Global Mobility Managers Need to Watch Out for Subconscious Biases in Volatile Times

Global mobility managers who deal with assignees who come from various races, ethnicities, cultures, and gender orientation like to keep inclusivity at the top of their minds. Because in a best-case scenario, having this attitude can open them up to a wide range of talent from all sectors and orientation. On the flipside, a hastily made call that can be proven to be discriminatory and can end in a complaint or, worse, a lawsuit.

Still, regardless of our best efforts and all good intentions, we just might be more biased than we realize — and all on a subconscious level. This is pointed out in Michael Lewis’ book, “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Their Minds.” 

Fortunately, Silicon Valley takes pride in having a more empathetic and non-discriminatory attitude among their hires. Integrity, honesty, and the ability to think and discern logically and rationally, without giving in to emotion, are considered among the desired traits for career advancement here. 

No one is immune to subconscious biases. Medium writer Pallav Das, who has reviewed the book, reiterates its point that the human brain, pressured to make dozens of decisions a day, inevitably shortcuts the decision-making process.

It then draws on past experiences, current influences, and, yes, biases to come to a conclusion. The individual being who owns that brain will naturally tend to think that their decision is sound, rational, and objective. 

Sometimes, it will take cold hard facts or an equally persistent colleague, taking the opposite end of the view, to convince them of the error of their position.

Das highlights a few of these so-called “cognitive biases” which global mobility managers, trained to compete on the international level, should watch out for.

Choice-supportive bias

This is putting the horse after the cart. The individual makes a judgment call based on feelings or ideas that they might not have thought through. Once their colleague or opponent calls them on it, that is the only time that they start cobbling for facts that support their position. 

Tip to the global mobility manager: do your research and homework first, buttressed by current data and statistics, especially before giving a proposal or plan of action to the C-suite.

Hostile media effect

This happens when the decision-maker questions the integrity of the news source or an article if the position it takes contradicts theirs. This attitude is understandable in an age plagued by fake news. Bravo to the global mobility manager and their assignee if they do check the article with a critical eye, and test its facts and analysis. But a knee-jerk reaction without doing so and then decrying the news agency as biased without investigation speak of subconscious bias.

Hot-hand fallacy

It can be summarized by this concept:  “success will attract success.” Dallas describes it as expecting a basketball team to win the fourth game in a row, based on the fact that it has won all the three previous games. He advises us to be cautious. 

Other factors can still affect that fourth game, e.g. the strength and skills of the fourth opponent which the winning team will just face for the first time. If the winning team lost a star player because of an injury during the third game, their absence can also affect the fourth. 

Tip to global mobility managers: never assume that your high-performing assignee will always deliver at the peak of their powers. Do not take their victories for granted. Always monitor the vital factors that do affect their performance, such as morale, integration with the team, health, and quality of family relations.

Peak-end rule

This can be considered as coming from the most emotional biases. An individual will base their judgment on the most intense emotional experience or feelings they had undergone that day, regardless of the quality of their other encounters. 

For example, the decision-maker might regard the assignee’s performance as lacking or low, because of a bad quarrel with the spouse the night before. The bad feelings that had not been resolved that evening carried over to the decision-maker’s perspective  the next day; everything that they see, until the quarrel is resolved, appears negative.

Finally, one last word to global mobility managers: check if you are susceptible to these biases. Review past incidents wherein you had done them. Then, the next time you feel compelled to make a decision or a judgment call, pause, breathe slowly, clear your mind, settle your emotions, and then check all the facts.