How To Overcome Biases — Evaluating Your Employees

Birgit Pohl
10 min readDec 16, 2021
Three men arguing and fighting with a women who is in the middle. She is annoyed. How would you evaluate this situation? Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels
How would you evaluate a conflict? Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

We are full of biases and often we measure performance wrong if we measure it. I’d like to tell you about my discussion with a teacher where we saw similarities within evaluating students and employees. This writing might be equally useful for leaders in the wild business as well as teachers at school or who need to evaluate their students by giving them a number or a letter. The key is to find metrics. Here is how:

This is a short series of articles that helps you to understand biases and how we measure and evaluate people. We will understand how they think and what types they are. In the end, you will gain an extended set of knowledge to overcome your own bias.

I sat down the other day with a teacher inside a ramen restaurant and we had a very interesting conversation about leadership. He is a very bright man, who studied mathematics and physics. Though he likes these two topics, his passion also is politics and could discuss with you the complexity of a single war that recently happened and would discuss with you the different points of view of each participant country. But our big topic of the evening was how intriguing similar it was how we evaluate our mentees, our students, and our employees.

How We Evaluate These Days: Current Status Quo At Schools

The way we evaluate students at schools as a teacher is the following. A teacher has a certain range. One end of the range signals the performance of the student was outstanding and the other end says, no work has been performed so far. In the USA is might be letters A (very good) to F (very bad), in Germany, it can be marks ranging from 1 (very good) to 6 (very bad). Sometimes there are also point ranging from 15 (very good) to 0 (very bad). In some tests, there are also points in a different range.

but all of them have something in common. The metrics are “has fulfilled the requirement clearly and “has not fulfilled the requirement”. We don’t have a clear definition of what we want to rate good or bad, leaving us with plenty of problems. Namely, as soon as we don’t define a clear metric, we are victims of our own biases:


One of the problems that occur is that we evaluate a person by our own biases. Our brain tries to come up with some metrics, but we are not aware of these. And a metric could be likability or similarity. How much do you like a person? You might like a person more than another person, therefore you would prefer one person over the other for a leading position without knowing why. This is also a reason why referral programs in hiring programs are extremely ineffective because we tell our hiring managers that a person must be good and the hiring manager does believe you. You are hiring for likability and similarity and therefore you build a dangerously stable homogeneous group.

There are over 200 biases that we often face when we judge and evaluate people.

Some common examples of biases we face the most and almost ever day:

  • Confirmation Bias
  • Likability Bias
  • Similarity Bias
  • Selective Bias
  • Critical Incident Error
  • Halo Effect
  • Sympathy Effect
  • Similarity
  • Saturation Effect
  • Glue Effect
  • Benjamin/Metusalem Effect
  • Queen Bee Effect
  • Santa Clause Effect

There is a video, the power of a smile, of a judge, who explained to have clearly seen the woman telling lies, but because she smiled so beautifully all of her cases have been dropped. It’s a nice gesture, we think. With the story he explains, we are getting trapped of feeling kinda sorry for her and are happy that the cases have been dropped, but that’s actually a bias. The better the physical attractiveness is rated, the more likely it is that a person gets a lighter sentence or even has their case dropped. This is the sympathy effect.

As a side effect, the judge gains popularity points from the viewers, which makes him more likable, though we need to ask if she is truly learning from it.

Where Is The Gender Bias?

Gender bias is not among the everyday biases. Maybe you wonder why is that gender bias is not an everyday bias when at the same time women complain about it on a daily basis. A topic I want to discuss later, since it turns out, the fact that gender is missing in the everyday biases might be its own bias.

What To Do With All Of These Biases?

We are helplessly helpless against biases. We are always trying to put a human into a category. And yet there are methods to at least reduce biases.

Setting Requirements

Since the teacher didn’t have a clear idea of what he was evaluating other than the fulfillment of an unknown metric, we were furtherly discussing this topic to discover some possible solutions and to define something.

In some companies, you can find a specification of a role and the level of its seniority. It contains a list of skills and soft skills a person should obtain during their career within this company in order to be legitimized for a raise, promotion, or even when hiring candidates. When doing this well and having well-defined specifics, is a very good start to reduce one’s own bias.

Evaluation By Quantity and Management by Quantity

When I asked the teacher what kind of metric he could set himself for evaluating his students, he mentioned that he could evaluate the students by how many times they raise their hands.

Imagine, you manage to work 8 hours a day and for some people, this is already more than enough. It is great, that you are already at this, but your manager finds it awesome, if you worked more, because you would produce more outcomes. This is only logical, isn’t it? Unlikely! At some point, you will just simply hit an optimization wall.

Working more than 55 hours per week can increase the risk of your health, including the risk of heart stroke says WHO. And this research figured out, that people work less than 3 hours anyway because they find themselves pretty much distracted from various things.

And yet we could have the same or more productivity if we worked fewer hours, says this report from Iceland.
Maybe it is time to give our non-work topics the space it actually requires and deserves so that we are not occupied by them at work.

Students raising their hands all the time is a terror on its own. I infect was in a class where we had a tiny group of students who were constantly competing against each other because we knew quantity would benefit our results. So we were manipulating not only ours but also the ones from those who didn’t compete and we knew it. Even today I would silence other workshop participants because I have so much more to say and I am so much more active than other participants who have a more passive approach to learning. I really do enjoy good discussions with content. Others enjoy learning by reading. Since in our class there was more than one person raising their hands, we have taken up all the talking time so that teachers had problems actually evaluating the other students by quantity. By bias, they were often evaluated with lower performance than those who are more outgoing and the worst thing is, it doesn’t even describe their performance based on their strength. I’ll talk about this later. It all comes together in the end of the series. I promise.

It is often also called the management by terror and it is basically done when a teacher additionally tries to optimize it. The students are already raising their hands with each answer. Now the teacher wants the rest of the students to raise their hands in an equal amount like the active students. You know where it is going. There is actually no capacity for more answers from any student. Eventually, the time will run out. We have tried it. It doesn’t work. The creative teachers I had taken a different approach. They have let everyone prepare a presentation. We have gotten the task at the beginning of the course and presented one presentation per session. So it was a longer homework in which we also could consult the teacher for help and advice. The teacher then can see and evaluate various key elements of our forthcoming independently from each other.

Similarly, talking time within a meeting needs to be understood as well. It is difficult to measure the talking time by how much space one is taking. But yet, we need to understand, that a certain competition is going on with those who speak a lot and have a healthy level of judgment. And this will take away some speaking time from those who prefer to be silent and listen.

It is therefore difficult to judge the personal development of these people, too. I would not know what they think about a certain approach to solving a problem when they don’t tell me. Dr. House would actually never hire such a person since he has hired his team to give him input so that he is able to solve medical puzzles.

So obviously this didn’t seem to be the solution. Let’s look at the next idea.

Evaluation By Quality and Management by Quality

Evaluating the quality of the answers looks like a very good alternative at first sight.

Let’s remember the students who raised their hands very often. People like this have naturally a higher chance to give wrong answers or low-quality answers. These are people who have more outgoing personalities. But there are some rare cases when you find a more silent student, who would raise their hand in a silent moment, for example when no one else knows the answer. And in order to avoid any awkwardness, the student would then take the opportunity to answer the teacher’s question. In many cases has this student listened so well and evaluated any points of view, that the student is more likely to give high-quality answers. The inward thinking students are also less likely to give fewer quality answers since they don’t raise their hands that often. Only when it is necessary.

We are talking about extroverted and introverted people who cognitively function differently and also have a different style of communication, which also affects the amount and the quality. Sometimes you find an extroverted person thinking and making associations while talking, and therefore it appears that the person is creating a low-quality answer, though the person is in total disclosure of their thought process. From the introverted perspective, you find yourself a little bit confused about where the genius thought is coming from. They have thought through everything on their own. Which doesn't necessarily mean it is good or bad. It also has a disadvantage. At school, it might be not a disadvantage, since every student shall learn equally, but later when they are supposed to form new ideas they shall make it based on the knowledge they already know. And here you often find introverts inventing the same thing or thinking about the same problem coming up with only slightly different solutions. When your team-mate says: “I faced a problem.”, you want to know which problem it was. “I’m going to take a look into this.” Let your mate know, that the problem he is facing, needs to be revealed, in case the problem is known and therefore the solution as well. If schools ever changed their way of teaching, I wish for schools to teach this approach as well, where one student could build their abilities based on the other people’s knowledge. A method we already do in science.

Introverts listen a lot and would only start talking when they are actively being asked and when they are being asked there is indeed a cool idea they have figured out in their hand but didn’t have a chance to speak it out. Often they are not being asked and then overlooked. This is indeed not a case, that should be regulated by introverts unless they seek any acknowledgment which will help them in their career in an environment which is more challenging for introverts.

I told the teacher that quantity and quality measurement might lead to new problems. So instead of measuring by quality, how many hands have been raised, we are trying to over-optimize and spend a lot of time and money for optimizing a single tiny KPI when there are bigger fish to catch.

Evaluation By Objective and Management By Objective

So, we should ask ourselves:
Where do you see the biggest gain in a student?
Where can the student have the most impact in self-development?

A company would set a goal that is conveyed by the managers to each employee. The employees then try to reach this goal. Does a goal not exist, good employees would often ask: “What is our vision?”. So, they don’t want you to tell them to do the work faster or better. They want to know, what is the company going to work on. “What is the next step?”, would be a question for iterative Projects.

For self-development in employees, it is also possible to set objectives. What do you want the employee to improve on and are there any topics the employee wants to learn?
For students as well as individual employees and their self-development, we need to have a clear picture of what their strengths and weaknesses are. You can evaluate that by asking them personally and also adding your own perception into the picture. Collect the data and write it down.

Write down these facts regularly, to overcome certain time-based biases and to gain a full picture of the self-development of your student or employee. Remember that each of them is on their own level.

In order to overcome gender bias, this is a very effective measurement too.

Continuing The Reduction Of Bias

In the follow-up of this series, I will discuss the learning curve/resistance and typology. Knowing about both will give you two tools to evaluate a person with improved bias reduction.

Stay tuned!



Birgit Pohl

Your leadership coach and knowledge curator | | @devbirgit 📸 Instagram, 🐦 Twitter, 🎥 Tiktok