The best tal­ent doesn’t al­ways tick all the boxes


Di­ver­sity ini­tia­tives con­tinue to spring up in or­gan­i­sa­tions, and it’s good to see that com­pa­nies are think­ing about this is­sue.

For good rea­son, much of the at­ten­tion fo­cuses on sup­port­ing gen­der, race and cul­ture, but there are also other im­por­tant el­e­ments that we talk about less — for ex­am­ple, di­ver­sity in per­son­al­ity or think­ing.

The archetype for many or­gan­i­sa­tions is age 20 to 40some­thing, dy­namic, so­cial and out­go­ing, no ec­cen­tric­i­ties or quirks — in all, some­one with “lead­er­ship” qual­i­ties who is the “right fit”.

They have great in­ter­per­sonal skills, are good at forg­ing net­works and nav­i­gate their way so­cially. You’ll no­tice this per­son out and about, and cer­tainly in meet­ings.

Your re­cruit­ment ef­fort will re­volve around this fit. In-house or ex­ter­nal re­cruiters will work hard to cap­ture them.

Those who ap­pear a bit dif­fer­ent, are qui­eter or more re­served, or a bit older than your co­hort, gen­er­ally won’t make the cut, and if they do they may be ham­pered by of­ten un­con­scious as­sump­tions.

Sound fa­mil­iar? What­ever side you come from you’ll know this drill. It’s em­bed­ded in the screen­ing process, the in­ter­views, the se­lec­tion and feed­back, and it feeds into per­cep­tions of abil­ity and per­for­mance, and de­ci­sions on pay and pro­mo­tion.

While dis­heart­en­ing for the in­di­vid­ual who doesn’t get the recog­ni­tion they de­serve, or the op­por­tu­nity to show their skills, it is the or­gan­i­sa­tion that misses out most.

In­ject­ing dif­fer­ence cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties you may not have en­vis­aged, just like that se­cret in­gre­di­ent in your favourite dish.

Peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent bring new think­ing and a dif­fer­ent lens. They bear the gifts of in­tel­li­gence, creativ­ity and in­ven­tive­ness, and a rich­ness you oth­er­wise may not have. And like the rest of your team, they rep­re­sent the pop­u­la­tion who will use or ben­e­fit from your prod­uct or ser­vice.

Of­ten we pick peo­ple be­cause of cor­po­rate lazi­ness, a re­luc­tance to take risks or the need for a quick fix. When we nur­ture, we fo­cus on the main­stream and the as­sump­tion of a cor­po­rate lad­der. Pro­mo­tion draws on a def­i­ni­tion of lead­ers that fits neatly within this frame: the big-L rather than the small-l leader. When we do this, we also di­verge from any in­ten­tions we may have in pro­mot­ing di­ver­sity.

It is well known that most peo­ple un­con­sciously hire in their own image, with less fo­cus on val­ues, po­ten­tial and skills, or com­ple­men­tar­ity.

Di­ver­sity is not about per­cent­ages or quo­tas, it’s about a con­scious cul­tural shift in the way that we value, in the way we work, in the way we per­ceive, in the way we or­gan­ise, in the way

Peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent bear the gifts of in­tel­li­gence, creativ­ity and in­ven­tive­ness

we lead, in the way we re­ward and even in the way we de­sign our phys­i­cal work en­vi­ron­ment.

All this taps back into lead­er­ship, cul­ture and in­no­va­tion. Just as di­ver­sity feeds these things, it needs these things.

Com­pa­nies such as Mi­crosoft and Zap­pos, the highly suc­cess­ful on­line busi­ness now owned by Ama­zon, get this.

Mi­crosoft is highly proac­tive in seek­ing, sup­port­ing and em­bed­ding di­ver­sity across its busi­ness.

Zap­pos fo­cuses largely on val­ues rather than cul­tural fit. Zap­pos chief ex­ec­u­tive Tony Hsieh talks about “fun and a lit­tle weird­ness” as some of the most im­por­tant com­pany val­ues.

Di­ver­sity is re­ally about fully em­brac­ing tal­ent in its fullest sense and tap­ping the po­ten­tial of each per­son in the way that fits best.

Com­pa­nies need to re­think tal­ent. Ca­role Goldin is a lead­er­ship con­sul­tant and coach sup­port­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and teams through trans­for­ma­tion.

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