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the top ten most common manager biases

Top 10 manager biases that can hamper any team’s performance

In our day-to-day interactions, unconscious intuitions play a significant role that goes unnoticed. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has been a pioneer in research in this field. He has demonstrated the presence of heuristics and biases in the human mind. These play a crucial role in our behavior and decision-making, much more than facts and logic! These behaviors continue even when we become managers. A pertinent question then arises. How can a manager effectively lead their team if they’re biased against them?

This question has been circulating through the business world for years. By understanding managers’ common biases, you can minimize their impact on team performance. In this blog, we will understand manager biases. In addition, this blog will discuss how you can identify manager bias in the workplace and its most common forms. So whether you’re a new manager or an experienced one, takeaways from this blog are sure to help you lead your team to success!

What are manager biases?

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but some mistakes are more costly than others. This holds especially for people who are in managerial or leadership positions. One of the most costly mistakes a manager can make is bias.

In its simplest form, a bias is a favor towards one set over another. It is usually not based on sound reasoning but on prejudices and personal preferences. Biases create a situation weighed towards one side. Although they generally carry a negative connotation, biases can be both positive and negative. They can be directed towards individuals, groups, methods, beliefs, or anything. Therefore, a bias can give you either an advantage or a disadvantage over others. However, for the organization, the presence of bias in managers is a challenge that needs to be dealt with.

Manager bias refers to the unconscious biases that managers hold about the people they manage or work with. These biases can have a significant impact on employee productivity and satisfaction. For example, some managers may stereotype employees as lazy or unproductive, leading to ineffective decision-making and a decline in team performance. The bias may become self-serving, the employees become disinterested, and their productivity falls as they are aware of their perceptions.

Overcoming bias is, therefore, essential. But before that, it is vital to know and understand the ten most common forms of bias managers hold. Once you know about them, it’s easier to recognize them and take corrective action. In the end, being aware of manager bias is the first step to overcoming it and achieving success in any field.

What are the implications of manager biases?

As we understand, managers are pivotal to team operations. While assuming the managerial role, they also take up the position of an influencer. The bias held by a manager can thus affect the team’s environment, the flow of work, and most importantly – the employees. It is crucial to overcome bias as bias does not permit a rational thought process. Say, for instance, you are running a performance review for your team. However, you cannot conduct an honest analysis due to several biases. You might jump into it with the best intentions, yet the biases will unconsciously affect the process. This will impact your results, affecting your employees’ morale and, ultimately, your team’s productivity.

An important aspect is a bias against women and historically marginalized communities in the workplace. People from non-white ethnicities are often at the receiving end of racism and xenophobia, particularly evident during the hiring process. Similarly, individuals from these groups are often overlooked during bonuses and promotions.

Accordingly, to be successful, it is essential that you remain unbiased and objective. Manager bias negatively impacts employees, and the individual manager can also suffer. Some believe that becoming biased towards oneself ultimately harms one’s career prospects. The understanding here is that any decision made with a bias will not be as accurate or effective as those without it- raising doubts about the competence of the manager in question. As such, we should first begin by learning how to identify the presence of bias.

What does manager bias in the workplace look like?

It would be hard to figure out which parts of your behavior are rational and which are not. However, to be an effective manager, you can attempt to take notice of some things to identify their presence:

  • reinforcement of stereotypes
  • homogeneity in team and opinions
  • continuous preference for some people, cutting off some people repeatedly
  • unreasonable favoritism
  • absence of individuals belonging to some groups
As a manager, it’s essential to know the different types of manager bias that can affect your team. Knowing what to look for will help you identify and overcome any challenges. Biological factors- gender, race, age, and sexual orientation- are some of the most common biases. Beyond that, biases are also based on your previous interactions with the person and your prospects. Overall, being aware of manager bias is essential to being a successful manager. By understanding the biases that exist in the workplace, you can better equip yourself to manage difficult conversations and tasks.

The ten most common manager biases

Manager biases can have a significant impact on team performance. To overcome them, it’s essential to develop a management philosophy that values input from all team members and embraces change. The most common manager biases are:

Gender bias

Gender bias, in its simplest forms, manifests itself as a preference for men over other genders. This toxic behavior is prevalent in many places, especially in STEM industries, where women are conventionally seen as outsiders. Generally, men are assumed to be better managers than women, and several stereotypes are associated with women and individuals belonging to other genders. Primarily, they paint these groups as inept and privileged, who get jobs due to favor rather than merit. This behavior is harmful to the morale of these employees. Nonetheless, it exists and is visible in particular in hiring trends and pay gaps. Despite several policy interventions, the representation of non-cishet men remains abysmally low in several industries.

Halo & Horn Effect

The horn and halo effects are over exaggerations of single traits of people. A perception is drawn and perpetuated based on one or a few incidents. The basis of this categorization is minimal information. The perception can either be positive, i.e., the halo. Consequently, you put people on a pedestal way above others. On the flip side, the horns effect stands for portraying people as inherently evil or wrong – the devil reincarnate. Under this, you put them down and prefer their exclusion constantly. By focusing too much on one trait, we draw a very reductive perception of the person.

Meanwhile, their whole personality remains unknown. Both these effects hold the potential to be highly destructive. As a manager, you must be careful in your behavior with people; otherwise, this can damage the carefully curated environment within the organization.

Spillover bias

The spillover bias clouds your judgment with too much information about the past. The impact of the past spills over to cover that of the present and future. This bias can have a significant impact during the hiring process. A single incident in the candidate’s life can hold the potential to make or break it for them. An education from a prestigious institution or a significant project can push them forward as the ideal candidate. But an apparent failure can ruin their chances too! A manager must consider everything instead of just the highlighted bits.

Centrality bias

The centrality bias, statistically, stands for rating every item towards the center of the scale. This would look like giving average marks to every student in the class. Sure it will save you some time and effort, and many students will be happy – but at what cost? Consequently, in the absence of appropriate feedback, they will miss out on opportunities to improve themselves. The good-performing ones will not receive adequate recognition. This can put down the enthusiasm of employees towards their work. Effectively, the members and the organization must suffer in such a scenario. Therefore, as a manager, you must try to offer relevant and honest feedback.

Recency bias

Recency bias operates on a similar principle. Under recency bias, you are prone to give undue importance to recent events. Meanwhile, past experiences do not get their due share of attention. This can quickly happen as it might be hard to keep note of incidents from a long time ago. Therefore, managers make decisions based on only the limited perspective offered by the most recent events and how the employees perform during them. Again, this leads to a half-baked decision that does not fulfill its proper purpose. Instead, it obfuscates the opportunities that would have risen from a pragmatic review.

Primacy bias

Primacy bias, also known as the first impression bias, operates like recency bias but with a difference. Here the managers are prone to give undue attention to the first impression of the employee. The initial phase of interactions becomes the judgment factor for the whole time—meanwhile, recent changes, whether improvements or degradation, go unnoticed. Even contradictory information received later does not impact the bias already formed inside the manager’s mind. It affects similarly by reducing the uses that can come out of an all-encompassing rational analysis.

Selective perception

Under the selective perception bias, the managers may pay attention to only the parts of information that interest them. As the name suggests, out of all the information presented to them, their perception remains focused selectively on a few parts of it. Consequently, managers may be prone to ignoring the achievements of their employees, which are beyond their area of interest. Or they might only give attention to the part of the efforts made and base their entire judgment on it. Selective perception bias helps in enforcing other biases as well. If a manager already holds a negative view of a particular person, they will readily receive damaging information about them.

Idiosyncratic rater bias

The idiosyncratic rater bias happens due to strong selective and self-perception bias. This occurs when managers evaluate tasks, and their aptitude affects their judgment. When the task is something that they are proficient at, they end up having a view that it is easy to accomplish. Consequently, even tremendous efforts do not earn proportionate awards; instead, they get rated lower.

Conversely, when managers evaluate an unfamiliar activity, they tend to rate it towards the higher end of the scale. This bias in people who have to offer judgment is a menace to objective analysis and performance review. Subjectivity induced by personal eccentricities creeps in and disrupts the results.

Contrast bias

The contrast bias occurs when a manager uses a relative assessment of performance. Generally, the manager should measure the performance of any employee against the standard set by the organization. However, in this case, the employees are compared with other employees. As a result, employees who are better than others get a boost, while employees who perform comparably but do not compare favorably with the other employees get penalized. This bias might favor lenient treatment of some and harsher punishment for others which can lead to injustice.

Attribution bias

Attribution bias usually means attributing a particular reason to a person’s activities, irrespective of the presence or absence of evidence. The actual reason might differ entirely from the attributed reason, usually based on stereotypes or personal preferences. Usually, the reasoning assumed paints the actor in a negative light. People are often quick to attribute positive or negative behaviors to specific individuals. This is especially true in cases where people have little first-hand knowledge of the situation. This is detrimental to the health of the internal environment of the organization.

Finally, managers need to learn continuously to identify any new biased thoughts or behaviors as soon as possible. In addition, it’s essential to provide training on how to deal with different situations so employees face future challenges with better preparation. So, next time you struggle with a bias, remember that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things – just the right way for the team and the individual in question.

Conclusion

Managers have biases – and that’s okay. However, it’s essential to be aware of and work to eliminate manager bias from your team’s working environment. This way, everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and succeed. Manager bias can have several negative consequences, including tension and conflict among employees, reduced productivity and motivation, and, ultimately, reduced performance. By understanding how manager bias works, you can take steps to address the issue and achieve the best results for your team.

Recognizing and overcoming manager bias is essential for success in the workplace. By understanding the different biases that are common, you can develop a plan of action that will help you achieve your goals and become a great manager. Check back regularly for more helpful tips on managing successfully in the workplace!

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