A growing body of research shows that cognitive biases creep into everyone’s decisions, even if we consciously strive to be fair. One of the most insidious forms is “confirmation bias,” in which people look for data that confirm their opinion and ignore data that contradict it.
Confirmation bias has a detrimental impact on hiring decisions, causing us to rush to snap judgments without realizing we have done so, and then taking in only the information that defends those judgments. Not only does this cause us to waste the value of job interviews. It could lead to making hiring decisions that we later regret.
One solution is to include more points of view in the hiring process. Bringing in different perspectives can mitigate confirmation bias. Brittany Baird, my CDS Consulting Co-op colleague, is a fan of collaborative interviewing for its many benefits.
Carolee (CC): Tell me about your experience with collaborative interviewing.
Brittany (BB): Having just one person make the hiring decision creates a narrow path for an organization with only one perspective on what the organizational culture is. By involving other staff in interviews and then holding a debriefing, you get a balanced interpretation of what the candidate intended to say.
As a GM I’ve used this process for entry-level positions in each department. This empowered and motivated staff to help the new hire be successful. When a leadership team position was open, the whole leadership team was involved in the hiring process.
If the whole team participates in a hiring decision and the person turns out not to be a good performer, everyone feels responsible, instead of feeling disgruntled. Staff members learn to think critically about the skills necessary to accomplish the job and meet the organization’s cultural values. There’s a sense of ownership and empowerment. Participating in hiring helps entry-level staff develop the skills to move up to supervisory positions.
CC: What training did you provide for interviewers?
BB: At the leadership team level, department managers already have interviewing experience. Staff who lack that experience need guidelines both on questions to ask and not to ask. It’s important for each job opening to ask candidates the same questions. You can give them a script, with room to ask follow-up questions if the candidate’s response is not sufficient.
CC: What if the department manager disagrees with the conclusions of the rest of the staff?
BB: In one case, the staff was split 50/50. They had to talk it out, which encouraged a lot of critical thinking. The key is having structure and facilitation for the process.
CC: Who, and how many, would be involved in each interview for an opening?
For a small business, the whole department could participate in the interviews. For a large business, say, a front-end department with 30 staff, you could have the shift leaders join in the interviews. Or you could rotate the group from one hiring to the next so that everyone gets a chance to be involved.
With collaborative interviewing, candidates start developing rapport with the staff while the staff feels more invested in a candidate’s success. It’s also good to have entry-level staff involved in onboarding their new teammates. They can hold each other more accountable than when the manager does everything.
CC: Is there a maximum number of interviewers in a session?
Beyond six to eight, it could be unmanageable. Usually not every single person can come to interviews, but as long as you keep the process accessible, some people will even come in on their days off because they care so much about who they’ll be working with.
CC: What are the implications of collaborative interviewing for promotions from within?
BB: Your coworkers need to want to be managed by you. They will know if you have a good work ethic and model the behavior expected. Staff may see gaps that managers miss. Based on feedback from staff, new managers can have development plans created by their new supervisor. Be transparent about this development plan, based on the foundation of staff feedback.
If your workplace culture is not what you want it to be, collaborative interviewing will not go well. Staff could scare away candidates with negativity or an undisciplined message if there is not agreement among them on what you’re trying to accomplish. So first you must address the underlying issues. Over time you will improve your company culture and hire people with the right values.
Brittany Baird is a consultant with CDS CC who specializes in operational and financial improvement. Her area of expertise lies in linking financial success to the everyday decisions we make on the sales floor of a natural foods business.
Carolee Colter has been consulting for co-ops and independents in the natural foods industry for over 30 years. She’s been leading workshops at Provender for most of those years. As the leader of the HR Team of CDS Consulting Co-op, she conducts employee surveys, supports co-op boards in hiring and compensating their general managers, and helps employers with job descriptions, pay scales and personnel policies. With Mark Mulcahy and Allen Seidner, for the past 18 years she’s co-led Rising Stars leadership seminars specifically for the natural industry.
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