Every organization I work with feels they have the best product or service; they believe what they offer is far superior to the competition. Did I mention that our clients also have “the best employees”? I recently heard the quote “Stubbornness is a virtue…as long as you’re right”… the problem is that we’re often wrong.
Confidence in your strengths, like products and people, is a good thing as long as they’re grounded in objective criteria.
The social psychology phenomenon of In-group Bias is where people make more internal attributions (eg. we have better people) for events that reflect positively on the companies they belong to and more external attributions (eg. the poor economy is hurting our performance) for events that reflect negatively on their company. This extends to the competition where it’s easy to look for attributions that confirm biases we have towards others—this is called Confirmation Bias. To protect our identities and decisions we have a need to feel superior to others but it can lead to poor decision-making and ultimately performance if it goes unchecked.
In my mind, here are three (3) remedies that can deal with unsubstantiated bias:
1. Listen to Objective Advisors.
Shareholders of corporations are better served with a board of directors who are made up of smart, capable people outside their organization. They’re free from the In-group Bias of management and are typically at arms-length enough to be able to provide objective insight. Subject Matter Expert (SME) oriented businesses should try to get a board of advisors; as well, employees should have mentors that are willing to provide feedback.
2. Market Research.
Objective criteria come from data-driven research and one of the most potent ways to address bias is to dispel it, or back it up, with facts and figures. Industry sales numbers, quantifiable surveys from third parties, and even association rankings and lists can provide insight that is usually free from bias. SME’s don’t always see the value or are willing to invest in research but the insights gained always (ALWAYS!) provide a great return.
3. Personal Humility.
This speaks to a deeper issue of pride that is prevalent within businesses and organizations, especially ones that have tasted success. Pride comes before a fall because it stops us from being objective, from learning and ultimately improving. Jim Collins, in my favourite business book, *Good to Great, says that great leaders are considered Level 5 Leaders—these people have a combination of personal humility, professional will, and they are focused on the value they provide the world, not just the benefits that can be gained from it. Humility starts with you, as the leader, and it is caught, not taught.
We all have a desire to feel that our brand and workplace is better than the competition; it’s in our nature to succeed. My recommendation is to focus on the market you serve and always ask yourself and your team, “How can we add more value”. That is one question that never gets old.
*If you haven’t read Good to Great you need to… like right now!