Bias imperils performance. Are you ready to do something about it?

Posted by Kathi Enderes, Nehal Nangia on March 2, 2020.

Are you acting with bias? You could find out by taking the Implicit Association Test1, a social psychology method of measuring the strength of associations that people have between concepts as well as evaluations and stereotypes.2 Many people have used this test to identify their natural tendencies of bias.

Several social, behavioral, and neurological studies show that humans are biologically conditioned to be biased.3 Biases are inherent tendencies or learned associations, often unknown to the conscious mind, that are based on an individual’s experiences and circumstances.4 Does this make biases bad? In principle, no. It’s what individuals do with biases—specifically, how they allow them to influence behaviors and decisions—that can have a negative impact on others. So, should organizations and their people resign themselves to the fact that bias is human nature, or is there something that can be done about it?

Organizational performance as a team sport

Among the key insights highlighted by Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report is that organizational performance is a team sport.5 This finding reinforces that individuals and teams flourish through collaboration and are able to deliver the best collective outcomes in smaller, flatter, more empowered teams. In contrast, productivity, wellbeing, and overall performance can suffer when people don’t feel a sense of belonging or don’t feel that they are valued, respected, and treated with objectivity and fairness.6

Deloitte’s 2019 State of Inclusion Report surveyed 3,000 individuals from organizations with more than 1,000 employees about their experience in the workplace. Nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated that they had experienced bias—the opposite of objectivity and fairness—in the workplace in the last year and that it had negatively impacted their productivity, engagement, and wellbeing.7

To unleash individuals and teams to do their best work, organizations should work toward perpetuating objectivity and fairness to help mitigate bias in the workplace.

Taking conscious action against unconscious bias

Keep in mind a bias issue can become a learning opportunity. This is akin to how people learn to drive a car. The learning process starts at an “unconscious incompetence” level (you don’t even know there is something to learn), advances to “conscious incompetence” (you know that you can’t do something), then to “conscious competence” (you are aware that you can do something), and finally, through learning and practice, to “unconscious competence” (you are unaware that you are doing something, as it becomes second nature and automatic).8 The journey from bias to inclusion can occur in a similar way, starting with “unconscious bias,” moving to “conscious bias” (which is uncomfortable), then through learning to “conscious inclusion,” and finally, through practice and more learning, to “unconscious inclusion” and new business-as-usual inclusive behaviors.

One way that organizations can mitigate biases and their consequences on performance management and related decisions is through awareness, calibration, and technology—an approach which may be simply or conveniently referenced as ACT. Organizations can use awareness, calibration, and technology to help them remember how to effectively navigate the journey from unconscious bias to unconscious inclusion (see figure below).

Mitigating bias through awareness, calibration, and technology

2020-03-02 Bias Imperils Image

Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2020

ACT

Awareness
Biases are often blind spots for individuals, but they impact decision-making and day-to-day interactions in a way that impacts others. Given that everyone is naturally biased9, organizations should strive to help everyone—not just those in leadership positions or specific segments of the workforce—understand their personal biases.

Calibration
Contrary to decisions driven by groupthink or gut instincts, calibration can be a deliberate and thoughtful process of making informed data- and fact-driven decisions. This can be done in the context of decision-making during performance reviews or in calibrating multisource feedback with real-time data to provide continuous developmental and coaching feedback throughout the year. Managers and leaders should shift gears from relying solely on sharing opinions to interpreting data in an effort to improve performance through objective, meaningful, and unbiased feedback. HR can enable that shift by building structure and resources that the business can use.

Technology
Technology is the force that can drive this change forward, make it scalable, and embed bias mitigation in the flow of work. Many HR solution platforms offer embedded analytics dashboards and reports to help identify bias. Pure-play performance management tools (those focused exclusively on performance management capabilities) are starting to include capabilities around bias identification, objectivity, and inclusion as a market differentiator. Artificial intelligence and nudging can help initiate the behavior shift needed to address unconscious biases.

Acting now to mitigate bias

While it’s not possible to take bias out of a person, organizations and their people can work to mitigate it. Utilizing awareness, calibration, and technology can help organizations, teams, and individuals do so.

Bersin members can learn more about bias mitigation through a variety of new resources available to them:

If your organization is innovating in the area of mitigating bias, we’d love to hear your story. Contact Kathi Enderes (kenderes@deloitte.com) and/or Nehal Nangia (nnangia@deloitte.com). If you aren’t a Bersin member but want to know more, visit the Bersin website.

Kathi Enderes, PhD, is a vice president and the talent and workforce research leader at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Nehal Nangia is a research manager, talent and workforce performance, at Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

1“About the IAT,” Project Implicit, 2011, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/iatdetails.html.
2“Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology / Anthony G. Greenwald, Debbie E. McGhee, and Jordan L.K. Schwartz, 1998, https://faculty.washington.edu/agg/pdf/Gwald_McGh_Schw_JPSP_1998.OCR.pdf.
3“Equality Challenge Unit workshop on advancing race equality in higher education,” Advance HE / May 25, 2012, https://www.ecu.ac.uk/.
4Inclusive Leadership: Will a hug do?, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Juliet Bourke, Stephanie Quappe, Bernadette Dillon, and Linda Human, 2012.
52019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.
6High-Impact Diversity and Inclusion: Maturity Model and Top Findings, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Stacia Sherman Garr and Candace Atamanik, 2017.
7The Bias Barrier: Allyships, Inclusion, and Everyday Behaviors, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019.
8“The Johari Window, a Graphic Model of Interpersonal Awareness,” The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation / Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, 1955, http://mr.crossref.org/iPage?doi=10.4135%2F9781506326139.n363.
9“Equality Challenge Unit workshop on advancing race equality in higher education,” Advance HE / May 25, 2012, https://www.ecu.ac.uk/.

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