HR experts: beware of cognitive bias!

HR experts: beware of cognitive bias!

If left unchecked, cognitive bias can quickly become the enemy of HR professionals because it can infect their decision-making in respect of candidates or employees. What is the basis of this bias? How can we understand it?

As is the case with many fields, neuroscience has its fair share of myths: “Creativity comes from the left brain”, “the brain learns during sleep”…Just a couple of the many errors dispelled by Doctor of Neuroscience and SBT research consultant Riadh Lebib at PerformanSe Day. “What we do know about the brain is that it categorises, makes generalisations and omits certain details,” he explained. A useful mechanism to help us understand the complexity of what is real, but one that also facilitates the emergence of errors of judgement (also known as cognitive bias), which can produce negative impacts in a work setting. The focus of extensive scientific research, this cognitive bias, which “works like an optical illusion,” to quote Riadh Lebib, can make HR professionals prejudiced. “This can manifest itself in the decisions they make or in their perceptions of individuals,” pointed out PerformanSe R&D manager Alexandra Didry, who holds a doctorate in corporate and organisational psychology. It comes in dozens of different forms, such as: the halo effect, which, in the case of a job interview for example, encourages people to build an impression of someone on the basis of an immediately apparent trait (example: physical appearance), and Confirmation bias, an extremely common form of bias whereby individuals search for information that confirms their own hypothesis (ignoring anything else).

Collaborative intelligence: a good front!

Though there can be pitfalls with cognitive bias, it’s not all bad. Alexandra Didry highlighted: “the bias of experience, which is sometimes called the intuition trap, is based on the recollection of similar past experiences. This can be a reliable indicator so long as the following three conditions are satisfied: consistency of a situation enabling some degree of predictability, option to receive direct feedback on results and a chance to learn.” Nevertheless, there’s an effective tool that can give us a broader view on these errors of judgement and that is: collaborative intelligence, “which is one of the best ways to combat cognitive bias as a result of the smoothening effect the group has on things,” explained Riadh Lebib. This tool is even more relevant in light of the fact that the human brain learns better from others’ mistakes than it does from its own. By encouraging the effervescence of ideas, the collective dimension has shown a measure of success in work situations. Along these line, a number of potential tracks could be explored: educating coaches about the de-dramatisation of error, but also removing managers’ hang-ups when it comes to covering up their team’s errors since there is so much to be learned from them.

What about psychometric tests?

Another way to thwart cognitive bias, this time during recruitment: psychometric testing. Psychometric tests combine human experience and expertise and are a good alternative to bias. With this in mind, PerformanSe R&D manager Alexandra Didry urges us to rethink the way we look at talent. “Companies today often take a compartmentalised approach to talent: personality questionnaires, aptitude tests…So many steps taken in isolation with no connection between them to allow for the complexity of varied candidate profiles. It makes more sense to take a holistic approach that covers multiple angles, offering us a unified look at talent, while also making the evaluation process more predictive,” she outlined.

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