Christmas brings a season of prosperity, happiness and novelty. It defines the closure of the year gone by and sets forth the tone for the “New Year”. Many organizations celebrate it with zeal by aligning the “Joy of Giving Week”. The HR and the engagement committees encourage employees to give back to the society by donating things like old clothes, toys, food items etc. What is the purpose of doing so? Simple, it is an opportunity given to employees to consciously support & care, an effort to “Give” and make a difference to someone's life.
Do we realize that Joy of Giving is not just about donating tangibles? What if this time we also plan to giveaway the abstract unconscious biases and make a difference to the life of people around us? Each of us has an unconscious belief system and these biases stem from the way we align with our social world. We quickly judge circumstances, people and form perceptions about them. Surprisingly we do this without being cognizant about it. Studies have indicated that even “culture” is able to stimulate biases.
Organizations have started investing in training workshops to educate employees on existence of this thinking behavior. But the question to be asked is, “Are we also evaluating our practices to correct our ecosystem? Are we bringing the learning out from the training rooms into action?”
So how to encourage the employees to “Give Away” the unconscious bias:
Spot the biases: Apart from training the mind on the existence of this biases it is equally important to train them on spotting it. During the regular team connects that a manager has on discussing the work progress, also include a short while on discussing the biases people spotted during week/fortnight. Google started training its employees on spotting the unconscious biases and voicing it out. When a new building was opened at Google’s California headquarters, employees were quick to notice and point that most of the conference rooms were named after men. Google promptly responded and renamed several rooms after women who were historically important.
Making people aware of their personal biases: There are more than 150 unconscious biases that have been identified. Even if a mind is trained about them it is not possible each time to spot and distinguish them. What if each employee is made aware of their personal biases so it becomes easy for them to identify and make the necessary corrections. Royal Bank of Canada started training its employees on the existing unconscious biases, alongside they also gave employees access to the tests developed by Harvard University (Implicit Association Test) to help them uncover their biases and apply their personal findings.
Audit the decision making: Organizations have started using various methods and tools like Pymetrics during their hiring process which helps them in reducing the biases. Apart from designing the processes that are meritocratic and unorthodox, organizations need to design audit mechanisms around their decision making. These could be simple checks that one can incorporate in their existing talent management audits. However, if there is no structure and audit mechanism for decision making in an organization then it becomes exigent for HR to work with senior leaders in order to create one.
Reward the right behavior: Many organizations have their reward and recognition structure around employee “performance” only. A reward structure should essentially value the “behaviors” that an organization wants to encourage in its people. So, if an organization wants to inculcate a habit in its people of spotting and voicing the unconscious biases then, it needs to complete the habit loop by incorporating a reward mechanism around it. As mentioned in the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, forming the right habits by applying the habit loop can transform businesses, communities, and culture.
Mentor the Group Think: Although group thinking and collaborative working is encouraged in organizations, but if this remains unchecked, it paves way for the cognitive bias called “Groupthink” to seep in slowly. This bias generally occurs when a group of people trying to work together display a desire for conformity. People try to fit into the group in order to minimize conflicts thus suppressing their thoughts and opinions. It is a dysfunctional behavior that impacts individuals and organizations in losing out on innovation and divergent perspectives. Consistent monitoring and mentoring while forming, storming and norming can induce unbiased performance.
Uprooting the unconscious biases is a collective effort between the HR professionals and the senior leaders of an organizations. By incorporating awareness training sessions, implementing processes and structures that identify unconscious biases, organizations can make a positive impact in curbing these biases.
Since it is a new beginning to this long journey what better time than Christmas and New Year. The new annual business plans this time should also incorporate strategic goals on minimizing the unconscious biases and truly balance the “Balance Scorecards”.