There has been much written about bias in recent times, how opinions are formed on people based on physical, demographic, or racial features. Many companies (and indeed individuals) have become quite vocal to their commitment to address this. In this short piece I want to draw your attention to one example of "Cognitive Bias". That is, how your independent, qualified opinion and decision-making can be affected in various ways.
We can all think of colleagues who typically always behave in a certain way, or who always produce work of a certain standard. Over time, each experience reconfirms what has passed before, and we form expectations, even before we provide any attention to the item or activity. Take for example Employee A who always makes an error in their monthly expenses. They've been provided additional individual training, and you're confident that it isn't willful, but, each month there is something wrong in their submission whether it's an error in the category selected, the placement of a decimal point, the selection of the correct currency, or that it's submitted later than the internally communicated deadline. This employee's manager will always have to go through this individual's expenses carefully, actively looking for this month's error. In contrast however, Employee B consistently submits their expenses accurately and on time, they provide detailed descriptions to support each expense submitted, they ensure all of their original receipts are provided, and their manager has never had cause to raise a query. The same manager very likely does not pay the same amount of attention to Employee B's submissions as they begin to trust their consistency without properly checking it. This is "Confirmation Bias".
Reviewers and signatories will all be able to recall some colleagues who, like Employee A, will cut a corner here or there. It might be that the wrong reference has been used to substantiate a claim, that the data is confused or doesn't read well, that the target audience hasn't been clearly identified for the piece. As with the manager reviewing Employee A's expenses, reviewers and signatories will be braced for a lengthy review of this colleague's items (often involving many rounds of review) so they can identify the errors they expect to find. So too there are colleagues who submit beautifully marked up material, fully and clearly referenced, wholly appropriate for the clearly identified target audience and review / approval of their work is a breeze. Or reviewers treat it as a breeze.
Reviewers and signatories have to be mindful of Confirmation Bias when approaching their responsibilities. There is a definite temptation to trust the work of certain individuals to be correct and not engage in the same level of review as you do with others, but in doing so you risk doing you and your company a disservice. Your responsibility is to provide your personal assurance that the material (or activity) you are reviewing or approving meets all the applicable legislative and industry requirements. It's a serious personal responsibility and one that you should take time to take seriously on every occasion. Ensure you are provided with sufficient time to conduct your reviews so you aren't forced into cutting corners (companies can be well advised that enquiries will be made in an audit or an inspection situation as to whether reviewers and signatories are provided sufficient time and support for review and approval tasks). This all links into the company's commitment and culture towards compliance.