Challenging Business-As-Usual With Cognitive Diversity

Challenging Business-As-Usual With Cognitive Diversity

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

It’s a typical day in the office for Melissa – a senior executive of a family-owned manufacturing business in the health sector grappling with a rapidly changing business climate in Singapore. Melissa’s economic forecast is looking stormy. Increasing trade protectionism and political unrest is creating upheaval in her supply chains across the region. The profile and needs of export customers that Melissa’s executive team serviced five or ten years ago, are completely different from who she must sell to now. Learning how to chart a new course away from the strong current of her company’s tried and tested strategies and processes is a struggle. 

In the good old days, Melissa succeeded by aligning all team members to work in concert, applying long hours and pure grit. Everyone under her command followed her marching orders  – penalties were heavy when team members stepped out of line. Nowadays, productivity from the old way of doing things is yielding increasingly diminishing returns, anxiety is rising among her board of directors who call for new ideas from her loyal team – but none are forthcoming.

In a search of answers, Melissa sees how diversity has become the poster child of business media; a cure-all solution that magically delivers high performing teams with better problem solving capabilities than non-diverse teams. But in the discerning eyes of Melissa, diversity in Singapore is nothing new. Her home city is one of the most diverse in the region, where all ages, races and genders have been welcome to work side by side for generations. She views her rise to the top as an example of diversity in action in Singapore.

Things changed when Melissa came across research from Harvard Business Review that revealed the problem solving business potential of diversity as more than skin deep. The research found diversity of thought and perspective – also known as cognitive diversity – to be the secret sauce that drives teams towards high performance and innovation. Put simply, by bringing together different ways of processing and explaining the world into a team, novel approaches for solving complex problems have a better chance of arising.

For a leader who is accustomed to team culture where everyone tows the line, the prospect of inviting conflicting and opposing views makes her feel uneasy. Melissa worries how work will get done in a team without order where people are constantly arguing and no one sees eye to eye. Moreover, she doubts that her team members will rise to the challenge. It is uncustomary for her employees to challenge the authority of their boss for fear of being sacked.

However, unprecedented disruptions in the market and mounting pressure from her bosses compels Melissa to try something new; because conducting business as usual will only yield more of the same dwindling results.

Armed with further research, she prepares to make three changes in the way her team operates:

  • Create safe space for constructive disagreement and innovation: Inviting constructive debate in meetings and encouraging different modes of thinking are key ingredients that will help Melissa make team members feel psychologically safe to take risks in the face of complex problems. By establishing a culture where thinking and doing things differently is founded on mutual respect Melissa believes her team will feel more confident when working outside of their comfort zone.
  • Seek out creative and strategic partnerships: Melissa believes that seeking out partnerships with organisations from industries outside of her own will augment the perspectives and capabilities of her team. For example by forging an alliance between her company, experts in building retail experiences, machine learning and communities of patients Melissa will gain knowledge and open previously untapped opportunities. 
  • Recruit for diversity of thought: Hiring talent from the same alma-mater or pedigree of professional experience may feel like a safe bet. But doing so risks producing more of the status quo at her company and further entrenches prevailing bias in the organisation’s processes. By carefully curating pipelines of talent from diverse backgrounds who are aligned on core values Melissa will ensure that different capabilities, experiences and ways of thinking are brought to the table. Her company will thereafter be in a better position to solve for the blind spots in complex problems. 

To be sure, Melissa is keenly aware that speed and efficiency are often traded off when encouraging diverging perspectives – discussions and debate costs time. That said, by taking a long view, Melissa recognises that unchecked bias and blind spots pose a greater risks to company downstream. Thus time for robust, critical analysis is ultimately time spent wisely. 

In closing, business researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis waxed that “when everyone agrees on what to do, find someone who disagrees and cherish them.” Such elegant wisdom galvanised Melissa’s confidence to navigate through turbulent and uncharted waters in search of new and un-imagined opportunities. 

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

The #FutureOfWork Is Here

The #FutureOfWork Is Here

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

The future of work has been a catchphrase for people managers in Asia over the past couple of years. In fact, the future has already arrived at many companies where automation and augmentation of business processes is already in full swing. Meanwhile other companies are at their beginning of their journey to improve productivity through the latest technologies.

But if you think that the future of work is merely about gearing up with robots and artificial intelligence then you are missing another significant trend that has emerged from the conversation: the urgency of diversity and inclusion in business.

On one hand, the rise of new and emerging markets across Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America means that companies face increasing expectations to reflect their diverse customers and suppliers in order to secure business. On the other hand employees and job seekers in Asia increasingly expect employers to lead with inclusive values, offer flexible work arrangements, provide on-the-job training and imbue a strong sense of corporate purpose that is in sync with a socially-conscious world. 

If your company has yet to embrace a future of work that is more diverse and inclusive here are five quick wins to help start your journey:

Ensure everyone is on the same page: When thinking about introducing something new at your company consider how your workplace culture has reacted to change in the past. 

For example, reflect on past situations where new tool, a new supplier or other organisational change was introduced. In the process of introducing change what worked and what did not work? How would you describe your company’s appetite for curiosity and risk? How does appetite change from team to team? Guided by insight from past experiences communicate the business case for inclusion in Asia at your organisation. 

Start small: Make the first steps on your inclusive business journey small and achievable. Invite participation from your team to help you build momentum through a small project.

For example, plan for a workplace seminar, a recruitment drive for diverse talent, a fact finding mission on new markets or other small initiatives to get started. Ensure that your small initiatives are designed with clear time-frames that aligned with direct business outcomes. Illustrate your vision for translating your pilot into a full scale program that adds value to the company. Be explicit about limitations, potential risk-factors, positive and negative outcomes. 

Encourage diversity of participation: Every initiative has a variety of actors who help to conceptualise, build, execute and evaluate the test. Consider how a diversity of perspectives can add value to your project idea.

For example, are your project teams typically dominated by men? Consider how are other genders, ages, personality types, cultural backgrounds and other positions in your company’s structure could be better represented in new initiatives. 

Blind spots and unconscious bias are commonplace in any project. Having a diversity of perspectives on your team will improve your ability to identify blind spots and interpret valuable results that your company can capitalise upon. Be cognizant that diverse teams are most effective if a common ground of mutual respect is established among all members.

Listen, improve and repeat: Things rarely go according to plan. Rather than solving everything through a top down approach consider how feedback from across your organisation can add greater value to future improvements to your business. 

Imagine a scenario where a new deal renders favourable results for the company, but implementing the deal came at a high personal cost for your employees. Would you pursue gains for your company at any cost? How empowered are your employees to give feedback in this situation?

Failure to invite and listen to constructive feedback means that problems get swept under the rug and risk hurting the company down the track. When inviting feedback remember that power dynamics in your company may lead women, people with disabilities or other underrepresented groups to feel that their opinions will not be valued. Employees have more faith in providing feedback when multiple channels for providing constructive input are established. Moreover leadership must commit to listen feedback shared. Garnering feedback from diverse perspectives gives you the best chance of identifying a replicable and sustainable solutions.

Form a diversity council: Augment your business strategy with input from experts with diverse perspectives.

For example, establish a council of customers of diverse ages, genders, abilities, races and cultural backgrounds to perform an advisory role for your team’s business strategies and product or service design. Having regular input from structured diversity council in an invaluable asset that helps your company identify blind spots, new market opportunities and new sales channels.

To be sure, some people say that the future of work means that technology will render many jobs obsolete. While this argument may be true, it fails to consider the jobs created through diversification of customers and markets. 

In summary, continual learning and improvement, underpinned by an inclusive workplace culture where diverse perspectives are valued, are the key components for any team wanting to build resilience for the future.

While we wait for the future to unfold, implementing inclusive business practices today is a small but significant step towards future proofing your company.

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.