Neurodiversity - Adding Value Through Difference

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

According to the CIPD, Neurodiversity refers to:

The natural range of difference in human brain function, but in a workplace context, it's an area of diversity and inclusion that refers to alternative thinking styles, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia.

I especially like the use of the term “natural range of difference in human brain function” as it expresses to me at least, that the natural range is very broad, and that difference is in fact normal.

I’m also fascinated by some of the recent studies into how enabling a neuro-diverse workforce can result in competitive advantage, evidenced through observed productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement (See Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage HBR by Robert D Austin and Gary P Pisano May-June 2017 Issue).

However, enabling a neuro-diverse workforce takes additional investment and effort to ensure processes are adaptable, flexible and to ensure fair access and opportunity for all.

My experience, however, suggests that many organisations are still inhibited by what we might call very “traditional” thinking when it comes to hiring people, valuing people and managing people. Indeed, I would argue that many organisations I have worked with have a very narrow view of the types of people they believe will add value and “fit” with their respective organisational norms.

Let’s consider hiring for a moment, the front-end of the talent management cycle. People leaders (typically those involved in the hiring process) are often not well enough informed, trained or prepared to be aware of and mitigate what we might call the “mainstream” biases (some of which are listed below):

Overconfidence Bias: This effect describes when someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is greater than their objective accuracy.

For example, when a person is overly confident that trusting their gut instincts leads to good hiring decisions.

Overconfidence is often the result of confirmatory bias (see below), which causes people to remember the examples of when relying on their gut instincts led to a good hire while ignoring or forgetting the times it led to a disaster.

Confirmatory Bias: This bias occurs when people favour information that confirms their beliefs and ignores or discounts disconfirming information.

Confirmation bias is one of the reasons why hiring managers are inconsistent in the interview questions they ask across candidates. By asking questions that confirms their pre-existing beliefs about each candidate, this often results in a process of comparing apples to oranges.

Affinity Bias: This plays out a lot in terms of recruitment! Affinity bias occurs when we see someone we feel we have an affinity with e.g. we attended the same school or university, we grew up in the same town, we worked for the same employer in the past or they remind us of someone we know and like.

Halo Effect: This type of bias occurs when we assume that because people are good at doing A, they’ll also be good at doing B, C and D.

The halo effect often occurs when a recruiter likes a candidate and uses that as a basis for assuming, he or she will be good at the job rather than conduct an objective analysis of their job-related skills and abilities.

If those involved in hiring decisions are better-educated and trained to be aware of and how best to overcome these typical biases, only then might we manage to advance the thinking towards a more enlightened approach to recruiting people who are at different points on the natural range of brain function.

Beyond recruitment, there are further challenges to overcome once people are hired into the organisation. There is the “standard work” approach to performance management, performance appraisal processes and talent assessment and progression processes for example.

All the “traditional” approaches to hiring, performance managing and advancing talent are typically one-size-fits-all and really don’t consider the talents of people for whom the one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

The one-size-fits-all approach just does not fly if you are trying to introduce, build and sustain a neuro-diverse workforce.

It is crucial, if organisations are to harness the value add offered by building a neuro-diverse workforce, that people leaders are trained and well prepared to lead the end-to-end talent management cycle and to go beyond this to build in flexibility and progressive talent management processes in order to accommodate the alternative thinking styles and talents of potential candidates and employees.

Is your organisation investing in developing people leaders to lead the end-to-end talent management lifecycle (hiring, developing, performance managing, succession planning, progressing, exiting)?

Is your organisation appreciating and taking steps to embrace the competitive advantage opportunity offered by neurodiversity?

Rod Pearson

Managing Director and Principal Consultant

Bondgate (Scotland) Ltd

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