HR Leads Business

Feb 7, 2017 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, HRCI Staff Writer

Diversity's New Frontier: Different Ways of Thinking

Human resource managers understand the value of diversity, especially around gender, race and ethnicity. Diversity’s next frontier ― and perhaps where HR can make even greater impact on organizational performance― is uniting people to appreciate and accept diversity of thought.

"Leaders and organizations must accept that there’s not just one right way to get things done,” notes a Diversity Woman magazine article. "To be truly innovative — and inclusive — companies must focus on harnessing employees’ different viewpoints and opinions."

Harnessing All Thinkers

Diversity of thought, experts say, is the next frontier for harnessing the full potential of a workforce.

"Diversity of thought goes beyond the affirmation of equality ― simply recognizing differences and responding to them," states a Deloitte University Press article. "Instead, the focus is on realizing the full potential of people, and in turn the organization, by acknowledging and appreciating the potential promise of each person’s unique perspective and different way of thinking."

Embracing diversity of thought, Deloitte says, requires fresh approaches to hiring, managing and promoting. HR professionals can help by recruiting for cognitive diversity and initiating team-based evaluations that reward collaboration and teams with different thinking styles.

"Instead of seeking consensus as an end goal," Deloitte adds, "managers should encourage task-focused conflict that can push their teams to new levels of creativity and productivity. The aim is to foster an environment where all feel comfortable sharing their views and their authentic selves."

Signs That Diversity of Thought Is Lacking

Glenn Llopis, a leadership consultant writing in Forbes, provides nine signs of an organization that’s not embracing diversity of thought:

  • When we focus on only the things that disrupt us.
  • When leaders want control rather than influence.
  • When the business defines the individual not the individual defining the business.
  • When the workplace is not reflective of the cultural demographic shift.
  • When we get too comfortable with the words we use and create no tension.
  • When company values do not reflect the realities of workplace.
  • When we don't challenge old templates and ways of doing things.
  • When vulnerability is viewed as a weakness.
  • When departments operate in silos.

"Truth is," Llopis says, "all companies are more like-minded than they think: Organizations must embrace diversity of thought to truly discover new ways of doing things and successfully lead through change. Diversity of thought teaches you how to welcome change in order to evolve."

Hail to the Introvert

In the book, Quiet, author Susan Cain explores a common challenge for encouraging diverse thinking ― appreciation of both the introvert and the extrovert. Cain argues that our society and our organizations tend to reward the Extrovert Ideal. But there are many things that introverted leaders do differently and, sometimes, even better than extroverted leaders.

An Academy of Management Journal study, for example, found that extraverted leadership is not always conducive to high performance. The study found that "when employees were not proactive, extraverted leadership was associated with higher group performance. However, when employees were proactive, this pattern reversed, so that extraverted leadership was associated with lower group performance."

Groupthink is a real possibility in today’s organizations and a creative introvert, with a great idea for change, could easily get shut down in a meeting dominated by extroverts

The introvert/extravert challenge is one of many for HR professionals to consider when putting together highly performing teams. The advantages of thought diversity are many, according to Deloitte. Organizations with teams of diverse thinkers:

  • Guard against group think and expert overconfidence.
  • Generate higher quality insights.
  • Are better at identifying the talent that can best tackle the most pressing challenges.

"Employees often complain that managers today stifle important conversations," Deloitte concludes. "Such difficult discussions will only increase as organizations begin to design work teams to capitalize on diversity of thought. Organizations need to make it a priority to equip their managers with new techniques to effectively manage and embrace diversity of thought."