Diversity and Inclusion

Embracing a Bias for Action: The Role of Mentorship in Business Success

Find out what a bias for action means in business, read real-life success stories, and explore the role of mentorship. Learn how the Together Platform can guide your journey.

Together Team

Published on 

August 30, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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In business, speed matters. 

However, with evolving customer needs and changing market trends, companies often grapple with the challenge of making the right choices at the right time. While careful contemplation is necessary, it can sometimes lead to analysis paralysis. 

That means leaders and employees often (wrongly) assume the best action is inaction. 

Enter the concept of "Bias for Action" — a proactive decision-making stance rapidly becoming the bedrock of leading organizations.

Bias for action (or action bias) transcends the dictionary definition when applied to business. It’s a mindset where people believe that done is better than perfect and certainly preferable to inaction. Having a bias for action does not condone reckless decision-making but rather promotes acting decisively with the knowledge that mistakes, if made, can be fixed.

The term “bias for action” is tied to management and organizational culture, especially when it comes to lean thinking and agile methods. But its origins go way back further than that. 

While pinpointing the exact origin or individual who came up with it is hard because it’s been used in different contexts over the years, a prominent early mention can be found in the book In Search of Excellence published in 1982. The authors Robert H. Waterman and Tom Peters studied companies to better understand what makes them successful and a “bias for action” emerged as one of those traits. It’s possible that the concept or a similar idea existed in other forms prior to their work.
Popularized in recent times by Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, bias for action can be seen applied to various feature and product releases at Amazon. 

Dan Rose, Chairman, Coatue Ventures, spent two decades working at Amazon and Facebook and shared a thread on Twitter (now X) to explain how Bezos was defined by bias for action:

A bias for action is a proactive method that should be applied to decision-making and problem-solving whether it’s related to business, employee development or innovation. Cultivate a culture that prioritizes quick action enables leaders and their teams to embrace informed risks, act decisively, and see their choices through.

7 benefits and importance of bias for action

Having a bias for action is like having a turbocharger for your organization’s growth. 

But action bias is about more than just moving quickly. It's about fostering a culture where informed decision-making, even in the face of uncertainty, is welcomed and valued. This practice drives business growth and creates psychological safety at work so innovation and adaptability can thrive.

1. Faster decision-making

Decision-making takes a lot of time. Even more so when the organization in question is an enterprise. But even with all the time it takes, a McKinsey Global survey found that only 20% of participants believed that their organization excelled at decision making. Plus, a majority reported that a lot of the time used for decision-making was used ineffectively. 

While one may believe that the longer it takes to make a decision, the better it is in terms of quality, McKinsey’s data suggests otherwise. Faster decision-making and faster execution are linked to better returns. 

What winning organizations do differently is have a bias for action. They delegate tasks, move resources to high-value projects, and commit to decisions once they’re made.

A bias for action in decision-making:

  • Eliminates overthinking and analysis paralysis: In dynamic markets, waiting for the full picture might mean missing out on business opportunities. A bias for action ensures decisions are made quickly to capitalize on these moments.
  • Prioritizes action over perfection: While thorough planning is essential, seeking perfection can sometimes delay progress. A bias for action encourages progress even if the path isn't fully clear.

2. Enhanced Productivity

Bias for action is a psychological hack to enhance productivity

Analysis paralysis can lead to procrastination. When you dwell excessively on something and second-guess your choices, you make straightforward decisions more complex. Indecisiveness can paralyze you into making no choices at all.

When needed, make risky decisions. There’s no need to overcomplicate using a new tool at work or changing business goals to meet consumer demands.

A bias for action helps you: 

  • Respond to challenges swiftly: Quick decisions can lead to faster solutions, reducing the time issues remain unresolved.
  • Maximize opportunities: Being prepared to act decisively can allow businesses to seize fleeting market opportunities that slower competitors might miss.

3. Adaptability

The pandemic is probably the best example of how businesses that used bias for action to adapt to the “new normal” managed to survive and thrive. And other businesses that were too set in their ways went belly up.

Traditionally offline businesses adapted to the digital world. Physical stores embraced digital transformation in more ways than one, catering to the cautious consumer. Indoor services moved outdoors, and businesses that could render their services at home did just that.

Adopting a bias for action:

  • Signals readiness for change: In an ever-evolving marketplace, a bias for action ensures that organizations remain nimble and ready to pivot.
  • Promotes a dynamic work culture: Companies that encourage swift decision-making often cultivate a more energetic, responsive organizational culture.

4. Innovation and Creativity

A bias for action can lead to more innovation and creativity. 

You can launch something before all the bugs have been worked out. When TikTok threatened Instagram’s survival, the latter was quick to come up with its version of short-form content, Reels. Even though it had some issues that needed to be ironed out, its popularity now rivals TikTok.

And if it doesn’t work out, you can use the failure as a lesson to improve your next feature or product. Look at Google and the hundreds of products it has launched and promptly discounted. Even though there are over 280 products in the graveyard, the company continues to innovate at lightning speed. 

A bias for action: 

  • Fosters experimentation: A willingness to act can lead to trying out new ideas without fear, leading to innovation.
  • Helps you learn from failures: Not all actions will yield positive results. However, even failures provide valuable lessons, driving continuous improvement.

5. Competitive Advantage

The bias for action mindset also means you can be the first to market, taking a giant share of consumers and establishing yourself as the leader. 

For instance, Amazon disrupted the offline bookstore industry by launching the first online bookstore, which became hugely successful. By the time other retailers caught up with Amazon, it had already created a mark among consumers and used its brand recognition to start selling other, unrelated products. 

A bias for action can help you:

  • Stay ahead in the market: Companies that act quickly can often get ahead of competitors, establishing themselves as market leaders.
  • Capture new markets: Swift action can also allow businesses to explore and dominate niche markets or new demographics.

6. Employee empowerment

Employees care about doing meaningful work even more than money. In fact, 9 in 10 employees would be willing to earn less for greater meaning at work.

When employees are thrust into a work environment where decisions take months and they have to accept the “don’t fix what’s not broken” mentality, they no longer derive a sense of purpose from work. 

A bias for action creates an environment where employees are constantly encouraged to take calculated risks and make decisions about their work.

This practice helps:

  • Cultivate ownership: When employees know they're encouraged to make decisions and take action, they often feel a stronger sense of ownership over their work.
  • Boost morale and job satisfaction: A dynamic work environment where employees can see the tangible results of their actions can lead to higher job satisfaction.

7. Risk Management

A bias for action means taking calculated risks. But you can also minimize the downsides of taking those risky decisions by either rolling back changes or acting on a new plan of action.

Take Netflix’s password crackdown plan, for example. A controversial decision that was met with a lot of backlash has now turned into its most successful decision yet. Even though it seemed like it might backfire on them, millions of users are still signing up for their services. Plus, with the new ad-supported plan, more subscribers can afford to keep the streaming service. 

Had this risky decision not paid off, Netflix could’ve rolled those changes back or come up with a new solution.

A bias for action: 

  • Encourages informed risk-taking: A bias for action doesn't mean acting recklessly, but rather taking calculated risks.
  • Helps rectify problems quickly: When things go awry, a bias for action can ensure that issues are addressed and rectified quickly, minimizing potential damage.

7 steps for implementing a bias for action in your business

Embracing a bias for action calls for a methodical approach, integrating this principle into the very fabric of your organizational culture. By doing so, you not only position your business for rapid adaptability but also foster an environment of innovation and proactive engagement.

1. Get commitment from leadership

For any organizational change to take root, it must start at the top. Leaders should lead by example, showcasing their own bias for action. This means making decisions in a timely manner, taking calculated risks, and fostering an open environment where team members feel they can do the same without undue repercussions. Training sessions and workshops can be organized for top management to instil this culture. A genuine commitment from leadership will signal the importance of this initiative to all staff.

2. Communicate the concept and share real-life successful examples

Openly communicate the value of a bias for action to the entire organization. 

Use real-life examples, possibly case studies from successful companies like Amazon or Tesla, to demonstrate the tangible benefits. These examples offer a clear vision and provide inspiration. Regularly sharing stories of how a bias for action has led to success within the company can also act as motivation.

3. Empower your team

Empowerment is the bedrock of a bias for action. 

Encourage team members to make decisions at their level without always seeking higher-level approvals. Provide them with the necessary training and resources, ensuring they have the knowledge and confidence to act decisively. Trust in their expertise, and allow them room to make mistakes and learn.

4. Set clear objectives

Clear objectives provide direction. When everyone understands the company's goals, it's easier to make decisions that align with those objectives. Regularly revisit and communicate these goals, ensuring that every decision, big or small, contributes to the broader mission.

5. Encourage risk-taking

Innovation often requires stepping out of one's comfort zone. Cultivate an environment where taking calculated risks is celebrated. While every risk won't result in success, the lessons learned are invaluable. By celebrating the attempt as much as the outcome, you foster a culture where individuals are not held back by the fear of failure.

6. Streamline decision-making processes

Eliminate bureaucratic red tape that can hamper swift decision-making. Simplify approval processes where possible and use technology to automate routine decisions. The quicker the processes, the easier it becomes for team members to act with agility.

7. Celebrate quick wins and learn from failures

When quick decisions lead to positive outcomes, celebrate them. This practice reinforces the value of a bias for action. Similarly, when things don't go as planned, use it as a learning opportunity. Instead of penalizing mistakes, analyze them to understand why things didn’t work out and how to avoid similar missteps in the future.

7 real-life examples of companies that have successfully implemented bias for action

The commercial landscape boasts numerous organizations that have not only spoken about a bias for action but have actively woven it into the fabric of their corporate culture. These are companies that don't merely respond to change — they anticipate it. Here are several instances of companies that have seamlessly integrated a bias for action into their DNA:

1. Amazon 

Central to Amazon's culture is the "Day 1" philosophy, this principle underlines the significance of treating every business day as a new beginning. Such an approach keeps the company agile, propelling employees to act decisively, venture into uncharted territories, and capture new markets. As a testament to this proactive approach, Amazon has birthed a myriad of products and services, continuously evolving its business model in response to consumer needs.

2. Netflix 

At the heart of Netflix's ethos is a marriage of freedom with responsibility. Netflix has successfully created an environment where employees feel empowered to make independent decisions and spearhead their initiatives. Such dynamism has enabled Netflix to stay ahead of the curve, constantly rejuvenating its content and features in a rapidly changing entertainment domain.

3. Tesla 

Guided by its audacious CEO, Elon Musk, Tesla thrives on immediate problem-solving and swift decision-making. Musk's hands-on leadership style and propensity for risk-taking percolate through the organization. Consequently, employees are galvanized to address challenges head-on and maintain a relentless pace in innovation and production.

4. Google (Alphabet) 

Google's modus operandi is built on continuous trial and refinement. They cultivate a sandbox environment where employees are spurred to swiftly prototype and evaluate novel ideas. Even if some initiatives seem tangential to their mainstay business, the company provides support. It's this ethos that has birthed pioneering products like Google Maps and the ambitious Google Glass.

5. Zappos 

Zappos, a dominant player in the online retail space, is synonymous with unparalleled customer service and empowering its workforce. The company nurtures an environment where employees are entrusted to make discerning decisions, always placing customer satisfaction at the forefront, even if it means deviating from conventional business norms.

6. Apple 

Apple's trajectory has been dotted with bold moves and industry-defining products. The legacy of co-founder Steve Jobs, characterized by risk-taking and decisive action, has been instrumental in shaping Apple's ethos. This dynamic attitude has continuously placed Apple at the zenith of innovation.

7. Airbnb 

Airbnb's organizational culture is rooted in continuous exploration and quick adaptation. They proudly uphold a "Bias for Action" as a cornerstone value, galvanizing their workforce to undertake calculated risks and embrace failures as invaluable lessons. This mindset has positioned Airbnb as a vanguard of innovation in the ever-evolving travel and hospitality sector.

Overcoming the barriers to bias for action

Adopting a bias for action in an organization's culture is undeniably beneficial. However, it's not uncommon to encounter resistance or face challenges along the way. Recognizing these barriers and addressing them head-on is crucial to ensuring that the transition to a more proactive approach is smooth and lasting. 

Here's a closer look at some potent solutions that can help an organization embrace a bias for action:

1. Mentor employees to encourage risk-taking

One of the foundational ways to encourage bias for action in individuals is through mentorship. When employees are matched with experienced mentors, they can gain the confidence and insights required to take more calculated risks. Mentors serve as guides, offering a shift in perspective, holding mentees accountable, providing unwavering support, and sharing invaluable insights from their own journeys. 

Mentoring platforms like Together can be instrumental for business leaders and HR teams in fostering mentor-mentee relationships. Together provides an ecosystem that facilitates pairing, ensuring that mentees are matched with mentors who can help them navigate challenges, including any resistance they might feel towards adopting a bias for action. This mentorship journey can be transformational, turning apprehension into ambition and hesitation into decisive action.

2. Cultivate a growth mindset and embrace a willingness to learn

Possessing a growth mindset is essential for any professional, but especially for those aiming to overcome barriers to bias for action. A growth mindset shifts the focus from fearing failure to valuing it as a learning experience. Instead of seeing setbacks as a reflection of their abilities, individuals with a growth mindset see them as opportunities to grow and refine their strategies. 

By encouraging this mindset in employees, organizations can promote a culture where risks are welcome and where every outcome, good or bad, is seen as a learning curve. 

Organizations can cultivate this mindset through workshops, training, and regular feedback sessions, enabling employees to see the bigger picture and understand the value of continuous learning.

3. Build a supportive environment that values experimentation 

A supportive environment is crucial to overcome resistance to bias for action. When employees know they are in a safe space to try, fail, and try again, they are more likely to take action without overthinking. Organizations can create such environments by celebrating successes and “productive failures” - failures that provide essential lessons and drive future success. 

Leadership should consistently convey the message that experimentation is valued over perfection. By doing so, they reduce the fear associated with trying new things and encourage a more adventurous, proactive approach among their teams. This environment not only fosters innovation but also builds resilience, adaptability, and a deep-seated culture of action.

The road ahead: Mentorship, action, and sustainable success

From real-world examples of renowned companies like Amazon and Tesla to actionable strategies for implementation, it's evident that embracing this mindset is paramount for innovative growth and sustained success.

A standout takeaway is the undeniable importance of mentorship in facilitating a bias for action. Mentorship offers not only guidance but also fosters a shift in perspective, provides accountability, and brings forward invaluable insights. It's a catalyst for change, particularly in helping employees navigate the challenges and uncertainties that come with stepping out of their comfort zones and taking swift, decisive actions.

And as businesses look for efficient solutions to nurture this culture, platforms like Together can prove to be indispensable in promoting action bias. 

Together provides a structured approach to mentorship, enabling business leaders and HR teams to overcome challenges associated with instilling a bias for action. By integrating solutions like this, organizations can ensure that their journey toward cultivating action-oriented cultures is smooth and effective.

A bias for action is not just a buzzword—it's a mindset, a culture, and a driving force. By prioritizing this approach, businesses can navigate the unpredictable waves of the market, innovate relentlessly, and position themselves as industry leaders for years to come.

Want to try Together’s mentoring platform to encourage a bias for action? Book a demo

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