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Redesigning Unconscious Bias For Performance

Simon Corcoran

Sep 14, 2017

Newsflash; unconscious bias training won’t solve your diversity and inclusion problems. It also won’t stop people from making the types of decisions you’re trying to change. The truth is that people will continue to make unconscious decisions about other people because that’s what our brains are wired to do. Sheep dipping people through a 3-hour workshop where they learn about the brain, followed by an implicit association test isn’t going to change evolution.

I have seen enough iterations of unconscious bias programs now to see why so many of them fail to create any real impact or sustainable change. The challenges within organisations are not going away, in fact, you could argue that we need to be more aware of our biases today than ever before.

We’ve seen some very recent and public examples of organisations landing in hot water over certain decisions and outcomes having unintended consequences. Somewhere along the line, decisions were made without following protocol towards an ethical or risk mitigating path. This is where bias ought to be focussed on.

Too often leaders and teams make decisions based on their comfort levels of a situation without fully understanding a complete assessment and testing. It’s because of our brain’s propensity and speed to identify patterns that leads us down paths that expose us to immense risk.

It’s time to design unconscious bias workshops away from the 3-hour sheep dip and in to experiences and challenges that thwart leaders and teams today. There are too many providers out there with off-the-shelf packages that don’t deliver change and see an uplift in performance from better decision making.

This has to change. We have seen wonderful examples where leaders and teams bring diverse perspectives to a challenge and solve it in ways that weren’t immediately clear from the beginning. These challenges can relate to gender equality, recruitment decisions, where to invest, which markets to go after, why certain products aren’t producing revenue etc. The list is endless when you have a solid framework to guide the process.

We’ve been very deliberate at A-HA to create a more experience-led approach to unconscious bias in a way that helps leaders and teams understand the link between decision making and performance outcomes. We put leaders and teams through a series of ethical problems and challenges to see how they work towards a solution that benefits them and the organisation so that, when they leave, they have a robust framework that they can take with them.

We use fact-based scenarios that are relevant to the participants so that, they can immerse themselves in understanding how to make decisions that are ethical, manage risk, consolidate diverse perspectives and follow a good process. When these challenges are repeated, it’s not the process that thwarts people, it’s the solution.

It’s ensuring they have the right people around the table, bringing diverse perspectives and having respectful debate on the best outcome for the organisation, not the person.

It’s in these conversations where organisations, their leaders and team can achieve higher performance through better decision making.

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Topics: diversity-inclusion unconscious-bias