No company in the world serves a customer base of only one, so relying on a single perspective when making decisions is simply bad business. By seeking out those with different life experiences and opinions, business leaders not only promote diversity and inclusion but can benefit their bottom line.
Fortunately, there are simple strategies that can help you check your biases and improve the decisions you make about your business. Below, 12 members of Fast Company Executive Board share the practical ways they ensure they stay centered on serving their diverse customers and team members.
1. REVISIT YOUR TRUE NORTH
When things begin to feel shaky, ask yourself and the team a couple of questions to get back on track. “What is our true north, and why do we think this is the case?” Alignment here is critical: This is the place your organization must not compromise, knowing that many things around it might change. “In reviewing what we have been doing, have our activities aligned with our true north, and if they have, have they yielded the impact we expect?” Revisit the feedback you have received to ensure you have truly been listening to your customers. – Jessica O. Matthews, Uncharted
2. BUILD A TEAM WITH DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS
Collecting data is of the utmost importance. I look to my team to bounce ideas off of, and it is important to have a diverse team with a myriad of backgrounds so that these ideas can be reflected through the eyes of those various backgrounds. For example, many of our team members received their education through community colleges. As a result, they recognize some of the big differences between student life at community colleges and universities. That distinction informs the types of tools we build, as well as the way we educate students about the services. – Melvin Hines, Upswing International, Inc.
3. QUESTION YOUR REACTIONS TO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
We all have biases, but some are especially hard to recognize. Learning to listen to different perspectives, backgrounds and stakeholders is important—a good practice is to ask, listen and ensure that those who typically aren’t the first to share have the opportunity to do so. Practice the self-reflection needed to question your reactions—especially if you immediately disagree or don’t align with what someone else has just shared—to ensure it’s not a gap in communication or misalignment because of bias. Recognizing our own biases through self-reflection and open communication enables us to become more inclusive. Understanding differences and developing open, transparent, and healthy communication habits for ourselves and our teams strengthen our decision-making. – Alicia Chong Rodriguez, Bloomer Tech
4. LOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO WILL CHALLENGE YOU
One of my favorite core values at our company is “We seek out opposing viewpoints.” I am constantly in search of people to challenge my strongly held beliefs. It helps me make sure that the decisions I’m making are not heavily influenced by a conscious or unconscious bias. – Yaw Aning, Malomo
5. EMPOWER YOUR TEAM TO DISAGREE WITH YOU
I constantly ask for critical feedback. I understand that the voice of a CEO is powerful, but I also want people to feel empowered to disagree with me or share concerns. To clearly communicate this to my team, I’ve made it a habit to reiterate my openness to feedback at almost every juncture. If someone does disagree with something I’ve said, I make sure to thank them for sharing their thoughts and engage in a constructive dialogue. Throughout this process, I remain open to changing my mind and look to implement feedback every chance I can. – Lauren Salz, Sealed
6. CONTINUALLY QUESTION THE STATUS QUO
It’s easy to fall into one of two traps: near-term thinking, in which you’re so in the weeds of day-to-day operations that you miss opportunities and challenges that will grow or stress your business, or long-term thinking, in which you’re so focused on the far-future potential that you miss the hazards along that path. To lead well, you must continuously context-shift between near- and long-term priorities. I’ve adopted a set of questions that help me do that: “What am I not seeing that can change my thinking? What am I missing that can disrupt my business? What am I doing today that will limit my options tomorrow?” I ask myself these questions, but more importantly, I ask my team, my peers, and—as best as I can—my competitors. The habit of continually questioning the status quo helps ensure that I’ll not get stuck in the status quo. – Chris Shipley, CR Strategy Partners
7. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO BE FLEXIBLE
I make major decisions as late as possible—up to the last responsible moment—with the right people and the best available knowledge. The delay allows time for me to learn more and preserves my flexibility to accommodate change in dynamic situations. It gives me space to check my assumptions with a wider variety of people to get my own biases out of the way. When I do that, I reduce risk, increase confidence, and have far fewer loopbacks to unwind poor decisions. – Katherine Radeka, Rapid Learning Cycles Institute
8. TELL EACH OTHER YOUR CUSTOMER STORIES
I host a weekly customer council. The purpose is to have the frontline team tell the story of three different customers each week; we then compare those stories to our customer data. Everyone from the sales rep who sold to that customer to anyone who engaged with that customer within the product process shares their experience: what they felt, what they learned, and what assumptions they made about that customer. This experience was modeled on hospital patient reviews in which everyone who supported a patient, except the doctors, gets to share their “patient story.” – Erica Mackey, MyVillage
9. BRING IN A THIRD PARTY
I’ve found that hiring a third-party to conduct studies is the best way I can check my biases and strengthen my decision-making. Like anything, when you work closely with something for too long, you forget to take a step back and gain new perspectives, and you get stuck in your version of “correctness.” Engaging third parties for projects and studies allows objective data and fresh perspectives to help lead the process, therefore balancing my biases as well as any biases among our team. – Bethany Edwards, LIA Diagnostics, Inc.
10. CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS
Every decision, every forecast, every contract—every aspect of your business is built on assumptions as much as it is on facts and figures. Constantly asking myself and my team, “What assumptions are we making?” is crucial to both mitigating risk and uncovering new opportunities. Assumptions are not inherently good or bad; it is only when they are unrecognized that they become dangerous. As a practical example, in our financial modeling spreadsheets, we code cells containing assumptions with a different color so we don’t lose sight of them. – Alex Husted, Helpsy
11. ASK CHALLENGING QUESTIONS
I have a set of questions I am always asking: What problem are we trying to solve? Have we eliminated complexity? What don’t we know still? Additionally, at the end of every meeting, I ask my colleagues, “How did I show up for you? What can I do to help make this project, process, or program more successful and enjoyable?” – Sascha Mayer, Mamava
12. TRY TO LEARN SOMETHING FROM EVERYONE YOU ENCOUNTER
I ask open-ended questions of everyone I speak with, whether they are a Convene team member, a journalist, or a peer. I ask for feedback, opinions, and points of view so I can broaden my view of a topic and keep my own biases in check. Whenever I get a sense that someone is passionate about or well-versed in a subject, then I dig in so I can learn. I learn something from everyone I speak with – Ryan Simonetti, Convene