November 7, 2017

Handling Promotion Bias with Performance Management Software

Written by
Dillon Chen

Do your employees know what they need to do to move up within your company? Are they confident that management will notice their good work? Do they believe that they’ll earn a deserved promotion?

Even if you think the answers are “yes,” your employees’ true feelings may surprise you. While the opportunity to learn and grow is one of the factors that creates engaged employees, many companies fail to get the process of promotion right. This is due to the sometimes unconscious challenge of promotion bias.

The Problem of Promotion Bias

Many of us may unknowingly have some bias about a person whether it be based on name, age, gender, race, or other factors. This is called unconscious bias. When it seeps into HR processes, it can cause companies to miss out on hiring or promoting the most qualified person.

Some different types of unconscious bias to watch out for are:

In-group bias

Human beings have a natural preference for people who look like them, come from similar backgrounds, have a similar education, and so on. This is a problem in interviews, in particular when, with little else to go on, people might rely on similarities or the fact that their alma mater is on the résumé when choosing candidates.

Recency bias

This is the tendency to judge people based on recent events, rather than long-term records. In the same way, people are more likely to choose the first option when presented with two choices, even if the second option is better.

Confirmatory bias

People tend to seek out information that confirms what they already believe, even unconsciously. For instance, a man might be forgiven for making a math “mistake.” A woman in the same situation might be judged as “weak in math.”

Negativity bias

Human beings are more likely to recall a negative experience than a number of positive ones.

Besides these defined types of bias, another negative type of influence can enter unwittingly into the promoting process — favoritism. In a research survey by Georgetown University, 92 percent of senior business executives said have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions, including at their own companies.

ALSO READ: Really Obvious Signs Your Employees are Unhappy

How Performance Management Software Can Help

A structured promotion program backed by performance management software (PMS) can help eliminate bias from promotion decisions.

The Boy Scouts of America offer a great example of a formally structured promotion program. After learning enough skills, earning a number of merit badges, and meeting certain requirements, Scouts are able to advance to the next rank and get their new badge.

Of course, promotion in a real-life company may not be this simple.  Limited role availability, budget, and other factors play a role. But the basic concept is the same — ensure employees know what is required to earn a promotion and have clear steps of how to reach those milestones.

Employer benefits

On the employer side, you can list out exactly what goals employees need to achieve for your company’s long-term vision. This will allow you to see which positions and responsibilities will be most profitable to the company.

The ideal PMS will allow you to monitor your employees’ progress toward their goals and set timelines to keep everyone on track.

Some platforms also allow you to set skills and talents that employees need to acquire as they work for certain promotions. Using the same software or a learning management system, you can provide access to training programs that can teach the skills and test for proficiency. This goes hand-in-hand with employee development plans and helping your employees achieve their full potential.

With a structured promotion pathway, you and employees can have more productive conversations about growth.

Employee benefits

For employees, a structured promotion plan takes out the mystery out of development. No more waiting in suspense at each performance review or constantly wondering about promotions when they should be working.

A synchronized PMS provides clear views to exactly what tasks or milestones need to be accomplished to move up. It’s a great way to help them improve work-life balance by clarifying expectations.

As the company grows, your employees grow with it. Growth is an important factor for every employee. No one wants to be stuck in the same position without any chance at advancement.

Bonus Points: Succession Planning

As promotions are given, new positions will need to be filled. Succession planning software is the next step. This will allow the most experienced and those that have been with the company longest to work on the vital tasks while keeping hiring focused on lower-level positions.

A structured promotion program has no downsides. With the support of strong technology, it will almost run itself. Still not sure where to begin in your performance management software search? Check out the Product Selection Tool to find the best software for your company’s unique needs. 


Since graduating from the University of Utah, Dillon has worked in startup companies filling various roles including iPhone Programming, Project Management, Accounting, and Human Resources. Dillon currently runs all SEO efforts for ProSky, an upcoming disruptor in HR Tech.

In his free time, Dillon enjoys snowboarding, riding motorcycles, and traveling Asia looking for future business opportunities.