Bias is part of the human experience. We are biased in our choices of people, places, things, and thoughts. Often, those biases are just harmless shortcuts to making everyday decisions based on experience or personal preference. In business, those biases can short-circuit logical decision making.
But they don’t have to.
From “Why Our Brains Fall for False Expertise, and How to Stop It,” author Khalil Smith tells us that often it is the tallest, loudest, or the boss’s pet who gets the attention in a meeting and therefore holds the decision-making power. Those biases tend to lead to sub-optimal decisions.
Smith, who heads the diversity and inclusion practice at the NeuroLeadership Institute, wrote last week in Strategy+Business that “biases are human- a function of our brains – and falling for them doesn’t make us malicious. [However,] with the right systems, tools and awareness in place, we can better cultivate the best ideas from the most well-suited minds.”
Here are a few ways to avoid the pitfalls of natural human bias:
- Set up “if-then” plans. If the dominant and most charismatic person’s ideas are being adopted in a meeting, then set up some space between the discussion and the decision by adjourning and polling others for their input. Their impressions might reframe the decision.
- Get explicit, and get it in writing. Write out the process by which you came to a decision. “We decided X, which led us to conclude Y, which is why we are going with Z.” You can revisit this document later to evaluate what worked and what didn’t.
- Incentivize awareness. Encourage employees who detect flaws and celebrate the “mistake of the month.” Error detection helps de-stigmatize a situation and provides learning opportunities that lead to better decisions next time.
- Set up buffers. Create a cooling off period between the time you receive information and the time you make a big decision. You might have time for a 10 minute walk or -better yet – for reconvening the next day to discuss issues that may have been overlooked.
- Cut the cues. Find a process that removes the person from the idea. When you are brainstorming, have people submit ideas anonymously so the strength of the idea, rather than the status of the person, can be evaluated on its own merit.
Personality may win the day in many cases, and it can be appropriate at those times. Expertise, however, cannot be easily replaced and should not be ignored when you are making the big decisions for your business. With a few simple moves, you can make sure the short and quiet people get their ideas in front of you, too.
To read this strategy+business article in full, click here.