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Why can we spot acts of unfairness by our boss and others but deny it in our own behaviour?

Wendy Lundgaard
Monday, May 14, 2018
Respectful Workplaces

How a 1950's management tool can shed light on improving transparency, openness and inclusion in today’s workplaces

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a claim: Talking about the shortcomings of our boss and our colleagues is not a new phenomenon! We may even find ourselves stocktaking an inventory of annoyances and bad deeds. We know this is not a good thing to do, but we do it anyway.

Our bosses come in for a high degree of scrutiny. After all, that set the tone and we take our own workplace behaviour cues from their leadership shadow (i.e. what they say, do, prioritise and measure). We are quick to rack up a list of failings yet how often do we stop and consider how others view us? We might think we know quite a lot about ourselves and how others perceive us but, in reality there may well be a large chunk of our behaviour at work (and at home!) that we are simply not aware of. And this extends to biases and prejudices we carry and unwittingly direct towards those we work alongside. There is no malice intended in our jibes and jokes – it’s all just good fun!

These days we have many self-awareness tools at our disposal to ensure we gain a rounded picture of our interpersonal style. We may have undertaken 360 degree feedback or a personality/behavioural preference assessment - I’m a fan of the TriMetrics Science of Self: behaviour, motivator and EQ tools in my coaching practice. However, human shortcomings like biases are often buried so deep they remain outside our conscious awareness. Self Assessment tools may not fully dig to this deeper layer. If they did we may be more ready to accept our own biases and prejudices rather than being merely adept at detecting or inferring a wide variety of biases in others as Pronin et al found in their research.

To aid in explaining this ‘blindness’ to our biases I turn to a trusted source: the Johari Window Model by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (1955) see below. I first encountered this model in the late 1980’s and it was one of those WOW moments – I was completing a cross discipline elective unit in my Arts degree and this model had such an impact it literally changed the course of my undergraduate degree and ultimately my career. The model comprises four quadrants relating to our interpersonal relationships and self awareness. It’s power is in defining the critical areas of our ‘blind’ and ‘unknown’ areas, where our biases can lurk well outside the range of our consciousness.

More about the Johari Window

The Johari Window model has typically been used in team building to improve self-awareness, trust and communication within a team. It enables facilitation of structured communication and rich dialogue by exploring information about each team member from four perspectives:

Open Area: known to self and to others (“public self”)
Blind Area: known by others, but not to self (“unaware self”)
Hidden Area: known to self, but not by others (“private self”)
Unknown Area: not known by self or others (“potential self”)

Open / Blind Spot / Hidden / Unknown Areas

In my view, the model has an equally relevant and broader application today. Progressive workplaces strive to achieve excellence and innovation through greater inclusion and diversity and by challenging assumptions and unpacking biases which have limited opportunity for those who don’t typically ‘fit the traditional employee mould’. It creates the platform to better understand perception of self and others the potential dissonance between how we see ourselves and how others may see us. We can then start to understand how perception is shaped by our own unique identity forming a ‘lens’ by which we view and make sense of the world.

How do I expand my ‘Open’ and shrink my ‘Blind/Unknown’ areas?

The Johari Window quadrants are represented as four equal-sized boxes however they are anything but static. Like shifting walls in a house, the rooms will expand and contract in size, in proportion to the flow of information within the group. For example, when a new team comes together for the first time, the “open area” and “blind area” will both be smaller in size than the “hidden area” and “unknown area”, since team members know very little about each other at this early stage. As team members learn more about each other’s unique identity (background, education, skills, beliefs, values, behavioural tendencies, etc.) through self-disclosure, sharing, observation, soliciting feedback and self-discovery, the “open area” will gradually expand and take up the most room in the diagram. This sharing builds an environment of trust where upward feedback is more culturally acceptable.

The challenge for leaders

The explicit goal of the model is to move a team (and individuals) toward the “open area”. When people work together in an environment where they have a clear understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own, it is generally more conducive to trust and productivity in the workplace. Leaders play a significant role in shaping the team’s culture and openness through their own actions and leader shadow. We watch our leaders very closely and are look for signs of consistency between what is said and what is done.

What you can do

A significant part of my practice is assisting leaders and teams to understand the very human basis of our unconscious biases, unpacking and bringing to the surface deeply embedded stereotypes that we don’t know we have. We find that naming key forms of both cognitive and personal biases makes it easier to openly discuss assumptions and expose blind spots whilst shrinking the collective ‘unknown’ areas. In doing so, decisions can be more transparent, based on solid evidence and ultimately creating a more inclusive workplace where people can thrive and do their best work. Spotting our own biases is much easier once you know what to look for and saves others doing it for us! And if you don’t think you have biases, then take the free on-line test here. This may assist you open up your ‘blind’ or ‘unknown’ areas.

Contact Wendy Lundgaard for a no obligation discussion on how we might help your organisation increase the ‘open’ area by building a more inclusive and diverse culture.

Parts of this article were first published by DTS International’s in a blog post 40 Must-Know HR, OD, L&D Models.

Wendy LundgaardWendy Lundgaard provides leadership education and workplace training on challenging unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and respectful workplace behaviour. Wendy established her consulting practice in 2006 to assist organisations reap the benefits of high performance through a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

Do your D&I initiatives disrupt the status-quo?

Wendy Lundgaard
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Respectful Workplaces

This week we launched a new program to more deeply embed #inclusion and #respect as part of workplace culture change. Participants took time out to reflect on the everyday assumptions we make about our colleagues at work. We know change is difficult. Removing the barriers to #equity and affording a #fairgo requires a multi-pronged approach over a sustained period. My client is in the sports business.

Elite sport is in the news this week with recent local and international headlines in women's sport raising serious questions and some troubling disparities.

Take the AFLW - a finals ban for a star player and captain Katie Brennan whose tackle was considered excessively rough for women's football and, given a second offence, resulted in a two-match ban, taking her out for the AFLW grand final. The same tackle would not rate much more than a mention in men's AFL and as a second offence would result in a fine. Is this a #sexist position by the AFL Tribunal? And then there is World No 1 tennis star Serena Williams who finds herself now 'unseeded' not because she has lost form, but because she took maternity leave. The policy position that her maternity leave be regarded the same as 'time off for an injury' shows just why we need to continue examining and exposing the flaws in policy, practice and decision making at the very heart of the systems designed for consistency and fairness.

Let's #PressforProgress and examine our own workplace systems, policies and practices that may be unintentionally suppressing progress. One thing is certain, despite confidence that we have 'best practice policies' this rarely translates into consistently sound decisions. Sometimes you may need an independent set of eyes to do the looking.

Wendy LundgaardWendy Lundgaard provides leadership education and workplace training on challenging unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and respectful workplace behaviour. Wendy established her consulting practice in 2006 to assist organisations reap the benefits of high performance through a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

Lessons from the Olympics: A crash course on merit!

Wendy Lundgaard
Saturday, February 24, 2018
Lessons from the Olympics

It wouldn’t be an Olympics without controversial decisions, and the Winter Olympics is no exception. What can we learn from the Men’s Aerial Freestyle? Quite a bit it would seem!

Years of preparation, sacrifice and the expectations of nations are on the line. A panel of judges can view the same individual’s performance and yet arrive at different scores. Points awarded for Aussie David Morris’s near flawless execution fell short of China’s Jia Zongyang’s faltering finish. I am certain there were more than a few who felt confused if not angry at the result: Was Morris robbed?

It's complicated!

Rationally we know assessing individual merit in sport, especially in a freestyle event, has its challenges not unlike assessing talent in hiring and promotion. This was not a ‘time trial’ where everyone can be judged on irrefutable facts. Instead scoring must accommodate creativity, degree of difficulty, height and landing not to mention the contentious aspect of ‘control’ – a raft of criteria and rules. I may also add at this point, there are those who claim at least one other competitor executed the same manoeuvre as Morris yet resulting in a much higher score. This just adds to spectator frustration.

In the workplace we use clear selection criteria, conduct structured interviews and comprehensive reference checks etc yet assessment of talent remains more an ‘art’ rather than a science. As humans we are imperfect and inconsistent, particularly when making decision under time pressures. We are susceptible to a range of biases and prejudices, not all of them negative as those who have benefited from being favoured would attest. Our biases and prejudices operate at an unconscious level (that is we don’t know we have them) playing out in the form of assumptions, gut-feel instincts and stereotyping (be it gender, age, race etc). And when we don’t know we have them, we can’t mitigate their impact.

Bias awareness programs help surface rarely discussed human factors which influence our decisions, providing a new language to talk about perceptions, assumptions and realities - and hold each other accountable.

Neuroscience research has enhanced understanding of how the brain and mind operates and what we are good at as well as the things that challenge us as humans. It appears we are really, really good at setting up a logical scoring or merit-based system. However, our shortcomings surface in the more complex aspect of synthesising relevant data: the information we choose to take in and the value we attach to it before applying the data to a scoring system. We are also easily distracted.

The core problem is that people are easily distracted by things that might be only marginally relevant, and they use information inconsistently (check it out here Harvard Business Review, May 2014.)

Is it possible that Morris’s sure-footed landing could have distracted us from the bigger picture prowess exhibited by Zongyang across his entire run? Our gut instinct gives us one message and the score card says something different. This disconnect requires a review of our instinctive response. Indeed, we tend to back our instincts when we should be quite wary of decisions we make using this approach. Harvard studies show that when assessing merit in hiring and promotion candidates, algorithms could do the job with 25% greater accuracy. Does this herald a new era in Artificial Intelligence? In sport we are supplementing the umpire/adjudicator decisions with decision review systems and other technology supports. It is no longer enough to rely on the human assessment. The future is here, at least in some sports!  What review mechanisms do we currently use at work when assessing merit? In my 30+ years in human resource practice I have found this aspect rarely undertaken by panels.  Judgements are rarely unpacked or questioned, yet can be riddled with distortion, assumption and misjudgement and with devastating consequences for people and their careers. 

Firstly, we should understand how the brain works

The more we understand how our brains and minds work the more we discover the role cognitive and personal biases play in decisions we make.  At a cognitive level we now know that our brain is wired in a way that frequently offers false confidence, that is that we (falsely) believe we have all the information we need to make an informed, balanced and correct decision. This would be wonderful, however it’s just not reality. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman explains the human brain having a dual operating system for thinking (and decision making): a fast mode and a slow one. Fast thinking enables us to make quick decisions, once essential for survival (i.e. the flight or fight response) without realising the downside of insufficient data to make valid, robust decisions.  Kahneman’s research shows we rarely engage the slow thinking part of our brain that would improve our decision making. This is due to two reasons: a) we don’t feel we need to, and b) it takes up a lot of fuel (energy) to put in this effort. In work and in sport we have good reason to be cautious about the application of merit given the fast pace of work and the speed by which we make our decisions. Cognitive biases frequently hijack sound decision making.

In addition to what we miss when our brain is functioning at high speed,  we also have personal biases which shape the type of information we take in, how we weight this information and then how we interpret it. This helps us explain why multiple judges can watch the same routine yet score differently. A mitigation strategy at the Olympics is built into the scoring system: discard the highest and lowest scores, then average out the remaining scores. What system do you use for managing bias in people-based decisions at work?  Some use 'blind' recruitment which can remove biases about the gender, school/university, hobbies (which often identify gender) and generally try to make our merit assessment focused on the important selection criteria we have prepared earlier.  This intervention can reduce distraction on irrelevant aspects of the resume at this early stage. I have seen a line manager eliminate a candidate because of their address! Blind resume's is a great start, however let's recognise that there is still scope for unleashing our biases once a person presents for interview.  How do we ensure we assess merit fairly, manage our biases and eliminate distraction on irrelevant data?    

Four lessons from the Olympics in assessing merit fairly:

  • Check for any preconceived ideas or biases we have about the individuals (e.g. remind ourselves that irrespective of world ranking going into this event, everyone starts with a clean slate. Separate scoring of candidates for shortlisting from interview processes - better still use different people/panels for each process)
  • Be clear on the weighting of each element to be assessed and any rules 
  • Watch for short cuts in our own decision making – do we have all the evidence needed to substantiate each scoring component, check for any 'benefit of the doubt' shortcuts made during scoring
  • Above all, remind ourselves to be fair and apply criteria in a consistent manner to all.

The application of merit is a complex area, and these are just a few tips that we can apply in the workplace setting. Being alert to the role biases play in influencing decisions goes some way to making our hiring and promotion processes fairer for all and deliver on identifying top talent. Contact me today to discuss how we may assist your organisation tackle this challenge. Contact us at win-winws.com.au

Our next article will delve more deeply into the role of personal biases and how these distort fairness and merit. We will reconnect with new graduates Helen and Hugh as they navigate the world of work today. If you missed our previous article on the Gender Pay Gap click here.

Wendy LundgaardWendy Lundgaard provides leadership education and workplace training on challenging unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and respectful workplace behaviour. Wendy established her consulting practice in 2006 to assist organisations reap the benefits of high performance through a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

The gender pay gap. Has anything really changed?
Part I

Wendy Lundgaard
Friday, February 16, 2018
Lisa Wilkinson

Only a few months ago Lisa Wilkinson’s pay packet drew national attention. Our gender pay gap (GPG) in Australia was front page news (literally). Even though this gap has sat around 15 – 19% for over a decade, this was an ‘in your face’ example that brought the issue front and centre. Channel Nine promptly deflected by arguing that the pay packets in question should not be compared as Karl Stefanovic’s ancillary responsibilities were ‘significantly more’. End of story! Did that pass the ‘pub test’?

What played out so publicly is a rare reality check on what is occurring in the opaque world of salaries across the country. International Women’s Day will soon be upon us (What? It’s here again? Quick, can you run our numbers! Have we improved?) There will be predicable responses, gnashing of teeth about this wicked problem despite rebadging our efforts with a cool, 2018 edginess of #pressforchange.

If we aren’t getting to the deeper systems and culture level how can we expect real change?

Frustratingly, the gender pay gap (GPG) remains stuck at around 15% (see WGEA data).   However there is some good news. The GPG for graduates is at the lowest levels in 40 years, down to 1.9% from 6.4% in 2016. Hooray for new starters in the workforce!

With a pay gap so ‘modest’ new grad recruit Helen will barely notice the difference in pay compared to Uni buddy Hugh who also got a placement. However over Friday night drinks during the on-boarding program the topic of salaries came up (as it would – this is their first ‘real’ salary compared to casual, cash in the hand wages at the local café during Uni). After comparing notes Hugh realised he was earning more than Helen and put this down to his Engineering qualifications vs Helen’s Commerce degree. “Everyone knows Engineers are smarter” he sheepishly chimed.

Later that night Helen started to wonder whether HR had made a typo in her contract. Soon after, Helen contacted her HR consultant who clarified there had been no mistake regarding her salary. The HR person was SO helpful drawing attention to the firm’s commitment to career opportunities and restating the principle of merit (code for work hard and you’ll get ahead). HR closed out the conversation with a caution for Helen to review her contract clause on salary confidentiality! Hmmmm.

Fast forward a decade or two.
How similar will pay be for our two grads, based on today’s reality?

Both Helen and Hugh are equally ambitious and look to future promotion opportunities, ultimately to key management roles. Both Helen and Hugh are shocked to learn that the current GPG for this level of responsibility is $93,800 per year (total package). Is this a typo? Nope. In percentage terms this is a difference of 26.8%. Helen’s commercial skills start calculating what the gap would look like over a full career with its implications for mortgages, lifestyle choices, disposable income and the significant ‘hit’ to potential superannuation savings.

Oh, and just one more thing…….

Helen checks the report (she is really skilled at interpreting graphs) and discovers that Hugh has three (3) times the chance of securing that key management role based on gender data. Hugh tried to make Helen feel better despite some misplaced humour (he sometimes can be a bit blunt): “Well it looks like you will be spared the pay gap indignity given so few women actually make it!” (insert suitable emoji for irony).

Coming soon “Why such pay disparity? Putting merit under the spotlight” and more adventures of Helen and Hugh as they explore the world of work today. Or visit our website win-winws.com.au

Wendy LundgaardWendy Lundgaard provides leadership education and workplace training on challenging unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and respectful workplace behaviour. Wendy established her consulting practice in 2006 to assist organisations reap the benefits of high performance through a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

3 Reasons why Sponsoring trumps Mentoring

Wendy Lundgaard
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Career Ladder

Suzi (not her real name) was a highly motivated and capable professional and somewhat a quiet achiever. That said, Suzi had strong career aspirations. She knew it was tough to get ahead and what’s more she didn’t ‘fit the norm’. Suzi had worked with a Mentor for over 12 months however promotion continued to elude her. Sound familiar? There are many like Suzi who become disillusioned, resign and start all over in a new company – hoping it will be different. Frustrated with her lack of progress Suzi and my paths eventually crossed. It was a conversation that totally changed her approach – and it was the beginning of another chapter. Within six months Suzi had earned a promotion. Suzi’s new ‘Sponsor’ played a pivotal role in her success by applying three (3) important strategies that significantly boosted her prospects.  

Sponsors and particularly formal Sponsorship programs are still quite rare in organisations. High potential talent can benefit from both Mentors and Sponsors, but real traction comes from securing a Sponsor, just like Suzi did. A skilled Sponsor operates with a deliberate mandate and a more strategic intent.

These differences to the role of a Mentor are well described in Sylvia Hewett’s book Forget a Mentor: Get a Sponsor (2013). In short, the three areas Sponsors actively work with protégé’s to support career success are by:

  1. expanding their protégé’s experience base by including or nominating them on strategic projects and teams, key committees, and short term 'fill-in' opportunities in key areas of business – and backing this up with coaching,
  2. making a case for their protégé’s advancement and quests for resources within the Sponsor's professional networks and connections
  3. having ‘skin in the game’ – the Sponsor's reputation is also riding on their protégés success. This is a big one!

CV's and Resume's on Desk

In summary a Sponsor seeks out opportunities to expand their protégé’s experience, visibility and make a case for their advancement. Of course Suzi's Sponsor got to know her well enough over time to feel confident in taking a risk and investing personally in turbo-charging her career.

Don’t get me wrong: Mentoring is terrific in many ways. Having a Mentor meant Suzi had a regular opportunity to connect with someone who she respected, trusted and someone who she could share some of the trials and tribulations of life and work, use as a sounding board for ideas and seek opinions on career based options and other topics. This was valuable in it's own right.

Mentoring programs have been a part of effective talent management initiatives for more than a decade. Indeed much has been accomplished in differentiating Mentoring and Coaching. Now include Sponsoring into this mix and the need to clarify purpose and approach becomes critical.

Businesswoman Jumping from a spring

Personal Commitment: Being a Sponsor is one of the most fulfilling roles of all. Assisting someone who might otherwise have resigned, or stayed and stagnated, remaining under the radar because they did not ‘fit a stereotype of success’ is even more satisfying.

Company Programs: Are you considering augmenting your existing Mentoring Program? Or wanting to create a diverse talent pool?   There are many ways a Sponsorship Program can deliver results for the business and Hi-Po individuals as well as deliver a diversity dividend. It's a win-win for all parties.

Wendy works as a freelance consultant in the area of HR, OD, Inclusive Leadership and Diversity & Inclusion. She designs standalone programs or integrated strategies which include building capability and complimenting Diversity initiative's to deliver diversity targets and outcomes.

Is Inclusion the secret elixir driving Engagement?

Wendy Lundgaard
Monday, October 19, 2015
Diversity Tree

Having a diverse workforce is readily acknowledged as pivotal to ensuring  an enterprise remains relevant and here for the long term. Further, complex problems are best solved with talent drawn from a wide ranging cross section of employees who reflect our customer base, spanning different backgrounds and experiences. The evidence is hard to ignore. In more recent times we have seen an important shift in the dialogue to now focus on the role of 'inclusion' and employee wellbeing. The working environment is powerful in creating  organisational cultures of trust and what is more compelling, the influence the trust climate has on employee engagement. Employee engagement is a current pre-occupation for organisations today as they seek to ensure the trend line heads in the right direction given the established link to productivity and performance.

Have we ever stoped to consider the extent our diversity practices influence the ultimate elixir of people practices: employee engagement? Like most people, and I speak for those of us in HR particularly, we view the influence of diversity possibly only indirectly.  Recent research has shone a spotlight on the link between diversity and engagement. The research takes this notion further giving strong evidence that diverse work practices can absolutely and positively influence engagement. What is even more exciting is that 'inclusion' (or the extent to which employees feel they 'belong', feel respected for who they are and 'feel safe to speak up') significantly enhances the trust climate which is positively correlated with engagement. This is where our focus should now be. It is one thing to create a diverse talent pool but quite another to ensure there is inclusive leadership and an inclusive workplace culture to ensure diversity practices work and deliver outcomes for employees and the enterprise.  Here is a copy of the recently published journal article conducted within the health sector. It makes a very strong case to continue the journey.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jasp.12273/full. What do you think?

What's in a name?

Wendy Lundgaard
Friday, September 18, 2015
Win-Win Workplace Strategies

One of the most exciting and challenging things to do when starting up a new, small business is settling on a name for that business. I was reminded recently just how formidable a challenge this is when asked to assist someone close to me who was doing just that.

On one hand we look for a business name that reflects the services being offered. And yet there is also a need to convey something deeper - a message that provides a potential client with insight into what you stand for and how you plan to operate. Almost like your own personal and professional values statement or 'brand' for the business. The challenge became one of combining these key elements into something coherent and meaningful. And of course let's not forget the perplexing array of fonts, styles and colours to further support the 'brand'.

So for me some nine years on from founding this business (it's hard to believe - where has the time gone!) it's a chance to reflect on whether the initial 'brand' ideas back in 2006 have endured. I find myself asking some searching questions:

  • The What: Does the business name still reflect what I offer to my longstanding and potential clients?
  • The How: How well have I lived up to the intent of developing 'win-win' strategies at the workplace level (e.g. employees, leaders, business owners)?
  • Is the brand imagery recognisable and memorable in, let's face it, a crowded market of consultants?

Neuroscience tells us our brain is hard wired to seek out confirming evidence - it is one of many biases we deploy. I might readily conclude therefore that as I am still in business it must be YES to all these questions. The temptation is to sit back comfortably and not challenge these assumptions.

However Neuroscience also points out that our decision making is regularly flawed. We now know that the brain seeks to conserve energy by making patterns and generally not taking on too much actual 'thinking' unless we have to!  This prompts me to seek out  'disconfirming' evidence in order to improve my decision making.  This might mean asking people for their opinions rather than assume I know their views. How often do we actively do this in work teams and forums where decisions are made?

It got me wondering how I could move beyond assumptions to actual evidence. So I decided to put the question in a blog as a bit of an experiment.

With that in mind I invite all readers to spend a moment answering a couple of questions that would really assist me:

  • What services would you expect from a business called 'Win-Win Workplace Strategies'?
  • What are your expectations in terms of approach and ethos from a so named company?
  • What impressions do you form from the logo, font, colours and imagery (refer above)?

Thank you and I can't wait to read your insights and ideas.

Wendy Lundgaard (Principal)