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Business Journal
Manager Bias in Hiring: The Fix
Business Journal

Manager Bias in Hiring: The Fix

by Adam Hickman and Kevin Campbell
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Leaders need to understand their managers' biases
  • Systematic hiring processes will counteract unconscious biases
  • Aim talent decisions toward measurable business objectives

Like all humans, hiring managers have biases. The question is: Which bias is a manager most susceptible to when making hiring decisions?

Instead of eliminating bias, leaders need to acknowledge and understand their hiring managers' unconscious tendencies and strategically point them toward performance.

Now, recognizing blind spots in the hiring process is not about treating every applicant exactly the same. It means consistently treating people in a way that truly assesses their likelihood of achieving success in an organization.

Leaders need to design their company's attraction, interviewing and hiring systems to constrain blind spots. By managing biases, leaders will create a more diverse and rational process and aim talent decisions at measurable business objectives.

For example, instead of getting caught up in surface issues -- where an applicant went to school, what generation they belong to, their ethnic or racial identity, or other factors that can cloud judgment -- leaders can target characteristics that lead to real results like decreased turnover and increased revenue and productivity.

However, numbers and metrics do not always create the perfect system. Hiring managers need to slow down, limit bias, listen for evidence of talent and strive to be as objective as possible when interviewing candidates.

Research-based strategies and best practices for attracting, interviewing and hiring individuals with talent who fit the role, management style, culture and team increase the likelihood of hiring employees who will remain engaged and achieve high performance. Employees who have opportunities to focus on what they do best are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. And engaged employees who get to be who they naturally are will most likely perform with excellence.

What's more, hiring the right people for the job adds to a company's talent profile. In fact, when companies select the top 20% of candidates based on a scientific assessment, they realize 41% less absenteeism, 70% fewer safety incidents, 59% less turnover, 10% higher customer metrics, 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability, Gallup has found.

Studying Best Hiring Practices

In Gallup's work with an international client, the client set out to replicate its "best-in-class" sales performers to develop a talent-based selection tool. Interviews with top managers and in-depth focus groups with high-achieving sales staff pinpointed the innate talents that differentiated the best performers from the rest -- their motivations, what they liked about the job, their customer relationships and more.

By studying best hiring practices along with performance results -- and understanding potential biases -- leaders can develop selection systems specific to their organization to ensure they are hiring the right talent. Sometimes, unexpected characteristics can emerge when studying the best, and casting biases aside is crucial when exploring the data.

Finding the Right Talent

Gallup finds that talent is the strongest predictor of performance in any role. Gallup's four elements essential to a culture of engagement and performance set hiring managers up for success in finding the right people for the job:

  • Talent: While a candidate will bring skills, knowledge, experience and education to the role, it is the applicant's talent that is most important. People are most likely to perform with excellence when they are being who they truly are.

  • Fit: For talent to thrive, it must be a fit for the role, the management style, the organizational culture and the team.

  • Selection: Explore the manager's feelings, thoughts and reactions that are more emotional than rational to identify hidden tendencies. If left unchecked, biases can interfere with sound decision-making and possibly cause managers to pass on the best candidate for the role.

  • Performance: Managers add people to their teams to increase their performance potential. For candidates to perform with excellence, they need to possess the talent and fit for the role, the management style, the organization's culture and the team. Talent and fit are the prerequisites to engagement, and engaged employees are most likely to perform with excellence.

Becky McCarville contributed to the writing of this article.

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