Leveraging Hidden Diversity to Alleviate Groupthink
As Danielle was heading to the meeting with her senior line managers to present three candidates for the new high-visibility integration project, she reflected on her choices. As the Senior HR Business Partner, she was responsible for staffing the positions, in cooperation with Sam, the global head of project management.
At first sight, the three choices looked quite similar: high-potentials with stand-out academic records, excellent performance evaluations, and a proven track-record in project management over the last years in the organization. Once her management team took a closer look, however, they would quickly realize that the candidates had reached their goals and objectives differently.
How would they react to her approach of presenting three candidates from distinct social backgrounds or experiences?
The high-stake project Danielle was staffing needed a change. A similar project in South America had just been delayed after many unforeseen problems due to short-term decisions in the integration process. While the organization was still trying to establish root causes for the failure, Danielle and Sam agreed that groupthink due to a lack of thought diversity was a major factor in the failed project.
Groupthink occurs when a highly homogeneous, cohesive group fails to critically analyze and evaluate alternative ideas for the sake of harmony and conformity. In such a group, disagreement with the consensus is discouraged, which eliminates independent thinking and creativity.
In order to avoid repeating the same mistake, Danielle and Sam had sifted through hundreds of internal and external project manager profiles to find candidates that could be credible and trustworthy in such a high-calibre project, but had the courage and stamina to question conformity.
Even though the organization had been actively deploying diversity & inclusion strategies, groupthink remained a problem in higher management. Diversity initiatives in recruitment, promotion and retention focused on the tangible, visible dimensions, like gender or ethnic background. But Danielle questioned whether these HR practices have had an impact on the organizational culture. The projects she was engaged with were still lacking the multitude of perspectives, critical opinions and creative, innovative ideas that they had hoped for. Thought diversity hadn’t become part of the organizational DNA.
The idea that our thinking is shaped by our culture, background, experiences, and personalities is core to the concept of thought diversity. Hidden diversity dimensions like social class, religion, regionalism, sexual orientation, certain kinds of disability, etc. mold our thought processes, but are not necessarily included in “traditional diversity strategies.”
Thought diversity “goes beyond the affirmation of equality—simply recognizing differences and responding to them. 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”, summarizes a 2013 study by Deloitte Consulting.1
Danielle entered the room confidently to present the three choices to the senior line managers. She and Sam had spent hours interviewing candidates about their thought processes, particularly how they have dealt with adversity in their lives.
One of the three candidates disclosed during the interview process that he is dyslexic and explained his approach to finding alternative strategies to stay on track since early school days. The second candidate grew up with her Russian immigrant grandparents as primary caretakers because her parents needed to work two jobs to create better opportunities for their children. The third candidate was an active member of the LGBTQ employee resource network.
During her presentation, she explained her motivation to present these candidates for this high-profile integration project to the panel.
1. Tackle groupthink
2. Increase new insights/innovative ideas
3. Tackle the most pressing issues with the best suited employees
She concluded by emphasizing the need to promote talent differently. Hidden diversity markers can only be made visible by providing successful examples within the organization. Thought diversity relies on the organizational culture’s shift to being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Danielle knew that any of these talented, new project managers would not shy away from a critical debate, but could maximize the collective potential of their team members.
1Deloitte University Press – http://dupress.com/articles/diversitys-new-frontier/