The importance of hiring candidates who fit into the organisation’s culture is a topic that has been discussed by HR professionals for ages. Organisations believe that hiring candidates who are perfect cultural fits for the organisation can contribute to the productivity and success of the business. Therefore, HR is instructed to look for candidates whose psychological profile and skills are an ideal match for the organisation’s culture, so that they remain motivated and productive. Even leaders prefer to nurture teams where the team members are compatible with each other and can work together as a unified whole. However, it is time the corporate world realised the power of cognitive diversity.
Cognitive diversity, though less visible than gender or ethnic diversity, helps create a more collaborative, united, and inclusive workplace brimming with new ideas, creativity and innovations. It gives rise to a fertile workplace where diverse and creative thought processes thrive. This also means that it creates a workforce that has a good mix of men and women, people from different nationalities, ethnicities and races, as well as individuals belonging to different backgrounds and age groups, who have varying talents and think differently.
Why is cognitive diversity so important?
It is true that people feel comfortable with those who think like them or are similar to them. But the fact remains that in a corporate setup, hiring more people that are similar leaves the organisation with a workforce full of members who are almost identical. This leads to lack of innovation, which can ring the death knell for the organisation in the long run.
On the other hand, a cognitively diverse workforce provides the organisation with multiple benefits and advantages:
• The organisation has a workforce that comprises people who think differently.
• People with varying skills, thoughts, mindsets and abilities will help create products that fulfil the needs of a wider and varied consumer base.
• There would be better communication within and across teams and functions.
• There will be a general curiosity and willingness in each person to try and understand the other
• The business will be able to respond better to the changing, dynamic and fluid environment if the workforce has members with unique ideas and perspectives, multiple talents, adaptability, creativity and flexibility.
• The presence of people with unique thoughts and viewpoints on the board of the organisations leads to innovations and also strengthens the ability to deal with complex, volatile and uncertain business scenarios or situations.
How can cognitive diversity be achieved?
By changing the recruitment strategy: An organisation can begin by hiring candidates who are curious, eager to learn and experiment and not afraid of questioning the norms. Hiring candidates who have the potential to experiment with new approaches and open to introducing new systems for the good of the organisation should be sought out.
By changing the culture: Organisations should try not to hire candidates who are perfect culture fits. Instead, they should hire people who are misfits to a certain degree— people who will think out of the box, who can help the existing culture to evolve, and will question conventions. Companies should realise that continuing to do what they have been doing all the while is only an indication of stagnation. If they want to do better and much more, they will have to encourage diversity of thought and ensure that the culture keeps evolving.
By encouraging innovativeness/creativity: Organisations need to encourage their teams, across functions, to think of new ways to do their existing work; ways that will ensure more efficiency and make matters simple. In other words, the organisations should see to it that there are innovators in every team, in every department. For this, they will have to push the employees to move out of their comfort zones and take risks.
By encouraging inclusivity: Companies should realise that encouraging inclusivity and flexibility benefits all employees. This will also mean that the company will have to be more accommodating and may even have to tweak existing recruitment practices. For instance, special/customised interviews will have to be held for those with special conditions, such as Down Syndrome or even those suffering from social anxiety. By employing people from the transgender community and offering opportunities to those with disabilities, the organisation can grow a workforce full of grateful and loyal members who will be willing to give their best to the organisation every single day. This naturally ensures a more productive and engaged workforce.
By improving the image of your organisation: Millennials prefer to work in inclusive organisations. They are attracted to diverse workplaces that reach out to a wider set of people. An organisation with the image of being truly inclusive tends to attract the best talent. Talented employees make a more engaged workforce, which means higher productivity and profits.
By allowing employees to be themselves: Once the organisation understands and accepts that it requires cognitive diversity to successfully deal with new, uncertain, and complex business situations, it will have to focus on encouraging its employees to think aloud and reveal their opinions. It should create a safe environment for its employees to express themselves freely. The team leaders should be responsible for enabling their team members to be themselves.
By encouraging cross-functional interaction: In order to allow different viewpoints to emerge, it is important to ensure that teams build healthy and interactive relationships with each other. There should be cross-functional and cross-departmental interactions to unlock the creativity of the personnel who tend to get into a rut while working for a specific department for a long time. By interacting with people of other teams and departments, employees are able to realise what the strengths and weaknesses of other processes are and the challenges that are faced by other functions. This is a learning exercise that helps teams improve their own processes and systems.
If an organisation encourages cognitive diversity, it will also be able to establish a culture of learning and a high degree of performance. In other words, a cognitively diverse workforce will also be a highly engaged one.