Conscious and unconscious biases are judgments—some very complex in nature—which affect us all and our organizations. They are often hidden in our subconscious and can limit personal and professional growth and capability. Over the last year, circumstances have refocused industry and thought leaders on the detrimental effects of personal and organizational biases and the cultures they produce.
Companies have established diversity and inclusion professionals to evaluate workplace culture and recommend adjustments to recruiting and hiring policies, “business as usual” delegation practices, and operational decision-making. These are formidable challenges for any senior executive staff member—challenges that need the support of top organizational leadership. If solutions are going to have lasting change on corporate culture, the most senior leaders must set the example and lead from the front.
Top leadership must embrace organizational responsibility for biases and the resulting cultural norms within their organization. David Rock, president of the NeuroLeadership Institute, recommends leaders admit their own biases and accept them as a natural byproduct of being human. A leader who communicates transparently when discussing personal biases will build a climate of honesty and trust, reducing stigmas associated with bias-admittance. This challenging work may require an objective viewpoint from a coach.
Coaching can provide leaders the objective feedback necessary to uncover hidden biases by leveraging techniques such as empathy questioning, the 5 Whys analysis, or other critical thinking tools. Rock further recommends leaders label their biases to understand them and their associated effects better. We call this activating the RAS or Reticular Activating System. Once the RAS is engaged and alerted, leaders can note personal biases and build healthy habits to counteract them (if you’d like to learn even more about the RAS, check out our bestselling book, The Leadership Decade: A Playbook for an Extraordinary Era).
Leaders must leverage this same introspective energy at the organizational level and review current processes and systems for negative biases. I’ve seen leaders do this effectively by surrounding themselves with a coalition of diverse thinkers from across their organization who can dialogue objectively about the changes needed to counter the harmful effects of organizational bias. For this tactic to work, the top executive leaders must bring the same transparency and willingness to lead from the front. Stepping back to review organizational culture and processes with a diverse team can provide the objectivity and clarity necessary to create organizational change incrementally and iteratively.
Changing a culture to fight hidden biases is difficult work. It requires leaders to be active, self-aware, and objective to successfully implement change to existing processes and systems. Solutions 21 can help your organization think critically and lead change to counter negative biases within your organization.