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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #83
(July 14, 2020)

It's the Talent BEHIND the Curtain that Counts

I was conflicted all week long as to whether or not I would write about this topic. There is always risk involved when a chosen topic is currently receiving significant media and societal attention and I—quite frankly—needed to do some soul-searching to determine if my intense desire for a workplace led by principled leaders would outweigh that risk.

Here's what made the decision for me ...

I was reading an article on creativity and one of the individuals profiled was Michael Bassey Johnson, a Nigerian playwright and poet who writes in several different genres. He was quoted as saying, "I don't fancy colors of the face; I'm always attracted to colors of the brain."

This immediately connected with me because shouldn't this be the overarching and unrelenting goal of every leader? Shouldn't we strive to evaluate people solely upon the contributions they make; the rich ideas they bring; the diverse points of view that round-out the workplace and reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the negative impact of homogeneity?

The challenge to this idealistic view is while it's not difficult to hear people—it's difficult to hear people without bias. During my PhD studies, significant emphasis was placed on the study of biases and while we'd all like to think that we are without bias, the truth is we all have biases (whether we admit it or not) based on our vast experiences, upbringing, influences, choices and more. These biases become the filters through which we see the world around us. Bias can be about gender; it can be about race; it can also be about class, education, attractiveness, age, and disability.

The fact is, we all have biases against what's different to our social norms and/or to our values/beliefs. One of the unconscious obstructions to a bias-free workplace is we are always trying to convert people to fit our own perception of the universe—our subconscious brain finds comfort the more people there are who believe as we do because this validates that what we believe is the truth.

[At this point in our conversation, let me pause to make sure that everyone is perfectly clear that the unconscious biases I'm referring to are NOT the same as conscious discrimination. That unacceptable and abhorrent practice is in a totally different realm and will not be addressed here.]

So what can we do—as leaders—to come to terms with the fact that we have Human Resources ... not Female Resources and Male Resources; not Black, Brown, and White Resources. The answer, I believe, is to shift our focus away from trying to fix our biases (which explains why many diversity, inclusion, and bias training programs don't change behaviors) to a system that prevents—or, at a minimum, significantly reduces—biases from influencing our judgments and decisions.

I am a lover of classical music and up to writing this article I never once thought about the gender or racial makeup of our local symphony (Phoenix Symphony). I was totally fixated on the talent of each of the orchestra members. It was only when I went to their website and looked at a photograph of the entire orchestra that I realized the gender and racial composition exactly mirrored the percentages that exist in our region of the country. But has this always been the case?

In 1952, the Boston Symphony was looking to diversify it's male-dominated orchestra, so it conducted an experiment with a series of blind auditions. For the auditions, the prospective musicians played behind a curtain—they even put carpet on the floor to eliminate the sound of high heels versus men's shoes—in an effort to remove all chance of bias and allow for a merit based selection only. Unlike what had occurred in the past, with this blind audition, almost 50% of the women musicians made it past the first audition. Other orchestras began adopting the blind audition approach and, by the mid-90s, most saw increases in the number of female players. For example, the New York Philharmonic reached 35 percent female musicians by 1997 (from zero female players for decades!). A study of 11 major orchestras found that over 50% of their increase in new female musicians could be attributed to blind auditions.

Here's my question for each of you: Do you have the courage to stop looking for affirmation and start looking for information by introducing a 'curtain' approach to your judgments and decision-making?

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

Unfortunately, for many decisions being made in organizations, there's no way to create the equivalent of a blind audition—the solution is much more complex than putting up a screen and putting carpet down to mask the sound of shoes. But there are many ways we can employ the 'curtain' to make us better leaders. This week (starting today), try out some of these ideas that reduce biases where it counts the most—when employees feel inequities exist that impact their potential to succeed:

  • Beware of Your 'Fast-on-Your-Feet' Decisioning Process: In our fast-paced workplace, we are rewarded for our fast thinking and our quick decision-making. However, when we interact with other people, whether coworkers, employees, supervisors or job applicants, these fast "gut" decisions and judgments are predominantly formed by our unconscious biases. This can lead to statements and behaviors that leave the impression that we are insensitive, that we lack empathy, or that we just don't care. The 'curtain' approach is to look at every decision that relates to how people will interpret our words and actions and hit the 'Pause Button' to reflect on how this should be best positioned to eliminate any misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
  • Force the 'Curtain' On Your Decisions: Many techniques can be used to help reduce unconscious biases in the workplace. For example, blocking out identifying information on résumés, can have a significant influence on how you evaluate a candidate. In addition, determine clear, objective priorities with your team—before any interviews are held or decisions are made—as to why a particular credential and/or competency is important. The less ambiguity that exists before the interview process starts, the harder it is for biases to creep in. This approach can be modeled in other areas as well.
  • Biases Aren't Just What You Say, Think, Do, and Feel. It's Also What You Allow: "Biases Not Welcome Here" should be the tone you set for your team. Do you have a clearly stated zero tolerance policy against racism and against gender, age, and sexual orientation discrimination? As the adage states, "What you allow is what will continue." A bias free workplace only comes with clear guidance from the top. Does everyone know where you stand, and why?

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"There comes a time in everyone's life where if you have intellectual curiosity and an inquisitive mind, you assess the prejudices learned from family and the environment in which you've grown up in — and make a decision to either reject it, or take comfort in remaining ignorant."

— Bill Madden —