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Several hours of meetings with no solutions in sight. The competition is eating your company’s lunch… and dinner… and part of your breakfast. Then, during a break, you overhear one of the silent participants suggesting the solution to one of her peers. You wonder — why didn’t she speak up during the meeting? 

We operate in a complicated world. Bob Johansen called it a VUCA world — a world that is volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous. These worlds no longer deal with problems with one solution. This context forces organizations to throw out strategic plans, react to new market trends or be forced into the offensive when least prepared.  

We are also forced to make decisions with insufficient information. As Gen. Colin Powell once stated in his 40-70 rule, an organization needs to make a decision when it has collected 40 to 70 percent of the details. Collecting enough relevant information improves the odds of success but does not guarantee success. Waiting for more information means your competition is likely already beating you to market. Anything less than 40 percent increases the likelihood of making a costly mistake.  

To improve the chances of success in this VUCA world, we need to develop a diverse and inclusive organization. Diversity refers to aspects beyond race, gender and ethnic background — think about diversifying age groups, education backgrounds, college degrees, universities, economic and social backgrounds, geographical upbringing, past experiences, and personalities. Our biggest obstacle in a VUCA world is groupthink, the practice of taking group consensual decisions while discouraging creativity, evading individual responsibility and failing to evaluate different consequences or alternatives.

But in order to take advantage of that diversity, leaders of an organization need to tap into diverse knowledge, using different management styles. This approach calls for inclusive leadership, a style of leadership that optimizes the decision-making process by drawing information from as many minds inside and outside the organization as time permits. Inclusive leaders actively search for that odd opinion, idea or suggestion. Inclusive leaders welcome conflict to challenge the dangers of groupthink.  

TAKING ACTION

In a recent publication titled The Shadow of Bias on Leadership, I provide several actions that any manager can undertake to become a better inclusive leader.   

First, develop your own self-awareness — know and understand your triggers and biases. Are you aware of your own filters? We hear what we want to hear. Our anchoring bias pushes us to rely on previous experiences and knowledge to seek solutions from our past experience. That’s great when approaching a problem but dangerous when faced with a VUCA challenge. Our confirmation bias allows us to incorporate what we perceive as relevant information and ignore information that contradicts our perception and resolution.  

While there is a long list of assessments at a manager’s disposal, the acknowledgment of not having all the answers and seeking different opinions is incredibly valuable. 

Second, refine your hiring process to truly access a diverse workforce. Biases will contaminate most hiring processes. Develop processes that neutralize the emotional tagging of the hiring parties, that is, the need to connect the unknown to something we are familiar with, the emotion felt toward that familiar person.  

Finally, ask yourselves these questions to challenge your thinking before making a decision.  

1. Are we anchoring a decision on past successes or failures and assume that we can replicate those past successes or failures?

2. Did we consider a truly worst-case scenario?

3. Did any team member present a dissenting point of view? Did we give team members a chance to individually think about the issue and return with their own suggestions?

4. Did we question the sources of the data used to make the decision?

5. What is the story that we made up to oversimplify the issue at hand and fill the gaps with our own narrative? 

6. Let’s place ourselves a year from now — what information might we wish we had requested?  What information might we wish we weren’t missing?

Prior to becoming an instructor of marketing at UCCS, Juan-Maria Gallego accumulated 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and strategy in the IT industry. He is the author of several publications, including his 2019 book on inclusive leadership — The Shadow of Bias on Leadership: How to Improve Your Team’s Productivity and Performance Through Inclusion.