How Calibration Committees Can Deter Assessment Bias

When WorldatWork asked its members who use calibration committees if such strategies can help mitigate bias in performance assessments, the feedback was positive.

According to the study from WorldatWork, the nonprofit professional association that focuses on compensation and total rewards, a strong majority (78%) of the members that actually use calibration committees (43%) say that strategy has a positive impact in reducing or eliminating such bias.

The WorldatWork study, Contemporary Performance Evaluation Practices Survey, was done in partnership with researchers at Tulane University and other educational institutions. Compensation professionals surveyed primarily work for companies with revenues of $100 million and above. All told, 254 member responses were used for the analysis.

Simply defined, calibration committees are groups formed for the purpose of “calibrating” (i.e., discussing, justifying and potentially adjusting) performance assessments. These committees form to calibrate supervisors’ assessments of their direct reports and make adjustments, when necessary, before final performance assessments are delivered to employees and/or used in other decisions.

According to Jasmijn Bol, professor of accounting at the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University in New Orleans, there are several different types of calibration committees. For example, there are calibration committees where peer supervisors come together and calibrate each other’s employee performance ratings. There are also calibration committees where the individuals who calibrate the employee performance ratings are at least one hierarchical level higher than the supervisors who provided the initial employee performance ratings. Finally, there is the hybrid type where both peer supervisors and higher level management are part of the calibration process.

“We started this research to learn more about performance evaluation calibration committees and multi-rater feedback systems,” says Bol, who led the research team. “We know from earlier studies that both are common practices in organizations. However, we do not know what drives the adoption of these practices.”

  • According to the study, the 43% of employers surveyed who use calibration committees also have done so for over four years. At these employers:
  • Employees generally know the identity of calibration committee members.
  • 82% say calibration committees are effective at increasing consistency in performance assessments across supervisors.
  • 74% say calibration committees are effective at increasing perceptions of fairness in performance assessments.

“Take a look at today’s headlines or business publications and you’ll read that, around the globe, pay equity and overall perceptions of fairness around how rewards are given to employees are among the biggest issues facing companies in every industry,” says Scott Cawood, WorldatWork president and CEO. “This is a very complicated and nuanced issue, and this survey delivers one remedy for those assessing performance: calibration committees. They are an effective tool to improve perceptions of fairness, increase transparency and limit bias.”

Bol adds that the study team is now in the process of examining which types of organizations implemented these practices, what their proposed objectives of the implementation were and how successful the implementation has been. It hopes to offer specific recommendations about what types of organizations would benefit the most from adopting these relatively costly, but potentially highly valuable, performance management innovations.

“One surprise we found is how many organizations are not very satisfied with their performance evaluation system,” she says of the findings. “A large percentage of organizations are struggling with providing timely and high quality feedback, and the percentage of organizations that indicate that their employees do not perceive the system as fair, is even larger.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at