West Monroe invests heavily in innovation—just this year we welcomed Tyson Hartman, senior director of innovation and partnerships; announced a new Innovation Fellow career promotion for senior technologists; and launched the West Monroe Idea Hub, where employees can crowdsource and vote on new ideas for further development. Central to our approach is making innovation transparent and open to everyone.
That said, the ideation process in many organizations frequently includes bias, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Overcome the Bias We Have Toward Our Own Ideas.” This bias can stifle innovation and suppress good ideas from unexpected places.
At West Monroe, while we focus on inclusion because it is the right thing to do and is central to our values, it is also essential to our strength as a consultancy. If we want to win in the consulting marketplace, we need to be able to recruit and retain the best talent who can bring diverse perspectives to the table when we are crafting ideas and solutions – and to make sure we are advancing the best ideas, we need to hear and evaluate all perspectives equitably.
Here are three suggestions for eliminating bias from your ideation process. If you’re interested in reading more, I cover this topic in more detail in this quarter’s edition of my regular I&D article series. This quarter, I’m also joined by Lis Moore, a senior manager on our Strategic Growth team. She has gained valuable insights from her experience running ideation sessions, and provides a number of meeting and brainstorming techniques to eliminate bias.
Empower your leaders to set the tone
Leaders set a powerful example when they work to ensure ideas are generated in a constructive and unbiased way—and, separate from idea generation, that ideas are equitably assessed for the value they create for either the company or its customers. At our firm, that can mean making sure you make time for one-on-ones with your team members rather than expecting everyone to feel comfortable speaking up at a meeting. Leaders can also model meeting facilitation techniques that encourage inclusive discussion, as detailed below.
Create structured processes for ideation
As I mentioned above, we’ve made significant investment to support firmwide innovation, including instituting structured processes for raising and progressing new ideas. Rather than stifling innovation, we’ve found applying structure helps employees focus and define how their idea can create value for the firm or our clients, and provides a forum for feedback. These processes not only create a level playing field for ideation, but separate idea generation from idea assessment, one of the Harvard researchers’ recommendations.
Get creative when it comes to meeting facilitation
One of the more surprising findings from the HBR article is that ideation bias is stronger when employees generate ideas in groups than it is when individuals work alone. We’ve covered the importance of inclusive meeting facilitation techniques before. Meeting facilitators must ensure everyone has the opportunity to have a voice at the table and provide feedback, particularly if an individual wants to challenge an idea. That may mean using techniques such as asking pointed questions, conducting structured debates, specifically allocating time for people to speak, or establishing multiple channels for feedback, before, during, and after a scheduled discussion.
As members of a consulting firm, we all participate in ideation – for many of us, we very frequently work with our project teams and clients to ensure we’re coming up with the best solution to their challenges. Therefore, I believe it is relevant for all of us to think about bias, look for signs that it may be happening in our teams, and take steps to ensure that we are doing what we can to equalize the opinions of everyone in the room.
Is ideation bias an issue at your company? How are you working to make the idea generation process more inclusive? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.