How performance management can foster diversity and inclusion

Your performance management approach sets the tone for what you value as an organization and hence who feels valued and respected as an individual. Here are five ways for HR leaders to ensure that your approach is one that embraces diversity and creates an inclusive environment.

1. Set clear goals to base performance on facts, not opinion

If expectations are unclear, employees may feel like they’re not evaluated based on their performance. Instead, factors unrelated to their contributions, such as gender or age, seem to creep into their assessment. Of course, a manager could also simply have a bad day and therefore give more critical feedback.

Defining and assessing performance based on specific objectives and clearly articulated behaviors ensures that the focus is on what people actually contribute to the organization. And it limits the tendency to base performance on a gut feeling that’s subject to biases and prejudices.

2. Use multiple feedback sources to limit bias

Basing performance evaluation on one person’s perception at one point in time makes biased reviews much more likely. Similarity bias makes us devote more attention to people similar to them. As a result, you might have to work harder for recognition in your performance review if your manager is an Ivy League graduate, and you’re not.

Adding 360-degree reviews to your performance management process ensures you include multiple sources (managers, colleagues, reports) and reduces the likeliness of biased reviews. In addition, a culture of ongoing feedback helps tackle recency bias. The more frequent the feedback and the more diverse the group of people it’s coming from, the more balanced a view you get of someone’s performance.

3. Nudge people into using inclusive language

Even with the best intentions, words often convey prejudices, stereotypes, and discrimination. For example, words can suggest expectations or limitations related to their social group. The sentence “I’m surprised you stay on top of all the latest trends in the industry, especially given your age” may sound like a compliment. But more importantly, it suggests age-related limitations and has no place in an employee evaluation.

To avoid discrimination of any kind, remind staff to check their language when talking about other people’s job performance. An easy way to embrace diversity and inclusion (D&I) through words is to include a helpful note in all performance review and peer feedback forms.

Feel free to copy and paste this snippet into your feedback forms to remind people about using inclusive language:

Language is one of your most powerful tools for creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and included. Be mindful about your language and consider the possible reactions of the person you’re giving feedback to. Avoid words, phrases, and tones that may offend or stereotype the person based on attributes like ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and age. If in doubt about how to phrase something, HR will be happy to help.

4. Reinforce inclusive behaviors

Role models are a prerequisite for inclusive behaviors to spread across your organization. Also, employees who don’t associate these desired behaviors with positive responses tend to put in less effort.

So if you want a culture of inclusion, reinforcing inclusive behavior is key. Encourage staff (and especially leadership) to keep their eyes open for inclusive behavior of their co-workers and to recognize it publicly when they see it. For example, someone who actively seeks input from people who don’t usually contribute much in meetings should be reinforced in that behavior. If you use Small Improvements, you can add a custom “Includer” badge to our Praise feature that people can use to give kudos to inclusive colleagues.

Based on extensive research, Deloitte has identified six signature traits of inclusive leaders. We think they apply to people managers and individual contributors alike, so watch out for these traits and related behaviors:

Visible commitment: articulate genuine commitment to diversity Humility: be modest about capabilities and admit mistakes
Awareness of bias: show awareness of personal blind spots Curiosity about others: be open and listen without judgment
Cultural intelligence: be attentive to others’ cultures and adapt if needed Effective collaboration: empower others and embrace diverse thinking

5. Ask employees how they feel

You might think team members feel welcome at work – perhaps because you do – but actually, they don’t. The only way to find out if people feel included is to ask them.

Engagement or pulse surveys are an effective way to gauge people’s perception of diversity, inclusion, and belonging regularly. Consider using a pulse survey question template that measures the state of D&I in your organization.

Also, encourage managers to make the topic part of 1:1 meetings with their reports. Managers could ask their reports questions like these:

  • Can you be your authentic self at work?
  • Do you feel like people make assumptions about your strengths and weaknesses based on stereotypes?
  • Do you ever feel like you need to conform to be successful at work?