Managing Organizational Bias – An Action Plan

Bias evolves from the human tendency to subconsciously categorize and extrapolate based on previous experience. Cognitive biases impact our judgement and can make irrational judgements and decisions seem rational. Bias is often attributed to social stereotypes, leading to unintentional discrimination, unequal opportunity and ineffective policies and practices. However, bias can also significantly impact our rational decision-making ability and therefore our effectiveness, situational comprehension and ultimately, personal and organizational success.

If you have ever worked in Human Resources or Recruiting, or have undertaken formal training in those areas of practice, you are likely familiar with biases, such as: 

  • The halo effect: one great thing about a person influences your other judgements of them
  • The affinity bias: you favour people similar to you
  • The confirmation bias: you favour things that confirm your existing beliefs

Awareness of additional personal and cognitive biases and the ways they can impact our personal and organizational decision making is also worth examining. The School of Thought ( provides detailed information regarding cognitive biases and fallacies, including:

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The more you know, the less confident you’re likely to be.

How can this show up at work?

“Because experts know just how much they don’t know, they tend to underestimate their ability.” -

In house experts who hesitate to make a decision may be deemed less capable when, in fact, their subject matter expertise causes them to consider factors that the rest of us wouldn’t know to consider. This can give the appearance of indecisiveness or lack of expertise. Conversely, those with little knowledge or understanding of a situation or problem can be overly confident in their decision-making ability.

Tip: Ask your in-house expert why they are hesitating. Ask them to explain in general terms what they are grappling with to help you understand the bigger picture. Also, check your own confidence level to determine whether it is disproportionately high to the amount you actually know.

Belief Bias

If a conclusion supports your existing beliefs, you’ll rationalize anything that supports it.

How can this show up at work? 

“It is difficult to set aside our existing beliefs to consider the true merits of the argument.” -

Those of us living in Canada recently experienced a federal election. Elections are a fantastic time for us to observe belief bias as colleagues, friends and family members share articles, memes and advice as “fact.” Because the “facts” they are sharing support their current beliefs, they fail to - or refuse to - engage in appropriate research, debate or consideration of alternatives.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to question your own beliefs and consider where and how they were formed. Also, challenge family members’ belief bias to spice up family gatherings!

The Barnum Effect

You see personal specifics in vague statements by filling in the gaps.

How can this show up at work?

“Because our minds are given to making connections, it’s easy for us to take nebulous statements and find ways to interpret them so that they seem specific and personal.” -

HR professionals who regularly conduct workplace investigations see the Barnum Effect in action often. A Complainant indicates that a person said something demeaning or derogatory. Upon investigation, the statement made by the Respondent was, at best, vague and general. The Complainant has “filled in the gaps” in the statement, which has evoked a reaction based on sentiment other than that expressed. 

You have likely found yourself doing this in a work or personal relationship. You may be feeling on edge or defensive based on a previous experience. As a result, you interpret all interactions as a continuation of the last.

Tip: Listen and ask clarifying questions. Consider whether previous interactions are impacting your interpretation and reaction to the current circumstance. Also, recognize that your favourite psychic is cashing in on the Barnum Effect.

An action plan to reduce bias in your workplace:

  1. Assess your decision-making processes, including recruitment, promotion, project approvals, allocation of authority, and strategic initiatives for unintended bias. 
  2. Provide education on cognitive biases and fallacies. Increased general understanding of bias will enhance self-awareness and self-management. 
  3. Create a culture that encourages healthy debate and questioning. This will ensure that an individual bias doesn’t become an organizational problem.

ore about how AccessHR can help your employees transition careers, contact us directly.


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