Joanna Swash waxes lyrical about how diversity can enrich your business at all levels.
People, similar to their fingerprints, are unique. And, as such, they view the world in a unique way. Their differing views are based on identity, culture, upbringing and so on. But everyone brings a unique viewpoint to the table and every one of those is valuable.
It goes far beyond race, gender and ethnicity or what has traditionally been labelled as ‘diversity’. It is about harnessing a wider pool of knowledge: The wider the diversity of the team, then the wider its collective knowledge. This provides greater potential for innovation, problem-solving and growth.
This is diversity of thought. Accepting that there is more than one way to think about a subject, is progress. And it’s especially useful if companies wish to remain agile in an ever-changing business landscape.
It is not necessarily a new idea, but it is important and very relevant in today’s business world. Good leaders have always acknowledged the importance of creating a good management team, which is based on amassing a wide range of skills and other characteristics.
Think about it: You have your analysts, your organisers, your strategists, your innovators. Each one is great on their own. But together they form your ‘Super Bowl-winning dream team’. Now is the time to truly realise the company’s true potential and encourage diversity of thought across the entire workplace.
Diversity of thought begins at the recruiting stage. Establish whether a candidate’s values align with that of the company. This is number one in the list of priorities; then comes diversity. No business will succeed if they just hire the same type of people who think alike. These are folk who simply seek to people-please and don’t have any ideas of their own.
While diversity of thought clearly has great benefits and potential for an organisation, it must still be managed efficiently, in order to enhance performance. Otherwise, its impact can be negative and disruptive. This means an alignment in values will keep everyone connected and striving towards identical goals.
This does not mean you have to hire a whole new management team. But just like any other form of diversity, ‘diversity of thought’ is something you may already have in your organisation. I will never get tired of saying that people are your biggest asset.
Your organisation is made up of individuals who all bring something unique to the table. All business leaders must understand the importance of having a diverse range of views and ideas, while creating a safe and comfortable environment where everyone feels valued and not scared to voice an opinion.
How To Maximise Diversity Of Thought?
Encourage everyone to have a voice. Get the culture right and create an environment where people want to work. This will help to unleash the potential of your people, while optimising performance and benefiting the well-being of every individual.
Brainstorming and group thinking is one way to achieve this, but don’t forget the value of the good old suggestion box. This is the ultimate stress-free way for the less confident to contribute.
If you illustrate that you value your people, along with their views and ideas, you will ultimately cultivate a feeling of compassion and empathy. This will provide a safe and secure home for them to maximise their potential. And when people feel safe, they feel that they have a voice and a connection, and are more likely to contribute positively to day-to-day affairs.
By valuing your people, you understand them. You understand their strengths and weaknesses. You will discover whether they are analytical or blue-sky thinkers, and what benefits they will bring to the table. Knowing your people – and not simply through annual reviews – will make a difference. You can even be scientific about it, because there’s certainly no harm in undertaking a personality assessment.
Being successful at this comes down to respect. It’s important to ensure that every team member understands everyone else’s value. They must understand how to communicate with each other, especially with those who have a different mind-set to themselves.
Collaborate. Breaking down barriers, along with the creation of inter-disciplinary teams, will bring diversity of thought to projects. This means everyone will approach a project or challenge from a different perspective, therefore adding value to your business. What’s more, they will add checks and balances to processes, while challenging the status quo and stereotypes. It will drive your organisation to new heights.
Managing conflict: When encouraging diversity of thought, conflict will usually arise. Yet don’t view this as being bad. It’s not a ‘verbal brawl’ but simply members of a team challenging and questioning someone else’s idea. Consider this as being ‘passionate about the success of the company’, providing there is an atmosphere of ‘respect’ among team members. All leaders must listen, hear and act appropriately when these situations arise.
How to harness the potential of diversity of thought: To succeed, leaders need to act as managers. They must ensure everyone enjoys an equal opportunity to voice an opinion and that there is a clear strategy. Without clarity, there will be chaos, and without trust, there will be conflict.
Diversity of thought can be a positive, powerful driving force in every organisation. It is about valuing how and what everyone thinks, while encouraging them to express their views and feelings. There must be a judgement-free and discrimination-free environment for this to flourish. It’s about allowing people to be people.