- Talent Management
As I’ve mentioned throughout this series about bias in the workplace, you’ll never eliminate it altogether, but you can certainly minimize its often negative impacts that derail your best talent management efforts and decision-making. Howard Ross, whose ideas and writings I’ve relied on heavily for this series, lays out very practical steps to take throughout the talent management lifecycle to minimize bias, including the following:
When reviewing an applicant’s cover letter and resume, what are your first impressions? Whether they’re good or bad, question those impressions. What specifically is leading you to the conclusions you’ve already drawn? Are you making assumptions based on where they went to school? Their name and what you perceive it implies about their demographic background? How about where they’re from? Examine yourself for anchoring biases – those pieces of information or traits that you may tend to over-emphasize. When it comes to interviewing, make sure you have adequate time set aside for the process. The shorter the conversation, the more the process will tend to favor people from dominant groups. Give yourself enough time with the candidate to form a well-reasoned view of their qualifications and fit. Especially pay attention if you have either an immediate like or dislike of the candidate. Explore that fully to try and pinpoint what it is that has turned you on or off to the person. Is it valid? After the interview, spend an adequate amount of time thoroughly reflecting upon your thoughts, feelings, judgments, and conclusions about the person. If this results in new questions you have or a need for further information, call the person back in for another interview to get a fuller sense of them as a candidate. Also take the time to identify what may or may not be patterns in your reactions so you’ll be more aware of them in the next interview with the same or different candidates.
Make sure your onboarding process goes well beyond the nuts-and-bolts logistics of being a new employee to include a cultural orientation to the workplace. This is especially important for new employees who are not automatically members of dominant groups. They need to understand the organizational culture of their new workplace if they are to have any chance of successfully navigating it. Be especially wary of forming any firm conclusions about a person early on. They’re in a brand new environment, and adjusting to it may take time. This is often very true of overall performance – slow starters will often catch up and surpass those who appear at first to be quick learners. Spend an adequate amount of time getting to know the new person on a personal level to avoid making snap judgments or stereotypes. And check in on them regularly to see how they’re doing and what support they might need to be successful. In all cases, consciously try to be systematic and rational rather than intuitive in providing opportunities for new employees. Give them as many chances to succeed as you can.
Make sure all performance and other expectations have been very clearly communicated. You shouldn’t judge someone a low performer because they can’t read your mind. You know what you expect of them, but they need to be made aware of that as well. Whatever your “gut” reactions may be, see what the data says to check those reactions and be more objective. Be especially aware of any patterns you can identify in the feedback you give – are there certain groups or types of employees who consistently get lower scores from you? Are the scores valid or warranted? Balance your own perceived feedback about a person with feedback from multiple sources. Do your colleagues feel the same way as you about the person? If not, examine yourself for how different biases may be leading you to give the kind of feedback you’re giving. More voices will tend to minimize unconscious bias in a feedback process. And also be sure you’re measuring a person’s performance against clear success criteria as opposed to your own preferred way of doing things. The results are what you should be looking at, not just the means of getting there.
Establish robust coaching, mentoring, and other educational programs to keep employees developing in the right direction, or at least giving everyone plenty of opportunities to do so. Each employee should benefit from a career development process as well, including how assignments get handed out. Remember that every employee deserves clear performance objectives, regular feedback, and plenty of growth and development opportunities. Any time that processes are unstructured, it tends to favor dominant groups. By making sure your structures, processes, and protocols, are clear and solid, everyone will have the same opportunities to grow and achieve success.
As you can see from the above, unconscious bias doesn’t have to be a taboo topic that continues to derail the talent management process. By learning to confront and constructively work with unconscious bias, your talent management efforts will reach a whole new level of effectiveness. Just keep in mind that while none of this happens overnight, it’s well worth the effort.
Check out the How to Foster Employee Engagement through E-Learning white paper