Taking Bias Out with PRECISION HIRING

The #1 internal concern for CEOs around the world in 2019 was “attracting and retaining talent”, according to The Conference Board. Under intense pressure, the recruitment and hiring profession has been turning to artificial intelligence. Machine-learning algorithms are being added to social media scouring, applicant-tracking software, and voice and body language analyses to improve the sourcing and selection of the best candidates. Yet senior executives, armed with these super smart tools, still tell us they experience hiring remorse when it comes to filling critical roles in their organization.

The problem? Bias still clouds the hiring process.

Unintended Discrimination

Amazon learned this the hard way. In 2018, they scrapped the development of an experimental recruiting tool because it didn’t rate candidates in a gender-neutral way.1 The best man for the job might very well be a woman. However, this tool, driven by machine learning, unfortunately taught itself to penalize applicants whose résumés contained the words “women” or the names of women’s colleges. Why? Because it had been fed ten years of historical data which, in the industry in question, had been dominated by men. Without a human failsafe, the algorithm couldn’t unlearn this fatal error, course correct its own evolution, and come up with a list of selection criteria that weren’t biased. Ultimately, the system couldn’t be counted on to be “fair”.

Perhaps someday someone will figure out how to eliminate all the many shades of inherent bias in all people decisions. For now, the best we can do is reduce bias in talent processes.

That insight had us look at the key factors that amplify bias. Researchers had already discovered several: narrow, stereotypical definitions of success; vague or subjective criteria for decision making; and reliance on a single manager’s perspective, among others.2 We inadvertently discovered a relatively straightforward way to address these bias amplifiers while using our Talent to Value process to help leaders decide which individuals to put in roles critical to their organization’s success.

Precise Talent Selection

Taking bias out is a matter of putting more precise and evidence-based selection procedures in place. People’s true talents become quite naturally accessible to the organization when you make three things concrete.

  1. Jobs To Be DoneTM – the top three to five chunks of work to be done in a critical role to deliver value

Unlike a static job description with its inherited bias, this short list articulates exactly what the company needs done in specific circumstances within a certain amount of time by anyone who occupies that role. Instead of falling back on the traditional stereotypes of leadership, success in critical roles can now be overtly measured in terms of value delivered (as compared to value expected). For situations where situational challenges are dynamic and unpredictable, precision is especially important here.

  1. “Fit” Criteria – the necessary “superpower” and values that will be required of the role to get the Jobs done well and on time

Give decision makers an ambiguous set of criteria for determining a person’s fit with a role and they will default to their own individual and subjective norms. To avoid this, identify and prioritize the right objective “fit” criteria. To limit the influence that implicit bias can have on their judgment have them review these criteria immediately before they begin evaluating applicants.3

  1. Talent Evidence – proof that a person is absolutely ready, willing and able to complete the Jobs To Be Done

Rather than rely on the judgments and opinions of one or two managers, look for evidence that the individual has already done the Jobs To Be Done well, exercised the requisite superpower, delivered value consistently at or above expectations, and is aligned with the critical role’s delivery timeline. Gather facts from multiple sources, including the person’s career history, psychometric assessments, 360 feedback, line manager evaluations, and performance reviews, that can be verified independently by a third party for their accuracy.

What excites us are the insights that this precise approach to talent selection can surface. Matching a talent’s readiness to a set of very precisely articulated role requirements can reveal risks on the role side, as well as on the talent side of the equation. In many cases, the most significant risks can be sufficiently mitigated by reconfiguring the role, complementing it with mentors or direct reports, and/or by changing how the talent behaves in the role with executive coaching. Precision Hiring puts the right talent in your most critical roles and sets them up to succeed.

Want to learn how to take bias out and put precision into hiring? Join us in New York for the next offering of our Value Coaching certification program.