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Interrupting Bias in the Workplace: Practical Strategies for Leaders



In today's diverse and competitive business landscape, it's no secret that companies are investing heavily in anti-bias training programs to create more inclusive workforces. While these initiatives are well-intentioned, studies have shown that they often fall short of delivering the desired outcomes. So, what can individual leaders do to ensure their teams are inclusive and making the most of diverse perspectives? The answer lies in interrupting bias, rather than trying to change it.


Today we will explore practical strategies that managers can use to counter bias without requiring significant time or resources.


Hiring Practices


One of the most critical areas where bias can creep in is during the hiring process. To avoid this, leaders should insist on a diverse pool of candidates. This can be achieved by using a wide range of recruitment channels, such as partnering with diverse organizations, utilizing online platforms, and actively seeking referrals from a variety of sources. Additionally, precommitting to objective criteria, such as skills and experience, can help ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly.


Another effective strategy is to limit referral hiring, as this can lead to a bias towards candidates who are similar to the current team. Structuring interviews around skills-based questions can also help to assess a candidate's abilities more objectively. For instance, instead of asking open-ended questions, managers can ask behavioral questions that focus on specific situations and how the candidate handled them in the past.


Day-to-Day Operations


Once a diverse team is in place, the next step is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute. One way to achieve this is by ensuring that high- and low-value work is assigned evenly. This means giving everyone a chance to work on projects that align with their strengths and interests, regardless of their background or personal characteristics.


Another critical aspect of day-to-day operations is running meetings in a way that guarantees all voices are heard. Managers can do this by establishing clear expectations for participation, such as using a round-robin approach to encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas. They can also set aside dedicated time for each team member to provide updates and feedback, ensuring that everyone has a chance to contribute.


Evaluating and Developing People


When it comes to evaluating and developing team members, managers should clarify criteria for positive reviews and promotions. This can help to ensure that decisions are based on objective factors, rather than biases or personal preferences. It's also essential to stick to these criteria and avoid making exceptions for individual team members.


Another practical strategy is to separate potential from performance and personality from skill sets. This means evaluating team members based on their strengths and areas for improvement, rather than their personal traits or characteristics. By doing so, managers can provide constructive feedback that helps their team members grow and develop professionally.


Real-World Examples


Let's take a look at some real-world examples of how these strategies can be put into practice:


The Example of Atlassian


Atlassian's approach to hiring is a great example of how to counter bias. The company has created a "playbook" that outlines the criteria for each role and the questions that will be asked during interviews. This playbook is used consistently across all interviews, which helps to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly and consistently.


In addition to the playbook, Atlassian also uses a diverse panel of interviewers to evaluate candidates. This panel includes a mix of men and women, people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and individuals with different personalities and perspectives. This helps to ensure that the company is not relying on any one person's biases or assumptions when evaluating candidates.


Atlassian also takes steps to reduce bias in day-to-day operations. For example, the company has implemented a "no-jerks" rule, which means that team members are encouraged to speak up if they feel that someone is not a good fit for the company's culture. This rule helps to ensure that everyone feels welcome and included, and that the company maintains a positive and inclusive work environment.


Another way Atlassian interrupts bias is by making sure that high- and low-value work is assigned evenly. This means that everyone on the team has a chance to work on projects that align with their strengths and interests, regardless of their background or personal characteristics. This approach helps to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and grow professionally.


Finally, Atlassian has implemented a system for evaluating and developing team members that separates potential from performance and personality from skill sets. This means that the company evaluates team members based on their strengths and areas for improvement, rather than their personal traits or characteristics. By doing so, Atlassian can provide constructive feedback that helps team members grow and develop professionally.


Overall, Atlassian's approach to interrupting bias is a great example of how individual leaders can make a significant impact on their teams and organizations, even without significant resources or time. By implementing practical strategies that focus on fairness, inclusivity, and equal opportunity, leaders can create a workplace where everyone can thrive and contribute their best work.


The Example of Zappos


Zappos' approach to hiring is a great example of how to counter bias. The company has a "no-jerks" rule, which means that candidates who are a good fit for the company's culture are selected for the position. This rule is enforced during the hiring process, and team members are encouraged to speak up if they feel that a candidate doesn't fit the company's culture.


In addition to the "no-jerks" rule, Zappos also uses a unique approach to interviewing called the "Zappos fit interview." This interview focuses on assessing a candidate's personality, values, and cultural fit, rather than their skills and experience. This helps to ensure that the company is hiring people who share its values and are a good fit for the team.


Zappos also takes steps to reduce bias in day-to-day operations. For example, the company has implemented a "holacracy," which is a management system that replaces traditional management hierarchy with a distributed authority system. This means that decision-making authority is distributed across the organization, rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few managers. This approach helps to ensure that everyone has an equal voice and opportunity to contribute.


Another way Zappos interrupts bias is by making sure that everyone has a chance to contribute to the company's culture. The company has a "Zappos University" that offers training and development programs for all team members. This helps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to grow and develop professionally, regardless of their background or personal characteristics.


Finally, Zappos has implemented a system for evaluating and developing team members that separates potential from performance and personality from skill sets. This means that the company evaluates team members based on their strengths and areas for improvement, rather than their personal traits or characteristics. By doing so, Zappos can provide constructive feedback that helps team members grow and develop professionally.


Overall, Zappos' approach to interrupting bias is a great example of how individual leaders can make a significant impact on their teams and organizations, even without significant resources or time. By implementing practical strategies that focus on fairness, inclusivity, and equal opportunity, leaders can create a workplace where everyone can thrive and contribute their best work.


Conclusion


Interrupting bias in the workplace is a critical step towards creating a more inclusive and effective team. By implementing practical strategies such as diverse hiring practices, fair evaluation methods, and inclusive day-to-day operations, managers can help ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute. While bias itself may be difficult to change, it's not as challenging to interrupt its negative effects. By taking these steps, individual leaders can make a significant impact on their teams and organizations, even without significant resources or time.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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