Unlock thought diversity with these 5 powerful tactics

Today we share five steps you can take to increase, encourage and embrace diversity of thought within your organisation.

We hope our last two posts have persuaded you that in today’s challenging economy organisations that fail to tap into the different ways people learn, think, and thrive are likely to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

But before you rush out and start trying to recruit diverse individuals into your team there’s some groundwork you need to put in place first. Recruiting unconventional individuals  is the last step in the strategy (see step 5).

First you need to start developing the kind of inclusive culture in which those individuals will want to stay, grow and develop.

Without laying this groundwork you risk unsettling your existing team, and leaving your new recruits feeling like unwelcome intruders. In which case they won’t stick around long.

So, set yourself up for success.

1. Create space for conflict

Let’s get the toughest part out of the way. Many managers find it hard enough to let their employees disagree with them, let alone give them room to explore those ideas.

But creating space for disagreement is essential. Your employees need to feel comfortable expressing opinions that are in disagreement with management. So you need to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their views and being themselves.

This means rethinking conflict. The tendency in any decision making process is to avoid conflict by moving quickly towards a consensus, but building in task-focussed conflict to the decision-making or problem-solving process will push your team to new levels of innovation, creation and productivity.

Not only that but naysayers will be more likely to buy into decisions because they were given the opportunity to speak their mind.

2. Rephrase questions to encourage honest feedback

A easy way to create the space for conflict mentioned above is to think about the way in which you word the questions you ask when seeking feedback.

In an article for Business Insider, Alison Griswald notes the most commonly asked question at the end of management presentations – “What do you think?” – actually stifles critical appraisal.

It is vague, unspecific and doesn’t give the audience permission to offer insightful, honest or critical answers.

Instead ask questions that are specific and designed to encourage constructive criticism and diverse opinions such as:

  • “Have I missed anything out?”
  • “Are there any gaps in my logic?”
  • “Which part of the presentation did you like the least?”

Taking this approach can be daunting for many but it’s important for managers to get comfortable with encouraging difference of opinion.

3. Introduce reverse mentoring

Traditionally mentoring has been a top down process – a senior colleague supports the development of a promising junior team member. But it can, and should, work both ways.

The digital age has seen reverse mentoring happen informally, with younger colleagues leading the way by teaching more senior colleagues about social media marketing and digital products and services.

Cisco has formalised this process to boost thought diversity by creating a formal reverse mentorship program, “where the mentor can provide the executive with a perspective on how comments and decisions might be interpreted by diverse employees as well as valuable feedback on how well s/he encourages inclusion and diversity in his/her own team and also in his/her own business practices.”

As well as opening management’s eyes to how they are perceived by different groups of people, programmes like this give employees the very clear message that their ideas are of value, and even essential to the organisation’s success.

4. Evaluate teams rather than individuals

You can only manage what you can measure, so push your managers to challenge the normal way of doing things by moving towards a team-based evaluation process that measures behaviours that encourage openness to different points of view and the ability to foster constructive criticism.

Linking individual performance to a team’s ability to cooperate and be inclusive gives employees an incentive to work together more effectively. Appraisals then become about shared performance and how each individual can enable the team, and the organisation, to achieve new levels of success.

When you’ve addressed step 1 to 4, then are you ready for step 5:

5. Hire the unconventional candidate

Even with the measures above in place, it will always feel safer, and invites less conflict, to maintain the status quo by hiring candidates who fit a certain mold.

But to guard against group-think and stagnation you need to recruit top talent, even if it means rocking the boat by bringing in an unconventional individual.

Here’s one way you could go about it.

Imagine you’ve just interviewed three candidates for two positions. All three were asked the same 10 questions. Jeff answered seven ‘correctly’, Rose, six and Spencer, five.

You’d probably employee Jeff and Rose wouldn’t you? That’s what Scott Page of the University of Michigan discovered most recruiting managers would do in a study he conducted for his book The Difference.

However if you look at the table below you’ll notice the lower scoring candidate, Spencer, correctly answered all the questions the higher scoring candidates got wrong.

Page suggests this shows Spencer would bring a different way of thinking to the team.

So if you’re goal is to increase a team’s ability to arrive at better solutions by coming at problems from a number of different angles, the smart recruiter would give one of the positions to Spencer.

This will no doubt push you, and your leadership team, out of your comfort zone. But that is exactly where you need to be. Without a degree of discomfort, and conflict, it isn’t possible to move beyond the prevailing way of doing things. Stifling conflict, stifles innovation.

We hope these five tactics have given you food for thought about how you can boost thought in your organisation. If you’d like to find out how we can help you unlock thought diversity within your organisation get in touch today – email nici@talentgateway.net.


Why thought diversity is the future of the workplace – Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/the-future-of-workplace-diversity-is-here-2013-9?IR=T

Diversity’s new frontier: Diversity of thought and the future of the workforce – Deloitte’s University Press http://dupress.com/articles/diversitys-new-frontier/

How we plan to use Cisco’s Reverse Mentoring programme to encourage Inclusion and Diversity – Cisco Blogs http://blogs.cisco.com/diversity/how-we-plan-to-use-cisco%E2%80%99s-reverse-mentoring-programme-to-encourage-inclusion-and-diversity

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