workast. Learn more about Forms here.

1:1 Meetings

To combat the diversity bias, make it a point to have regular 1:1 meetings. It's easy to connect with people you have things in common with, but it can more difficult when you don't. By having frequent 1:1 meetings, you get the opportunity to learn about employees and who they are. If you know all of your team members at a personal level, you're less likely to be biased towards those who are similar to you.

Avoiding biases is never easy but the more information, touchpoints, and data you have, the more likely you will be able to hire the right person for the job on all accounts.

Have you encountered situations of bias in your workplace? What solutions have you tried in the past that have worked for your organization? We'd love to hear your stories. Send us a line or drop us a tweet to tell us how your organization is eliminating biases.

And here's to happy teams and getting more done!

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