In testing for the self-serving bias in performance evaluation, the authors propose that comparing managers' counterfactual and prefactual thoughts about subordinates' performance is more conclusive than the attributional approach and also offers practical advantages. In a study with 120 managers, a 4-way interaction of subordinate performance, temporal perspective, direction, and reference confirmed the predicted pattern. Managers' thoughts about how a weak performance could have been enhanced had external references, but thoughts about how such a performance could be enhanced in the future focused on the leader. This asymmetry was only observed for weak performance. Results are discussed with regard to biases in leaders' performance evaluations and to how counter- and prefactual thoughts could be used for leadership research and practice.
Goerke, M., Möller, J., Napiersky, U., Schulz-Hardt, S., & Frey, D. (2004). "It's not my fault - but only I can change it": counterfactual and prefactual thoughts of managers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(2), 279-292. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.89.2.279