Make it Count

Liza Walter-Nelson Uncategorised

As the debates rage on and questions are asked, once again we are faced with stories about diversity in the workplace; are we doing enough, what are organisations really doing about this, at all levels? And, we go round again on the issue of quotas (what a valuing term that is!).

Whilst these questions are being discussed, and not to detract from this, another kind of diversity in the workplace has me thinking;

Cognitive diversity

What are organisations doing about managers hiring in their own image? Hiring people who “… remind me of me… So we’ll get on well.”

This kind of practice, hiring “like minded” recruits, can result in group think, lack of innovation and a lack of challenge.

Building in cognitive diversity – people who think differently from each other – can be challenging. You need to begin with an understanding of the current personality of the workforce; understand the current biases and how that is impacting on the existing culture (psst… that means talking to staff). Then you can start to identify what you need, where are the gaps?

Increasing cognitive diversity should be especially important to the executive function. This is a function, a team, who should be able to work with challenge (especially from each other), and for whom it should be a necessity to have as much diverse thought as possible in order to create a richness of debate, decision making and strategizing. This is also a group you would hope to see a good dose of emotional intelligence in, so that they can create that environment of debate constructively, sensitively. And, convey that across the organisation using their impact to role model a culture of constructive challenge, debate, innovation and thinking (vs. blindly following the rules!).

Cognitive diversity doesn’t mean that the offices will become boxing rings or result in no decision making for lack of agreement.

It should help teams to be more innovative, generate more ideas, think laterally to solve problems.

Research has shown us that cognitive diversity has a strong positive relationship with task conflict and that competence-based trust strengthens this relationship (Olson, B. J., Parayitam, S., & Bao, Y. (2007). Strategic decision making: The effects of cognitive diversity, conflict, and trust on decision outcomes. Journal of Management, 33(2), 196-222.). It also shows a significant relationship between cognitive diversity and debate and a then a positive relationship between debate and innovation (Mitchell, R., Boyle, B., O’Brien, R., Malik, A., Tian, K., Parker, V., & Chiang, V. (2016). Balancing cognitive diversity and mutual understanding in multidisciplinary teams. Health care management review. Furthermore, in a world where we are looking for more and more transformational leaders, cognitive team diversity is positively related to individual creativity (Shin, S. J., Kim, T. Y., Lee, J. Y., & Bian, L. (2012). Cognitive team diversity and individual team member creativity: A cross-level interaction. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), 197-212).

So what are we going to do? How do we achieve this?

First we understand what is, what’s missing and what we need. Then we can standardise recruitment in such a way that it focusses on selecting for those so that it is based on gaps. this can be done by recruiting to values and behaviours (you need to translate the one into the other within the organisation) and that those values and behaviours include the desire and willingness to debate, challenge and be curious. Then work with your recruiting managers to make them unafraid of taking on people that didn’t necessarily answer in the way they would have – this is not a bad thing! If they answered questions, completed tasks, scored on assessments in a way that is consistent with your values then hire those people; embrace that they demonstrated what you needed, just not in the way you would have.