Enhance the Team

Adobe For All In Action.

Enhance the Team

In our Adobe For All In Action series, we’re tackling ways that leaders and teams can build a more inclusive place to work. It includes five elements:

  • Appreciate the Unique: Value the differences in others’ stories and ideas.
  • Amplify Others: Help everyone’s voice be heard.
  • Enhance the Team: Consider what a new addition will bring that’s different.
  • Rethink Routine: Look to equalize meetings, assignments, social events.
  • Open Up: Speak up for what you need and encourage feedback.

In this third post, at the mid-way point of our series, we’re delving into how teams source, interview and hire talent:  Enhance the team.

The hiring process can be a petri dish of every human pressure and emotion in the workplace.  Managers are often under-resourced and rushing to fill the open roles as fast as possible.  Team members may be threatened by how a new hire could change the group dynamic.  Recruiters are trying to find the fastest path from sourcing to hire, as the open roles continue to stack up in their inboxes. And candidates are feeling eager, nervous and vulnerable.

As we put this petri dish under the microscope, let’s pose a question:  Should a team be comprised entirely of people who all have the same profiles, personalities and work experience?

That is not a trick question.  Rationally, of course we all want a well-rounded team with people whose strengths and experiences complement one another.  But research shows that the hiring process consistently favors the “like” over the “different.”  This is because there are dynamics working against all of us being objective and inclusive in the hiring process.

“Pedigree” bias

“Pedigree” bias isn’t an official term that I have ever seen in writing, but it’s one of the most troubling dynamics at play in the hiring process.  It applies to both a candidate’s university degree and past employers.

In many countries, the university you attended can become a proxy for intelligence, talent and credibility.  Wouldn’t we all want an attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School or a surgeon whose credentials are from Oxford? A candidate who comes from a prestigious university has a built-in seal of approval.

Top universities have excellent graduates, but so do many other universities that may not make that “top” list.  Some students can’t afford expensive private schools or don’t have the support in their high school to navigate the application process.  Some students mature later than others relative to study skills or finding their academic passions.  Bottom line, a short list of elite universities is not the only source of successful future business leaders.  (As a case in point, Adobe’s own executive leadership spans from elite to regional and less-known university “brands.”  None of them seem the worse for it!)

As people gain more professional experience, their employers add to the pedigree.  We may assume that if someone worked at X Big Brand, they must be good.  But not every employee is equally successful, no matter what employer they work for.  And employees may have learned a lot from a smaller company, or one that was struggling, relative to practical knowledge.

To break the “pedigree” bias, here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t let a brand name – whether it’s a school or prior employer – short-circuit your own due diligence with a candidate; evaluate all candidates for demonstrated skills and experience
  • Avoid limiting your candidate pool to only certain schools or past employers
  • Work to understand each candidate’s personal story, which will put their school and work history into a richer context

It’s also worth noting that not every professional role requires a four-year university degree at all.  Core skills and on-the-job experience can be equally valuable!

Seeking out a wider variety of candidates adds diverse perspectives. Shown: Hires from the Adobe Digital Academy.

Similarity bias

Another common challenge in diverse hiring is similarity bias.  In simple terms, it means that we tend to feel most comfortable with people who look and act like us, especially if we don’t know them yet.

This means all of us need to work harder to be inclusive of differences in all personal traits — gender, personality, appearance, interests, social connections, country of origin, and so many other things that can be an unspoken factor in the interview dynamic.

Let’s imagine that you’re interviewing two candidates with similar skills and experience.  One of them went to your university, has followed a similar career path, has kids of similar ages to yours and follows your favorite sports team.  The other one comes from a different part of the country, took a very different career path, doesn’t have a family and isn’t interested in sports.  You love the first person!  But that doesn’t mean they’re the right hire.

The more we hire people like ourselves, the more we limit the opportunity for healthy tension and the innovation that comes from different perspectives.  Unfortunately, it also makes it even harder to hire diverse people into your team later.  If a candidate feels that they will be the “odd one out,” they are likely to take a job elsewhere.  And the homogenous dynamic will continue.

Some ways you can counteract similarity bias in the interview process:

  • At the start of a search, carefully evaluate the gaps on the current team; e.g., we really need more data expertise, or more international perspective, or more creativity. This can help ground you in finding people who will complement the existing team.
  • Scrub your job description for ways that it could alienate some candidates
  • Include a wide variety of team members (race/ethnicity, gender, age, background) in the interview panel, to help round out your observations and to increase the opportunity for the candidate to feel connected.
  • Insist on having a diverse slate of candidates for every open role; be especially careful of employee referrals, who may bring lots of similarities to the existing team.
  • Ban the term “fit” – culture fit, team fit – from your hiring vocabulary; “fit” is often a proxy for people who are just like us. Instead, consider how the candidate can “complement” your team.

Setting a higher bar

The Clayman Institute at Stanford has discussed how women are judged by a higher standard than men.  A logical extension is that under-represented candidates, including women, experience this “higher bar” in interview settings. It’s unconscious, subtle and powerful in its potential effects.

Let’s imagine how this could play out in a hiring scenario:  A manager has interviewed three finalists for a role, asking a variety of questions to each person depending on the course of the conversation.  With the female candidate, the manager probes on public speaking experience and she acknowledges that she does not have any.  The manager then decides she isn’t the most qualified for the role, given that gap.  But the other two (male) finalists never got asked the question at all, and it wasn’t listed as a core requirement in the job description.  That was not a level playing field.

It’s up to everyone in a company’s hiring process – the manager, interview panel and recruiter – to ensure a fair evaluation across candidates:

  • Identify critical job criteria that you will measure consistently across all candidates.
  • Ensure that interview questions are tied to the criteria and consistently asked across the entire interview slate.
  • Don’t ask for interview panel feedback prior to interviewing the candidate.
  • Be consistent in documenting feedback and allow each interview panel member to assess independently rather than “comparing notes.”
  • Conduct consistent reference checks by using the same questions for all final candidates.

You can also experiment with objective assessments that provide another basis for evaluation.  For example, in all my searches, I give my finalist candidates a scenario-based writing assignment tailored to the role so I can see how they approach the problem and articulate their thinking.  I then have team members do “blind” readings, in addition to my own review.  (Note, this is different from using knowledge tests to “knock out” candidates early in the process – that can create stress and disparity for people coming from different educational or work backgrounds.)

As a final point, sometimes the higher bar can be applied to internal candidates for an open role.  An external candidate might be perceived as a “bright shiny object,” with no downside or baggage.  But of course, those candidates do have shortcomings (everyone does) – you just don’t know what they are yet.  While you may know the areas where an internal candidate isn’t perfectly qualified, you also have the benefit of knowing all their strengths.  Understanding the company’s products, work processes and culture counts for a lot!  So be sure to extend your inclusive hiring mindset inside your four walls as well.

As we head into 2019, a challenge to managers, teams and recruiters everywhere:  How will you bring the “different” into your team and company this year?

Stay tuned for future segments in our Adobe For All in Action series. To download a printable PDF of Adobe For All in Action, click here.

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