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What can HR learn from The Social Dilemma?

BY Barbara Hyman

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Objective data and truth.  

Netflix’s latest documentary “The Social Dilemma” tells a story of data gone mad, of it being used to personalise ‘the truth’ so that everyone’s truth is their own. The idea of ‘objective truth’ doesn’t exist anymore.

The combination of hyper-connectivity at scale that comes from social media, the addictive habits of engaging with it, and the incredible ability to personalise what we see, listen to, and believe, creates a feeling of satisfaction at best (think Spotify) and at its worst, a fractured society.

So what’s the relevance of that for HR?

HR has been on this journey to do the opposite. To introduce an objective standard of truth – especially given the risks that come from personalised decision making when it comes to hiring. The risk of making hiring decisions based on personal views means we see hiring being influenced by unconscious biases – something that can be easier to identify than fix. ‘Mirror hiring’, and companies that hire for “culture-fit”.

Consider the decline of so many legacy Fortune 500 companies over the last 50 years.

Do you think Kodak and its ilk would have crashed as quickly if they had a genuinely diverse set of opinions and experiences at their leadership level?

It’s no coincidence that in The Social Dilemma most of the protagonists (if that’s the right word) sharing their regrets and insights on “how the heck did we get here?” were mostly young white men.

From my own experience of being HRD at a leading digital tech company, engineers were hired based on two data inputs:  their coding ability, and their ‘fit’ with the team.

The former is readily tested using objective tools, but the latter is largely tested through having coffee chats with the team.

Or to put it another way – 100% subjective; 0% objective data.

Is it any wonder then that you end up with more of the same when you use the personal opinions of humans to drive these decisions? People are so scared of data amplifying bias, and humans can be pretty good at it too.

Bias in the recruiting process has been an issue for as long as modern-day hiring practices existed. In order to address some concerns, the idea of “blind applications” became popular a few years ago, with companies simply removing names on applications and thinking that it would remove any gender or racial profiling. It made a difference, but bias still existed though the schools that people attended, as well as past experience they might have had. Interestingly, these are two things that have now been shown to have no impact on a person’s ability to do a job.

Away from computer screens and smartphone addictions, when it comes to hiring, HR needs to do the very thing that social media has rendered mute.

It has to ensure that there is objective truth on every candidate. It has to do this for every new hire, every promotion.

Ironically, it is what social media weaponised – ‘data’  that can only, truly help us achieve this. I talk often about “objective data” – that is data that has been collected without input bias – and it is only this data that helps us disrupt bias that comes from putting humans in the decision in making seat.  This objective data is more builds a truly holistic picture about an individual when helping inform hiring decisions, decisions that will shape a company’s culture, and it’s future.

(Read: Why Machines Make Better Decisions Than Humans Do)

The data seeks to understand who you are, not the school you went to, or the degree you hold, but how you think and behave and most of all your intrinsic traits.

It was Facebook’s homogenous culture that encouraged technical brilliance over ethical thinking that ultimately created the issues discussed in The Social Dilemma.   If only they’d used their skills to invest in objective data that set aside its technical bias and hired for humanity, we might not be questioning it in the way we are.

Here’s the next article in this series: 

Ai that gives you back your human agency


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