Leadership advice

Beware of ‘recency bias’ in your remote decision-making

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

Have you ever worked for managers who seemed to make decisions based on what they heard from the last person who talked with them?

If so, you know how frustrating it was — and how it led to all kinds of needless jockeying among colleagues to get the last word with the boss.

Those supervisors were the living embodiment of “recency bias” – the tendency to place greater weight on the latest information they hear. 

We’re all capable of it. 

  • It can happen in hiring. When we interview a dozen people, we may remember the first and last candidates better than those clustered in the middle.
  • It’s a real challenge in evaluations. We may put too much stock in a recent event (good or bad) and not look at patterns or trends.
  • Ironically, it can happen after you read this column and become deeply focused on recency bias, to the exclusion of other issues

It’s important to focus on recency bias — and file it among other biases to monitor — because working at a distance can exacerbate it.

When it’s harder to make quick connections with people or to huddle for a group decision, we may rely on the last information we heard. Whether that’s a story idea, a complaint, a suggested change, or a determination of fault in a conflict — we might fall prey to the recency effect.

What’s the remedy? I’d suggest two key concepts from emotional intelligence: self-awareness and self-management. 

Know that the temptation exists to favor the latest information and do a self-assessment of your own susceptibility (or dare to ask colleagues about your track record). 

Then, when making decisions, especially remotely, make an extra effort to hear from others and see a bigger, broader picture, so that “this just in” doesn’t dominate the day.


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