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Why organizations don't learn (II): Bias towards Action, Fitting in and Expertise

When faced with a problem at organization, most managers prefer taking some kind of action, even if it is counterproductive and doing nothing is the best course of action. This is known as bias towards action. When a new employee joins an organization, there is a natural tendency to align with the organization's culture, which results in bias towards fitting in. The bias towards experts stems from the belief that the experts are the best source of ideas for improvement. 

Bias towards action causes following two challenges:

Challenge #1: Overload

Overloaded employees who are too saturated and busy with daily work are too tired to learn new things. 


Challenge #2: Lack of Reflection

Always busy and in action doesn't provide employees enough time to reflect on what went well and what went wrong. 


Bias towards fitting in causes the following two challenges:

Challenge #3: Belief that we need to conform

A new hire has a tendency to quickly enter into agreement with his/her co-workers. 


Challenge #4: Under-utilizing ones own strengths

When employees conform to what they think organization wants, they are less likely to be themselves and utilize their own strengths. 

Bias towards expertise causes the following two challenges:

Challenge #5: Narrow view of expertise

Organizations gauge experts based on titles, degrees and years of experience. Though experience improves efficiency and effectiveness, it can make people more resistant to change and more likely to dismiss information that conflicts with their views.


Challenge #6: Inadequate frontline involvement

Frontline employees who are in the customer facing roles are sometimes in the best position to solve an internal business problem in an organization. However, in most cases, they are not viewed as experts and seldom involved in solving internal issues.                                 

Bias towards action can be overcome by:

Solution #1: Dedicating quality time to learning

Employees must take some time off for learning no matter how busy their schedule looks. Managers and HR must encourage such good learning practices.  


Solution #2: Time for reflection

Take out 20-30 mins a day to reflect on your learning progress against the planned objectives can be very effective


Bias towards fitting in can be overcome by:

Solution #3: Allow yourself to sink in

Workplace culture must make new hires comfortable and allow disagreements, if any 


Solution #4: Push your strengths

Organizations must also allow a non-conformist approach, which can enable people to act more free, open and push their strengths.


Bias towards expertise can be overcome by:

Solution #5: Own your problems

Encourage employees to take ownership of their problems and find a solution to fix them by themselves. This would prevent relying on experts for advice.


Solution #6: Give employees new work experiences

Specialization and variety are both important to learning. Specialized approach works best over the course of single day, however, variegated skills and experiences in workforce adds good value over longer time.  

Do you face similar challenges in your organizations? What solutions would you take to overcome them?


This article is a summary of a read by Harvard Business School entitled- Why organizations don’t learn by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats.

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