There are many strategies to successfully reduce bias when making internal talent career and development decisions.
by Doris Sims Spies
May 25, 2021
One of the many advantages of an internal talent review succession strategy is the opportunity to increase the diversity of a leadership team. Rather than relying on leaders to make career decisions for their employees unilaterally, the leadership team should discuss their department or functional talent together in talent review succession planning meetings. These meetings can provide multiple data points, ideas and perspectives about the talent in the group, which helps decrease bias.
Additionally, the talent review meeting should be facilitated objectively by HR professionals who have been trained in the methodology, using consistent criteria, tools and processes. This can also decrease unconscious biases and increase talent diversity. Effectively facilitated, talent review succession meetings work to reduce bias and increase diversity because a group of leaders are making decisions together, rather than one manager choosing people to be promoted. People have a tendency to pick people who are most like themselves when left to their own devices and perceptions.
Most importantly, organizations should use multiple methods to decrease bias. The following strategies can help increase talent diversity and decrease bias in talent review succession planning.
The first step to increase leadership diversity is to increase awareness of the organization’s current diversity metrics, as well as diversity goals; if there is no awareness of this information it is difficult to make any progress at all. It is important to regularly update managers on diversity metrics, working together to identify areas of improvement to continuously meet talent diversity goals.
HR professionals should gather metrics for overall employee diversity and compare this data to the diversity of specific talent groups, such as identified internal successor candidates, high potential employees and key experts. Then, discuss these results with leaders. If you find that identified special talent pools such as successor candidates, high potential employees, or key experts lack diversity, this is an issue to actively work to improve with urgency.
Increase external hire diversity to increase diversity of successor candidates
The same process described above should be used to gather and compare diversity metrics for external job candidates, reviewing the diversity of the employees who were hired to the external talent pool, looking for areas of diversity improvement for external job hires.
The goal is to identify and develop internal talent pools that reflect the diversity of the internal overall employee talent pool or the leadership talent pool. It’s nearly impossible to increase diversity of internal successor candidates if the internal employee talent pool already lacks diversity. Additionally, measure the diversity of employees who attend or access any of your leadership development programs and resources and measure the diversity of promotional and lateral career moves in the organization. This measures access to opportunities in the organization.
Watch for bias in talent review meeting discussions
A skilled talent review meeting facilitator will recognize discussions and descriptions that could indicate a bias, such as “she’s high maintenance” or “he needs to be a stronger leader” or “he lacks executive presence.” These descriptions are not behavior-based or fact-based. We actually have no idea what any of these descriptions really mean and we can’t tell from these types of descriptions if there is a behavior that requires a development action.
For example, if a manager describes an employee as lacking “executive presence,” does that indicate a bias based on generational perspectives (i.e., he doesn’t wear a tie like I do, or she has a tattoo that I don’t like), or does this statement indicate racial or gender bias? Or has the manager observed behaviors that are legitimately impacting the business, such as an employee who needs training and coaching to give more effective sales presentations to potential new clients? We don’t know the answers to these questions if we accept these types of vague descriptions.
When descriptions provided in talent review meetings do not describe actual behaviors, the facilitator should ask questions such as “What does that behavior look like?” or “Give me an example of the behavior and how it affects the business” to determine what the factual issues are and if they represent bias and coaching actions can address the behaviors, or if in fact the employee’s behavior is impacting the business. Identifying a business impact is an important way to differentiate statements of bias and valid statements of behaviors/competencies to develop. Once the actual behaviors are identified, then development
Use clear and consistent talent identification criteria
One of the most important ways to increase diversity and eliminate bias is to ensure the use of talent selection criteria, tools, and processes that focus on behavioral criteria. Every HR professional and manager should be able to clearly articulate the eligibility criteria, talent behavioral criteria and consistent processes used to identify successor candidates, high potential employees and key experts.
Everyone involved in the talent review succession strategy should be able to articulate the difference between a successor candidate, a high potential employee, a high performing employee, and so on. The same talent identification criteria and processes should be used across the organization and must be clearly documented.
Provide training for talent review meetings
Finally, provide training for managers, prior to talent review-succession meetings if possible, to prepare the HR team and business leaders to participate effectively and in a non-biased way in talent review meetings. This can include training on unconscious bias and cultural awareness as well as training to help managers prepare and participate effectively in the meetings. Learning how to discuss their employees with other managers in talent review meetings is a new experience and skillset for most managers. It requires formal preparation and training.
Reducing unconscious bias requires conscious action plans
Increasing talent diversity and decreasing bias in talent review succession planning typically doesn’t happen without conscious awareness and actions on the part of the HR team and business leaders. We must continuously review diversity goal progress, communicate diversity metrics, goals and progress, train managers and HR professionals and implement action plans to achieve the goals of developing an effective and diverse team of leaders and employees in an organization.