No matter how self aware we may feel we all have biases. They are often ingrained for many years or instilled as the result of a single event. Reality is we have them and engage them influencing our decision making every day. If you are thinking who cares? right now – this post isn’t for you. If you are asking yourself “do I have biases”? and how do I identify them? please read on.
Know where you stand
First step in any process is arming ourselves with information. Cutting straight to the chase there are tests we can all do for free to understand our own perceptions.
Project Implicit hosted by Harvard provides a fantastic toolkit for self testing, and in turn contributing to their dataset on hidden biases.
The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.
My advice – book some time, have no other distractions facing you, close other browsers and be open minded. Personally positive I hold no gender bias going into the gender bias test I was surprised to learn I do have some stereotypical norms lurking in my responses! so go surprise yourself.
Biases as an Employer
There is a flood of content out there messaging to us on the topic of diversity, this is in turn often limited to diversity of gender, race and sexual preference. The reality is diversity of thinking requires a heterogenous team representing population diversity on many other scales – demographic, education, habits, politics, beliefs, abilities etc etc.
Biases exist in domains beyond team composition – recency, risk, confirmation, me-too – none of these involve visual stimulation and all require a consciousness of thinking to consider your perspective. Take Performance Reviews for example, a fraught system used by large companies to control behaviour, most managers struggle with Recency bias when reviewing an individual – becoming conscious of this perspective and revisiting the performance of the individual over the full period could dramatically change results when often their scores will reflect what they did last week (or even yesterday in my experience).
Early in my career I had a male manager whose preference for only employing in his own image extended to a template overlay (yes overhead projector transparency) of his own personality profile test results, discarding anyone who wasn’t a near match as “not a good fit for the team”. He inherited me as part of a restructure and it bugged him every day how I was such a “different thinker” to the rest of his perfect team.
This experience has stuck with me and was the catalyst leading to my interest in organisational design, working in a balanced tribe and frequently questioning my own perspective and biases.
EY provide a raft of links at the end of this report on “Overcoming hidden biases to harness diversity’s true potential” along with the report content itself which is worthy a read.
My advice – we are all perfect in our own eyes so it’s hard to self criticise, ask someone you trust and work through scenarios with them using the nifty chart below as a starting point.
Bias traps for Business Owners
Business isn’t an exact science as we all know, there are so many variations and models. No matter where you are in your journey it’s worthy considering these three cognitive biases quite carefully.
Blind-Spot Bias – this whole blog post is about failing to recognise your own cognitive biases, a blind spot in itself. Entrepreneur / business owners tend to think ourselves pretty versatile, are reluctant to ask for help and often plow on in without thinking through consequences intended or otherwise. We all have Blind-Spots so need mechanisms and people within our businesses to ensure our decision framework accommodates.
Confirmation Bias – like the manager in My Story it’s easy to engage and employ people who agree with our own perspectives, this isn’t necessarily an ego issue, it is common to be drawn to information and perspectives that reflect / confirm your own.
Overconfidence – getting to the point of operating a successful business takes confidence, there is a fine line between confidence, complacency and overconfidence.
My advice – find a business partner or place someone in a position of influence in your company – an Advisory Board / Governance Board / C level role (COO, CTO, CFO) – with opposing biases to those you hold yourself. Find someone who can spot your blind spots and vice versa, who wears the black hat and who will challenge your thinking. Bringing an alternative perspective should lead to a better outcome.
Good luck! Vic.
The Nifty Chart