Diversity of Thought

As of Q1 2020, 40% of Fortune 500 companies have a diversity executive as a senior staff member. However, much of the emphasis within these roles is on whether there is adequate representation of gender or race. While absolutely important, here’s a little hint. If you focus less on trying to meet a certain percentage or quota, and shift your organization’s recruitment & talent acquisition toward expanding diversity of thought and experience, you’ll create an organization that is more innovative, more culturally diverse and better at applying critical thinking to deliver innovative solutions.

I successfully ran the largest, fastest growing consumer packaged goods (CPG) division within the ITW Aftermarket platform. We consistently drove both net sales growth & margin improvement through award-winning innovation and strategic sourcing excellence, invested in building our brands, and created a culture that was focused on open communication & exchange of ideas. What is particularly interesting is the experience make-up of my leadership team, as we had people with an agency background, classic CPG training, experience with telecommunications and car rental conglomerates, and even a gentleman who used to work at Microsoft. We had people of different races, genders, and some who were bilingual (one could speak four languages!). In building this team, I partnered with my HR leaders (who were true business partners) to seek the best talent and critical thinking skills that could help our business grow. I didn’t focus on whether they were of a specific race or gender, or whether they had 10 years of experience only in the aftermarket sector. Quite the contrary, I valued their varied sector successes and probed on how their leadership characteristics and experiences could help our organization progress. I demonstrated the traits of an inclusive leader, and brought together a diverse group of thinkers who collectively made our business & organization better.

In assessing potential talent to join my team, I focused on:

  1. IQ + EQ. Very simply, what (IQ) skills, successes and accomplishments help me have confidence that you are a thought leader and will deliver on commitments? And how (EQ) did you lead, inspire and drive collaboration among your teams?
  2. Moving Forward. How will your experience help take our company to a next level of growth? How does hiring you help set-up our business for the next 5 years? Do you have the ability, and agility, to be a positive agent of change, and can you step into bigger roles?
  3. Cultural Fit. What have others experienced in working with you? How do you think, approach challenges, react under stress, approach opportunities and balance strategy vs. analytics?
  4. Character. Am I confident you operate & live with honesty, integrity, fulfilling commitments, empathy, respect & accountability? If any of these are in question, walk away.

So, how do you build a truly thought diverse organization? The first step is to understand why thought diversity is so critical, and then to assess your talent & recruitment process. Does your organization, recruitment and talent acquisition process embrace & reflect diversity of thought & experience?

Talent Acquisition Diversity

The attached article from American Express is written to help small-to-medium businesses understand the value of diversity of thought, but I think the message is applicable to any business. The takeaway is very simple: just because you have people of various genders, races, ages or orientations does not necessarily mean you have a diverse organization. Diversity of thought is about creating an organization where different people evaluate and approach problems and opportunities from different perspectives, and by doing so, create the best decision framework that solves problems early and maximizes the likelihood of success. From the article:

“Look at any high performing business and you will see diversity of thought behind growth and innovation,” says Antonia Hock, global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, a global consulting and advisory firm in Bethesda, Maryland.

From Kimberly Douglas, CEO of Firefly Facilitation, a change management consultancy in Atlanta: “Small businesses can easily get caught up in group think, which crushes diverse thinking. “Diverse thinkers don’t offer visual cues, Douglas notes. You can have a room full of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, but if they are all analytical thinkers you won’t get the “creative abrasion” that comes when you combine analytical thinkers with risk-takers, brainstormers and empathetic thinkers. “Bringing together different types of thinkers creates better results,” says Douglas.

Example: The Engineer & the Marketer

One of my favorite behavioral & cognitive assessment tools is the HBDI. In my last role, my boss and I were very different thinkers, as he was a very strong blue (analytical) and I am a very strong yellow (strategic). So, two intelligent & driven people, but very different in how we preferred to think: detail & analytical vs. creative & strategic. We drove each other nuts on more than one occasion, and would engage in spirited debate about problems and opportunities. But what we both came to realize is because we looked at issues from completely different points of view, we covered most of the potential strengths and weaknesses. We also knew that if we came to a similar conclusion having started from such diverse beginnings, we were usually on the correct path, and for the huge majority of the time, we made very successful decisions. Our diversity of thought became an organizational advantage, and we purposely sought each other’s point-of-view because we knew it was counter to the way we evaluated situations.

Recruiting Pitfalls

If you’re truly inspired to build a world class organization, avoid these three recruiting pitfalls:

  1. Category-only Experience. Stop me if you’ve seen this in a job posting before: “Candidate needs to have 10 years experience in (fill in the blank) industry or sector.” So, you’re willing to pass on interviewing a candidate who has driven growth, innovation and margin improvement while generating team loyalty and commitment because they haven’t worked in your category?
    1. What makes you think your category is so much more difficult than another? Or that the candidate hasn’t dealt with problems 3X what you are dealing with in your business? If a candidate has built powerful and leading brands in a category that is less consumer-driven because they demonstrated insights & thought leadership, think of what s/he can do in a truly brand-led sector!
    2. If you ask for someone who has spent all of his/her time in your industry, it’s very likely you will get very similar thinking to what you’ve seen already. Is that what is going to accelerate your business?
    3. The next time you post a job asking for 10 years of experience, all from your same industry, or exclude a candidate who has tremendous accomplishments in different areas or sectors because s/he “does not know your category”, ask yourself an honest question: Do you REALLY think your category is so unique and difficult that successes, knowledge and solutions created in a different category cannot or will not apply?
    4. Shift away from this myopic view of talent recruitment. Focus on how their skills can apply and transfer to your business, and how their thought can complement & diversify your business. You might be surprised at the impact someone can have who brings a unique and diverse perspective.
  2. Surface Diversity vs. Depth Diversity. There are two serious problems when focusing on hiring people who meet a specific gender or race quota vs. bringing in the best person for the role. First, consider this: if you have a leadership team, with a mix of gender and races that, at a minimum, represent the population, but all the people are highly analytical, detail-oriented and mathematically inclined, do you really think you have a diverse organization? Who is going to drive strategic thinking? Who is going to ensure process is developed and followed? Who is going to ensure empathy and organizational connection is fostered? Second, did you hire the best person qualified for the position? If you didn’t, it will be quickly seen by anyone looking, and that establishes a bad precedent as well as placing someone in a role who will likely not succeed. Both are detrimental to the health of an organization.
  3. Ladder vs. Jungle Gym. In thinking about career development & talent acquisition, if candidates see only a ladder to career progression (that is, a linear step up to the next wrung), their motivation will be limited by who is in the next role. After all, if the next promotion for them is to step into their bosses role, and the boss is a long-time employee in that role, what’s the likelihood s/he will be vacating that position? This is particularly important when recruiting Gen Y & Gen Z employees, as they are focused on skill development, training and opportunity advancement, and will quickly see advancement limitations in an organization which will cause a high turnover rate. Instead, formulate a jungle gym approach to development where cross-training, moving into diverse roles and investing in people who show potential is the norm, and diversity of experience is both rewarded and encouraged.

Inclusive Leadership

Diversity helps an organization in many ways, and can be a clear competitive advantage to enable growth & prosperity. But be careful of the myopic view of diversity, and forgetting how important diversity of thought is to bringing new perspectives, new lenses and new ideas. The Hermann International blog (HBDI) talks about the importance of diverse thinking (sometimes referred to as cognitive diversity), but they also emphasize a very important point. A thought-diverse team has to be built in an organization, and with leadership, who are inclusive leaders. To maximize the effectiveness, different points of view need to be heard, open communication has to be respected and encouraged, and discipline of divergence & convergence must be enforced to ensure endless debate does not derail productivity. Inclusive leaders are critical in fostering engagement, facilitating discussion and maintaining focus on the end goals.

Take an IQ + EQ approach to talent acquisition, focus on recruiting & hiring thought leaders who bring different approaches to situations and varied experiences that can help your organization grow, avoid the three recruiting pitfalls, and create an environment driven by inclusive leaders. You’ll find diversity will become your competitive advantage.

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