Self-serving bias is an example of a cognitive bias, which is the human tendency to make systematic errors based on thought-related factors rather than evidence. Cognitive biases are detectable by comparing the judgments people make when they are inside a given situation to the judgments they make when assessing the same situation from outside.
Self-serving bias is the tendency to attribute our success and triumph to our own skills and talents, and our failures to situational factors or to the actions (or inactions) of others.
As a humorous example, self-serving bias is probably the reason why all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average.
Here are examples illustrating how self-serving bias affects organizational decision-making.
- Lessons learned exercises
- In lessons-learned or after-action exercises, teams are subject to self-serving bias, and its related group form, group-serving bias. These biases create a tendency to attribute to external factors anything that went wrong, while attributing to the team's own deeds and abilities anything that went right.
- Risk plans
- To some extent, Bureaucratic controls tend to
control the managed more
effectively than they
control managersacknowledging risk entails acknowledging vulnerability. Self-serving bias makes us more likely to acknowledge risks related to external situational factors than to our own shortcomings, our team's shortcomings, or shortcomings in our plans.
- Security systems
- Because self-serving bias can make us reluctant to acknowledge internal security threats, systems tend to be better defended against external threats than they are against threats from within.
- Bureaucratic controls
- Since bureaucratic controls are designed to meet the goals of management, self-serving bias leads to emphasis on employees who are managed, rather than the managers themselves. Bureaucratic controls tend to control the managed more effectively than they control managers.
- Performance bonuses and layoffs
- When bonuses are distributed in outsized proportions to those who determine the distribution pattern, many see this as a manifestation of simple greed. But self-serving bias almost certainly plays a role, because it tends to make those who determine the distribution pattern attribute more of the organization's success to themselves than to others. Conversely, when layoffs and cost reductions hit harder those people of the organization most removed from decision-making, self-serving bias probably plays a role as well.
- In negotiations, self-serving bias creates risk of impasse because each party tends to overvalue arguments in its favor, and undervalue arguments in favor of their negotiating partners.
An intervention that can at least temporarily reduce the effects of self-serving bias begins with informing the decision-makers of cognitive biases in general, and specifically self-serving bias. Second, the decision-makers are directed to compile lists of contra-biasing insights — ways in which their own performance has contributed or could contribute to depressed performance, and ways in which the performance of others has contributed or could contribute to enhanced performance. It might be a good idea for all of us to meditate on that now and then. Top Next Issue
Read more about self-serving bias at Wikipedia.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenWutnyBfOSghCHcoZner@ChacSTaZZEsqBqjWZlVIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
and how can we tell when we're doing it?
- Why Don't They Believe Me?
- When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor.
How does this happen?
- How to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
- Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses.
But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some
tactics for guessing.
- A Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
- Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided.
Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
- Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might
help you appreciate your job.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
- Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
- And on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
- When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenwbaOZEDGmGRtHpBhner@ChacPzVuwWShlvmoUImZoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business
analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read
more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:
- The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center, 4535 Commerce Street,
Virginia Beach, VA 23462: September 13,
Monthly Meeting, Hampton Roads Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- CTCPA, 716 Brook Street,
Rocky Hill, CT 06067: September 20,
Full-day Workshop, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center, 4535 Commerce Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23462: September 13, Monthly Meeting, Hampton Roads Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
- Many people experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes
frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all
speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises
is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage,
and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located
teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and
supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance.
Read more about this program. Here's a date for this
- Baci Grill, 134 Berlin
Road, Berlin, CT 06416: September 19,
Monthly Meeting, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Baci Grill, 134 Berlin Road, Berlin, CT 06416: September 19, Monthly Meeting, Southern New England Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.