A New Kind of Diversity

Companies need to become more diverse today – and not just demographically.

In a good sign for the economy, hiring is increasing at many companies these days. In fact, payroll processing firm ADP reports that private American companies (non-government entities) have increased their payrolls by more than 200,000 people per month for the past six months straight. And, those gains are being led by small businesses – those with fewer than 50 employees.

On the mind of many hiring managers and employment experts is a focus on diversity. Indeed, there is a powerful case to be made for diversity in the workplace – but hiring can’t be haphazard. Bringing on an employee simply to fill a racial, age or gender quota is insulting to job candidates and to your current staff. You should actively be recruiting the best people from all backgrounds, giving you a culturally diverse staff that can appeal to clients and give you strong advice. Hopefully, this is already your approach and your employees don’t all look alike. If you think you need to do better, then you probably do.

As you hire and train your staffers, though, you should consider another less-thought-of type of diversity. It’s called cognitive diversity and it was a topic in multiple sessions of the recent ASI Power Summit in Scottsdale. Two presenters – Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard and futurist John Smart – suggested attendees avoid hiring people that are mini-versions of themselves. In other words, leaders often believe their way of thinking is best, so they employ people with similar personalities and behaviors. This is a bad idea. It leads to sameness and eventually mediocrity.

Corporate leaders who are hard-nosed strategists but don’t have good interpersonal or communication skills, for example, should recognize that and hire or promote leaders who have those qualities. “Bring in your cognitive opposite to handle what you’re lacking,” Karlgaard said during the ASI Power Summit.

As an example, he said, Starbucks initially struggled as a smaller company, until founder Howard Schultz brought in Howard Behar (now former president of the company), who focused on “worrying about making every Starbucks in the world feel magical.”

“We talk a lot about diversity in hiring, but we usually mean diversity in age or race,” he said. “We also need to talk about cognitive diversity – bringing people on board who bring different solutions to your organization.”

Companies that want to excel today should deliberately hire people who improve the range of thought within the workplace. Put another way, stagnant companies are too insular in their thinking, while growing firms boast a balance of creative ideas and actions. You need to have structured problem-solvers to go along with big-picture, out-of-the-box theorists. You need to have people who are great working on a team, as well as employees who are comfortable taking on a project all by themselves. You need adapters, innovators, energizers, stabilizers, book-smart and street-smart people. You likely know who fits into what category among your staffers. The next step for you is to hire people who fill in those cognitive gaps.

The trickier part, frankly, is to use your personnel in the right ways. It’s sort of like the football coach who says he has to put his players in the best position to win. He would be wise to use his lumbering tight end on a play-action pass near the goal-line, not on a middle screen or a quick out at midfield. Similarly in the workplace, you have to be mindful of what situations you put people in. Here, cross-training is so helpful, too, because you might discover some individual employee skills you never knew existed.

Admittedly, there’s a lot to digest, so where should you start? In his Power Summit session, Smart recommended having staffers take an assessment test like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0. It costs $14 per person, much less expensive than many other personality questionnaires.

Once you know what you have, you can add what you don’t. This will bring you more true diversity – and likely an improved roster of employees.

Enjoy the issue!