“Breaking Biases” is Central to Change at an Organization

by | May 26, 2017

When creating a culture change, one challenge an organization must deal with is potential bias against the change. When we say bias, we simply mean a predisposed preference for or against something. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or organization and may have negative or positive consequences.

Whether we admit it or not, we come to most things with biases. You know, that almost immediate, involuntary reaction you have when you hear, read, or see something that strikes a nerve. Whatever the reaction, there often isn’t much thought behind the reaction. This response is mainly due to heuristics, which are defined as methods “enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.”

Heuristics come in two types: Availability Heuristics and Representative Heuristics. Availability Heuristics are based on how easily certain information comes to mind to help decide… essentially it allows you to make quick, short-cut decisions based on your experience with information (in other words, knowing which course of action is best when several options are available). Representative Heuristics are based on comparing the situation to a mental prototype, for instance, seeing someone that looks like your grandmother and immediately thinking of visits to her home, loving, caring, and other emotions.

However, heuristics may create biases and often be error prone. They may lead to both conscious and unconscious bias. Conscious biases are ones you know you carry and admit to. Unconscious biases are ones you are not necessarily aware of. It’s important that we question heuristics to ensure we are operating impartially.

Unbiased behavior can only be achieved by suspending preconceived notions, allowing us to make fresh assessments. We must be open to change and accepting that at any age, we still have a lot to learn. Specifically, to break biases, we must raise our self-expectation. We must practice asking ourselves how we can do things differently for ourselves, our team, and our company. We must question ourselves and others when a new idea or change is introduced, instead of immediately rejecting it. We must delve deeper and unpack our assumptions. We must come at things from a place of positivity. Discover an idea’s true worth by assuming the idea is better than our initial judgement.

Change, especially creating a culture change, is hard work. However, when you recognize the role that biases may play and how to best take them into account, your odds of success improve greatly.


Lisa Brown, VP, Delivery Operations, with Shamaa Ahmad, Senior Manager

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