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Bias in Talent Management: Are You Overlooking Great Leaders?

Posted by Cassie Sanchez | Talent Management | No Comments

How do you choose who gets leadership training in your organization? How are future successors selected? How are folks who aren’t necessarily interested in management but otherwise make a lot of sense for leadership programs identified?

You may or may not have a documented process for pinpointing the pioneers among your employee base; regardless, we’re willing to bet it’s a combination of three factors: likeability, likeness, and merit.

Now, before you insist that you’re a "merit-only" kind of place, take a look at the explanations of choosing based on likeability or likeness in the paragraphs that follow. Chances are, you’ll recognize these practices, whether subtle or overt, in your own organization. While typically unintentional, they’re incredibly common.

Thankfully, with diversity and inclusion becoming more and more of a focus in the talent space, we’re all making headway in snuffing out these unfair, counterproductive customs. It starts with identifying them in the first place, though. Below, we cover the three main ways leaders are chosen in companies, as well as examine what a framework based more on merit looks like.

Choosing Based on Likeability

We’ve talked about this one before from an interviewing standpoint, but the same holds true for selecting leaders: People tend to favor people they personally like. They rely on “gut feel” or employ “the beer test” (which essentially is asking yourself, would my team and I enjoy grabbing a beer with this person?), whether they’re aware of it or not. And as we’ve said previously, it’s not that manager intuition (and even peer feedback) shouldn’t be considered at all — it absolutely should. Yet not when it’s simply a matter of likeability, and certainly not at the exclusion of objective data.

Choosing Based on Likeness

We’ve talked about this one in the past, too: While people tend to pick people they like, they tend to like people who are like them. Which is to say, while it’s largely subconscious, a big contributor to likeability is similarity. And it’s easy to see how this causes problems: Employees who would surely make great leaders end up getting overlooked only because they don’t fit the mold of the existing executive. Importantly, it’s also a blow to diversity initiatives: Promoting the same model of worker over and over again doesn’t exactly say “we value differing viewpoints.”

Choosing Based on Merit

The logical, fair, indisputably “right” way — choosing the most qualified, most deserved, most likely-to-be-successful employees for leadership development — is also sometimes the less straightforward way. That’s because establishing “merit” requires defining it; not defining it creates the conditions in which the previous two factors flourish.

While what makes a good leader varies from company to company (tip: look to data to avoid bias here, too), it’s critical to have your criteria outlined. It’s also necessary to have the right tools and technologies in place. As this method is all about data, you need an efficient, reliable way to gather, analyze, and interpret of all of those data points. That’s where something like an AI-based talent platform with capability assessments comes in.

Assessments + AI + Human Input = Your Greatest Potential Leaders

This is the winning formula, friends. Capability assessments measure your employees against the criteria you’ve defined, machine learning crunches all of those data to reveal relevant insights, and manager and peer feedback enhances the insights and informs the final decisions.

Sound complicated? It really isn’t. That’s the beauty of AI: complex challenges are made, if not simple, clear. And in this case and many others: clear, fair, and optimal.

Once again, it’s (smart) data for the win!

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