You can have a beautifully diverse leadership team and workforce, full of different ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, and more… but they might all still think similarly.
I know from working in the RPO space for many years that biases dominate the way we assess people, and mirror bias is hugely influential when we pick our leaders and build our teams. This kind of bias can still easily sneak in when we’re focusing a lot of energy on dispelling other biases and hiring with diversity in mind. We’re looking for external differences, but not internal ones. It’s an unfortunate catch-22 situation.
What are The Different Types of Diversity of Thought?
There are lots of different types of diversity of thought, but the main four are:
- Experiential Diversity: Different ways of thinking that are influenced by different experiences. This can mean from their careers or from life in general.
- Educational Diversity: This is a diversity of thought that comes from different learning experiences and can range from the academic, to life lessons from overcoming adversity to professional qualifications, etc.
- Ideological Diversity: Different ideological perspectives, be they political, economic, or even religion-based.
- Neurodiversity: This refers to the differences in individual brain function that can lead to different thought patterns, problem-solving, and innovative thinking. It can include people with autism, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, anxiety, etc.
Overlooking or undervaluing diversity of thought can have a significant impact on your organization reaching its full potential and activating the full capability of your workforce. I have two favorite quotes that support this idea:
Frans Johansson, public speaker and author of the best-selling book “The Medici Effect,” says, “Innovation happens at the intersection of ideas, concepts, and cultures.”
And similarly, Anthony Lising Antonio, professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, highlights that “When we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.”
As business leaders, we need to find ways to nurture diversity of thought in our organizations. That means examining and educating leadership, addressing our hiring biases so we can unlock the potential of future hires, and empowering our current employees to have a voice and the ability to create tangible change in the company.
Ensuring Diversity of Thought is Constructive
I know many leaders hear the term “diversity of thought” and feel the hair on the back of their necks stand up. Initially, it might sound like an invitation for dissent, criticism, and disruptive negativity. But you need to remember that when you hire you look for people who share your company’s values. You have shared common ground and are fundamentally working towards the same ends.
Diversity of thought is the ability to see different sides of the argument, predict different risks to projects, understand different consequences to company initiatives, find different solutions to problems, achieve goals in different ways, explore different KPIs, etc. You’re not opening the floodgates for criticism, you’re increasing your business’s ability to foresee risks, predict future opportunities, problem-solve effectively, and reach new levels of growth.
Enabling diversity of thought in your organization might require a mindset shift from yourself and your leadership team.
Diversity of Thought Within Leadership Teams
Diversity of thought and how to approach it properly starts with your leadership team and educating them on the value of it. I’m sure almost all business leaders are familiar of some form of personality testing to determine leadership style, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) being one of the most popular.
If you tested your leadership team you may find it has a number of Myers Briggs personality type ESTJs, typical decisive leaders, you can have a room full of strong opinions and efficient, productivity-focused people. While a leadership team focused on achieving business goals is great, there isn’t going to be a lot of diversity of thought or different approaches in that room. If you had an ENTP, an enterprising explorer thrown into the mix, you would have someone who is more reserved, logical, and able to take others’ ideas and examine them from different angles to offer alternative suggestions to achieve those ideas. This is where we can cover all bases better with diversity of thought.
This is a great example that shows how important diversity of thought can be. Explaining it to your leadership team in terms of the real value and business benefit will mitigate any concerns about creating a forum for disruptive criticism from all levels.
Making Diversity of Thought Work for Your Organization
Diversity of thought requires inclusivity, equity initiatives, and strong values embedded into your culture. If you’re going to value diversity of thought, you need to give every employee a voice and the opportunity to share their different ideas and opinions. This is extremely important as research shows that having a speak-out culture improves an organization’s efficiency, inclusivity, and employee satisfaction.
However, this can be a complex balancing act as you need to create an environment that encourages constructive feedback, sharing innovative ideas, and challenge the status quo, but doesn’t create a hostile or toxic workplace culture.
To get it right, you need to put a lot of effort into shaping an organizational culture of open discussion, idea exchange, and creating safe, appropriate settings for everyone to share their opinions. To achieve this, I suggest the following actions:
Create a Baseline of Mutual Respect
To ensure that your appreciation and encouragement of diversity of thought is met in the spirit in which it was intended by your employees, you need to communicate your expectations and establish a baseline of respect that flows both ways. That means laying out the rules of engagement and giving positive examples of the way they can influence positive change in the company. You also need to expressly give people permission to speak up!
Employees can feel afraid to offer their frank opinion on certain subjects, even if it will ultimately lead to beneficial change, as it might be seen as a criticism against leadership. Creating a narrative of positivity and support for all constructive feedback should offset most people’s concerns.
Set Up Employee Feedback Opportunities
It’s important to create opportunities for people to have a voice. Create feedback loops that vary in format and style so you can capture a broader range of insights in ways that suit different people. Remember, we’re going for diversity of thought so you have to recognize that not all people will respond to or be inspired by the same thing.
You can implement a range of different digital tools to automate employee surveys, like Trakstar, Culture Amp, Survey Lab, and many more. This is a good way to get structured feedback at set times for detailed analysis. However, offset this structured format with more flexible feedback methods like one-to-one meetings, open forums, hotline emails, anonymous portals, etc.
One way to encourage good feedback and start thought-provoking, status-quo-changing discussions is to actively ask questions in meetings. Seems simple but may require some paradigm shifts and a conscious effort from senior leadership and management to ask those questions that will encourage people to speak up from all levels.
Create Employee Champion Opportunities
When you receive feedback that requires you to take action, be it something to better support productivity or workplace happiness, or an innovative idea about your service offering, keep the original employee involved. Make them a champion of the change. Empower them with seeing it through and being a part of the process. When all is complete, let everyone know where credit is due too.
Recognize All Feedback
Not all feedback will get actioned, but it should be acknowledged in some format either via automated email, personal messages or verbally from their line manager.
Safeguard Against Retaliation
Some opinions won’t be appreciated by some people, for example, whistleblowing is never popular. However, letting people speak up against injustice or something they fundamentally disagree with could save your organization huge amounts of money if it mitigates a breach in company policy, regulations or even the law, etc.
However, this can make people feel like they have a target on their backs. You need to deploy safeguarding measures to ensure that anyone who offers valuable information and speaks up for the betterment of the company is protected.
Create Effective Meeting Structures
Lots of meetings (remote or in person) see the same people feeling confident to speak up and usually the same people staying mute. Sometimes the people who didn’t speak up may contribute an idea afterward via email or in conversation with the meeting manager. This is fine and to be encouraged, but there needs to be a way to marry the two up in post-meeting communications so that there is appropriate recognition.
Hire Diverse Thinkers
Take your diversity hiring even further by looking at how you can bring in a constructive level of diversity of thought to create a dynamic workplace. Examine your current recruitment process and ensure that you are looking for those shared values as a starting point alongside technical ability, but then consider incorporating additional assessments to ensure diversity of thought. These can be really useful for understanding potential hires’ motivators and drivers.
The benefits of giving every employee a voice in your organization and fostering diversity of thought are indisputable. It can have a significant impact on your retention and, therefore, your recruitment costs as 75% of employees would stay longer at an organization that addresses their feedback and listens. It can also boost growth and productivity hugely as employees become more innovative when they feel they are included, according to a report by Forbes.
Encouraging a diversity of thought and empowering every employee with a voice is a long-term strategy. I know from years of providing RPO support to leading enterprises and from trying to shape my own business that creating a workforce that is truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive is a journey, a process that needs to constantly evolve and change.