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Categorical Thinking in HR

I recently stumbled upon the topic of Categorical Thinking and its impact on the business world. What in the world is categorical thinking, you ask? Well, as a concept, categorical thinking is quite natural. In fact, it's all around us, every day. In essence, it's just the mind's way of grouping things from our complicated world into "categories" that are easier for us to digest. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as how we might determine if someone we meet is friend or foe, or if something in our natural environment is dangerous or not.

Turns out that for the most part our brains are pretty lazy. We rely on mental shortcuts, stereotypes and speculations which can sometimes lead to biases and poor decision making. From a business perspective, this has many broad implications, such as bad ideas, missed opportunities, and even unwanted discriminatory actions in hiring processes. In the HR world, we call this disparate impact.

Imagine that you are recruiting for an executive level position in your company and have narrowed things down to the final 3 candidates. On paper, all of them are quite similar and the interviews have all gone well. Inevitably, your mind will start to categorize each candidate into a more familiar model. Sometimes this can be in the form of compression, where you oversimplify and group everyone together as being the same "type" of candidate, thereby ignoring the variations in talent that likely exists. In other ways, you may amplify or exaggerate differences between the candidates based on your own categorization. You can imagine how disastrous this can be when dealing with a diverse pool of candidates and a strategic open position.

So, how do we battle such mental heuristics? Since it's basically impossible to rewire how your brain works, the key for the enterprising leader can be as simple as awareness. Being more aware of the hidden influences, and stereotypes of the mind is the first step to controlling them. In addition, take a continuous at your decision making criteria. Whether it's for candidate interviews or for how to gain market share in a particular business. Finally, everyone should engage in deliberate discussions and brainstorming to investigate the prevailing assumptions being used in your hiring and business processes. By doing so, you may be alarmed at the lazy categories you've all lumped things into.

Categories are immensely useful, but have limitations. As the talent wars continue to grow more challenging, we all need to take a step back to avoid the unwanted categorizations where none may actually exist.

#HR #Diversity #TalentAcquisition

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