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Is Confirmation Bias affecting your decision making?

Is Confirmation Bias affecting your decision making?

When was the last time you changed your belief?

When was the last time your belief was questioned?

When was the last time you were presented with a piece of information that was in contrast to your belief?


These are very pertinent questions to ponder over. As leaders, we are surrounded by people who reinforce our beliefs. In their desire to agree with you or share information that suits your bias, they end up biasing you further.


Confirmation bias occurs when our brain creates a hypothesis or beliefs and looks for information to support or prove it. All humans have this innate tendency to seek out confirmation of our pre-conceived beliefs, making it incredibly harder to alter it later.


Let me give you an example. A well-established belief is that money is an important facet for employee referrals. The reality is money is the third in the list of motivations for an employee referral program.


The number one motivator in employee referral is the desire to help a friend. If your belief says money is the critical factor, you will go hunting for evidence that shows the impact of cash rewards on referral programs. Or, you would assign a task - Discover what other organisations are offering as a bonus so we benchmark ourselves. The outcome of this exercise often aims to reinforce the belief that your referrals aren’t moving because you are not paying money.


If your belief is that employees should refer regardless of the money involved, then you may go to the extremes to prove it right. And, if your HR team believes money is important while you don’t then it is very hard to move the needle on referrals.


Whichever side you are, it is interesting to know that we live in a climate where our beliefs are already set and a few of us are willing to change it.


Risks of Confirmation Bias in recruitment

Consider a recruiter who is recruiting for a highly specialized IT position. Since the position demands shrewd technical skills, the hiring manager believes that they should hire through a referral. Recruiters on the other hand may believe vendors can help fulfill it faster.  Contrary to his belief, the management prefers to handle the requirement in-house. The recruiter processes a couple of profiles out of the hundreds piled up in the mailbox to conclude or prove the belief that they will never find a qualified candidate for the position. Once proven, the position opens up to other sources driving a faster closure.

Confirmation bias isn’t bad. In fact, all of us engage in confirmation bias in some way or the other. What is bad is when we allow such bias or belief to impact our thinking. Back to our example, the confirmation bias of the recruiting manager can lead to a dip in the top line and reduce the chances of landing in a right profile referred by employees. A referral program done right can impact the top line by reducing time to fill. We have seen customers benefit from a 7 day faster referral TAT than other sources.


You can combat confirmation bias by aligning stakeholders up front and using data to objectively learn and avoid confirmation bias. Knowing confirmation bias makes us aware of the pitfalls. Also, it really helps if you encourage your team to disagree. Encourage your team to present data contrary to your beliefs. It helps build their muscle to present a point of view and it guards you against confirmation bias.

There is one thing I am clearly biased about. Employee referrals are clearly one of the best ways to hire the right talent. If you think I am biased, maybe yes, but for a good reason this time. If you are more keen on understanding, read this blog on 8 reasons why employee referrals are the best way to hire.

What is an Employee Referral Program?
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