What You Know That Just Ain't So Is Killing Your Company

Recognizing our biases makes room for building a creative culture. The alternative is stagnation.

learn more about Beth Miller

By Beth Miller • Mar 6, 2017

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As the complexity of 24-hour global markets has intensified during the past decade, we've seen major companies either fail or become irrelevant. Fewer than 75 of the original Fortune 500 companies remain on the list, which first was compiled in 1955. The missing include Blockbuster, Kodak, Pan-Am and JC Penney.

Some might think advances in technology drove many businesses to failure or irrelevance. But I would argue the root cause actually was bias, which can cause a lack of thinking diversity at the executive level.

Related: 13 Cognitive Biases That Really Screw Things Up for You

Bias impedes change.

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything," George Bernard Shaw famously said.

Bias is the act -- conscious or unconscious -- of either paying attention to facts and information or ignoring them. We use our past experiences and personal beliefs to fill information gaps. It's like a mental short cut. Our brains are lazy at times, and whether we'd admit it or not, we all have biases. They effect our relationships, communications, judgments and decision-making abilities.

Bias can be managed.

Unfortunately, questionable decision-making isn't the path to building successful, competitive organizations. While it's difficult to completely overcome long-held beliefs, you can use a three-step process to train yourself to manage your biases.

  1. Accept that you have biases and that this is normal and generally unconscious. Many organizations use training to educate employees about these truths. If training is not part of your plan, start with the work Google is doing. The company is in the midst of a multi-year journey to explore how biases impact decisions and how employees can manage them.
  2. Label the different types of biases that are influencing you and your team's decisions. There are a multitude of bias types, and it's important to understand which you're allowing to impact your business' performance and success.
  3. Mitigate the bias by using techniques and strategies effective for that specific bias.

Related: Should You Take Business Advice That Contradicts Your Instincts?

Bias impedes diversity.

When left unchecked, biases can lead to lack of team diversity. "In-group" bias causes us to perceive people who are similar to us in a more positive light. Understandably, this can breed a lack of diverse thinking within a team. It can hinder hiring practices and performance management alike.

I've experienced this type of bias while working with several client teams. Prior to launching a team-building engagement, I use a behavioral assessment to help me understand the team's preferences and diversity. It also guides me as I build training specific to the needs of team members.

Related: 9 Ways to Escape 'Group Think' Trap

One recent case involved a highly technical organization with a team of 12 leaders. To prepare, I applied the Business DNA assessment, which matches individuals to 1 of 10 behaviors. This specific team had only 2 of the 10 behaviors represented. Wow! Here was a team with the potential for missed opportunities. The team's homogenous makeup threatened its ability for innovative thought.

With this information in hand, I initiated a conversation with the CEO. I asked her a number of questions to jump-start her thinking on how this lack of diversity could affect her organization.

  1. Who can you count on to be your contrarian(s)?
  2. What would be the impact on your team if you included contrarians?
  3. How would a contrarian impact your future decisions?
  4. What changes do you need to make in your hiring process to ensure more diversity in thinking?

Related: The Startups Trying to Fix the Bias Problem in Hiring

Your company needs diversity to survive and thrive. Your bias may have created a team whose members think alike, and that can be a recipe for disaster. If you accept everyone has biases, you can mitigate the effects by asking yourself some pointed questions. Then, incorporate assessment tools into your hiring and deployment processes to drive the changes you want to see.

Beth Miller

Leadership Development Advisor, Speaker, Executive Coach

Beth Armknecht Miller is a certified managerial coach and founder of Executive Velocity Inc., a boutique firm offering talent management and leadership development solutions. She chairs a monthly Atlanta meeting for Vistage, a company that hosts advisory meetings for small business CEOs. Her latest book is Are You Talent Obsessed?

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