Avoiding Blind Spots
An organization’s health ranks among the most powerful levers leaders can employ to drive performance in the short term and prepare the organization for long-term success. Leaders need to choose “how to manage the place,” and one key element is deciding what to prioritize for the organization to work on – not relying on their own observations, but using a robust fact base to make decisions. Comparing top management results to those from representative samples, the most common bias is that leadership has a more positive view of their organization’s health versus other employees. The real challenge is that the effects of this bias are unpredictable – varying in size and direction. The difference in perspective between leadership teams and the rest of the organization can, in nearly half of the situations we have observed, be equivalent to the impact of a year’s worth of working on health. So, a typical leadership team that sees the organization through its own (biased) view will have less urgency and commitment to change because they think they’re already a year ahead.Clearly, making decisions based on the view of top leadership alone is likely to result in focusing on the wrong things. There is no longer any reason why leaders need to make decisions based solely on the part of the elephant that they see. By expanding their view, they can drive value creation and resource allocation much more effectively across their organization. And there is one final benefit based on an insight from behavioral science – the individuals that you involve are more likely to be committed to the change, as they have helped to shape it.
For instance, Shu, Gino, and Bazerman found that when individuals were given an opportunity to cheat and then did so, they viewed cheating behavior as more acceptable. Similarly, individuals engage in ‘motivated forgetting’ of moral rules after engaging in wrongdoing (Bertrand M, Chugh D., 2005). These distortions help individuals close the gap between their unethical behavior and their moral self-image. In sum, temporal inconsistencies prevent us from being as ethical as we desire to be.
Furthermore, people’s self-interest can cause them to tilt the scales of fairness in their favor because of their egocentric nature that leads to overclaiming resources which overly discounts the future of the environment and society. Only when people realize just how susceptible we are too unethical behavior will we be able to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be.
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Chugh D, Bazerman MH, Banaji MR: Bounded ethicality as a psychological barrier to recognizing conflicts of interest. In Conflict of Interest: Challenges and Solutions in Business, Law, Medicine, and Public Policy. Edited by Moore D, Cain D, Loewenstein G, Bazerman M. Cambridge University Press; 2005.74, 95
Banaji MR, Greenwald AG: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. New York: Delacorte Press; 2013.
Bertrand M, Chugh D, Mullainathan S: Implicit discrimination. Am Econ Rev 2005, 95:94-98.