Conformity bias occurs when people’s decisions are influenced by group pressure, according to the famous Asch experiment. It is usually motivated by a desire to be accepted by a group or a fear of rejection by them.
This bias exists in almost every aspect of life, including the workplace. Both candidates and recruiters can exhibit conformity bias at various stages of the recruitment process.
For example, a recruiter may hire an unqualified candidate because they followed the decisions of other panel members. Candidates could also end up in a company where they are unable to adapt to the work culture because they appealed to recruiters’ bias.
In this article, we’ll look at what conformity bias is, what it means, and how to avoid it when hiring.
Conformity bias occurs when people change their beliefs and perceptions to match those of others in response to peer pressure. Most people avoid sharing their unique perspectives because of fear of rejection and peer pressure.
Workplace conformity bias occurs in nearly every department and stage. For example, employees may choose a specific productivity tool because similar organizations use it, instead of its efficiency.
Also, HR managers may prefer to hire employees with similar personalities and viewpoints. This is usually a result of looking for a culture fit for the team.
Having culturally fit employees, shouldn’t eliminate opinion diversity; otherwise, the organization may make poor product and brand decisions with no one to oppose them.
According to Asch’s study, normative and informational influence are two major characteristics of conformity.
Normative influence is when an individual changes their opinion or behavior to conform to the perspective or demeanor of their group. For example, in a company where most software engineers dress casually to work, a new engineer who prefers formal attire may feel compelled to wear casual to fit in with their team.
Another example is a team member who refuses to share an opposing viewpoint to be accepted by their peers.
Informational influence, on the other hand, happens when a person agrees with the group decision because they do not have an opinion on the information being discussed. This typically happens when a person lacks the knowledge or expertise to make a decision and seeks guidance from their group.
For example, new employees tend to follow the existing procedure for completing assigned tasks until they gain enough experience to solve the problem differently.
Aside from normative and informational influences, the following are the other causes of conformity bias:
This happens when a person absorbs the behavior and perspective of their group, to gain acceptance from the group. This is usually because they believe their group’s viewpoint serves the greater good, or because they admire the group’s achievements.
A design intern, for example, may begin acting in the same way as the current head of design because they hope to be in that position in the future and believe that viewing the world and behaving in that manner will get them there.
Also, this type of conformity usually fades away when the person leaves the group or no longer identifies with them.
For example, if the design intern moves to marketing, they will most likely stop acting as the head of design. Employee bias may also disappear when they transfer from one company to another.
The disadvantage of this type of conformity is that most people abandon one group’s perspective to identify with another, creating a never-ending cycle of conformity bias.
Compliance conformity bias occurs when a person agrees with a group’s behavior and perspective despite internal disagreement because of a reward or lack thereof. Unlike other conformity biases, this one frequently emerges as a result of fear or pressure.
Employees who do not meet 50% of their OKRs will be demoted or asked to resign. This only motivates them to meet their OKRs for fear of being fired, not for the sake of productivity.
Also, employees may only work to meet this predetermined goal, leaving little room for creativity; they will likely discard ideas that do not help them meet their OKR. Also, employees most likely only strive to meet their OKR as long as this rule exists; once it is removed, the employees will lose motivation to do their jobs.
This type of conformity occurs when individuals embody their group’s or society’s expectations or norms and come to believe that these expectations or norms are correct or desirable. This type of conformity is difficult to overcome because there is no coercion; it is also not solely attributed to proximity or a desire to be like another person.
Internalization conformity bias can have several negative consequences, such as stifling individual creativity and autonomy, spreading misinformation or harmful practices, and reinforcing social inequalities or biases.
For example, someone who refuses to accept scientific evidence that human activity is causing climate change. This person may reject overwhelming evidence from multiple sources because it contradicts their personal beliefs.
This is a conscious bias that happens when a person adopts the behavior of a group to gain their favor. Most people and groups are more willing to accept people who act similarly to them than those who do not.
Integration bias is used by people to gain acceptance and access to groups by publicly identifying with their values. This type of conformity is motivated by favoritism rather than fear, rejection, or admiration.
What distinguishes ingratiation from other types of bias is the conformer’s driving intention of obtaining a result from the conformity. A candidate, for example, may say certain words or claim to have a certain personality to persuade the HR manager that they are a cultural fit for the organization.
There is always the possibility of bias in recruitment, and the vast majority of them are unconscious. There is always the possibility of conformity bias influencing your candidate selection.
For example, a member of the selection committee may agree to go with a particular candidate if they internally disagree with the choice for a variety of reasons.
It could be because this is their first time on a recruitment panel and they are looking to other members for guidance. It could also be because the majority of the panel agrees with the choice and does not want to be the outlier.
Another reason a panel member may decide to conform is that they want a favor from their colleagues, so they agree to appeal to their panel’s psyche.
Conformity bias may also occur because HR managers have an internalized perception of what the ideal candidate should be, and as a result, they may screen out other excellent candidates.
Conformity bias also plays a significant role in hiring diverse employees; recruiters may base a candidate’s eligibility solely on diversity and fail to look for other qualities that make them a good fit, or hire them because they do not fit into the typical demographic of people in that role.
While it is beneficial for employees to be culturally compatible, conformity encourages group thinking, which means team members may pursue ideas that are not beneficial to the company solely because they chose to follow the group’s decision.
Conformity as an organization prevents you from receiving enough new ideas that could benefit your company. For example, sticking to a specific type of marketing campaign when you could be experimenting with more potentially profitable campaigns.
Conformity increases the likelihood of you favoring a specific type of person because they understand how to appeal to your bias. This could lead to prejudiced decisions.
If employees start to feel that their new ideas are not welcome, or that they have to adopt a perspective or behavior that does not reflect their true selves. They are more likely to leave for an organization where they can express themselves, make mistakes, and are not under pressure to behave in a certain way.
Unconscious biases are prevalent and extremely problematic in the workplace. If recruiters do not work to reduce conformational behavior, it leads to poor hiring decisions and less diversity in the workforce.
Here are some steps you can take to remove conformity bias from your talent selection process:
Many candidates have mastered the art of ingratiation, adopting behaviors and perspectives that position them as the best candidates. Using assessments allows you to objectively test candidate abilities.
You can create quizzes to test candidates’ understanding of their roles. You could also assign homework or ask open-ended questions to assess their ability to perform well in their roles.
When the questions are well prepared in advance, there is less chance of ingratiation conformity bias creeping in. This keeps you choosing candidates based on your emotions.
For example, you may hire a candidate because you bonded with them over something unrelated to the recruitment process.
Waiting until the interviews are finished before discussing candidate performance may lead to conformity bias. So, instead of waiting until the end of the interview, score candidates all through the process.
At the end of all interviews, you’ll use the aggregate to select the best candidate.
Conformity in and of itself is not a negative concept, but it can lead to groupthink and prevent the organization from making well-informed choices. It could also result in poor hiring decisions, a non-diverse workforce, or an unhealthy work culture.
Assessments can help you avoid conformity bias during recruitment. You can also avoid employees feeling pressured to behave in a certain way by creating a great company culture.
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