Are humans really the most valuable asset in your organization?

I am skeptical.

I am not skeptical that it is true that human beings are your organization’s most valuable asset. I personally have little doubt that it is true — rather I am skeptical that you actually believe it, and here is why.

If you and the rest of your organization truly believed that, I think that one of your greatest priorities would be to understand human beings, human behavior, and human performance – and even the folks who work in HUMAN RESOURCES rarely demonstrate that priority.

Bias makes a wonderful example. It is getting late in the game, especially for people who are in “the people business,” to still be confused about bias, yet confusion remains the standard. Just this past week in a discussion about ways to mitigate implicit bias from the hiring process, another thought leader in the talent space rolled their eyes at the idea. They suggested that the only thing to be done about bias is to get rid of the sexist and racist people in your organization. This belief is a big part of why we continue to have such biased hiring and employment outcomes.

I have nothing against getting rid of the sexist and racist people in your organization, but to suggest that this is all that needs to be done to remove bias is to be profoundly misinformed about bias and about human decision-making. Most bias has little to do with bigotry.

To be misinformed about this ten years ago was somewhat understandable. I do not think it is today. To say that having the right kind of intentions will solve bias is similar to saying you will not be fooled by optical illusions if you are just smart enough. That is not how any of this works.

I ask folks in HR, talent, recruiting, and management all the time how big of an issue height is when they are considering an applicant. They generally stare at me like they are concerned about my mental health. Which is understandable, because — unless there’s an intramural volleyball team or really high shelves in the break room — height does not tell us anything of value about an applicant. Yet height continues to bias hiring decisions.

Bias works faster and more secretly than intentions, or values, or character, and it requires a more vigorous approach than getting rid of bad apples. Most of the work of bias mitigation lies in designing practices and processes that are rooted in science rather than our ideologies about people and about talent.

It seems to me there is still tremendous opportunity in making sure that the people who are responsible for hiring, supporting, evaluating, and managing human beings are educated on human behavior. A little big of insight into behavioral science paired with a bit of design-thinking could yield significant results.

How much do you know about your most valuable asset?

Be good to each other.


A few resources on bias from some of the best in the business:

Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Bias in Performance Management Review

Is Your Organization Ready to Explore Unconscious Bias?

Everyday Bias: Further Explorations into How the Unconscious Mind Shapes Our World at Work





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