In recent history, we have not seen something that has had as significant an impact on our entire society as we are seeing in the current Covid-19 global pandemic. As we know, the virus has spread incredibly quickly around the world. But has it spread as quickly as the content being shared on social media channels? More importantly, how factually accurate are the stories being shared? Let’s take the most common theme that has been discussed online: toilet paper. Why are supermarkets and grocery stores running so low? To the point where it drives people to commit armed robbery for goods less than £100 in a high income economy such as Hong Kong?
This phenomenon is becoming more and more prevalent across social media. A growing proportion of people will now see a post or a share and just automatically believe the content as fact, especially if there is an image or a statistic. Whilst sometimes we dismiss things as fake news immediately, we have to question where has our curiosity and ability to critically analyse the content gone? Why all of a sudden do we think these pictures with a couple of percentage signs and a currency symbol are authoritatively correct? And by blindly following this information as true, what impact does this have for us when we consider this from a diversity and inclusion perspective in the workplace?
Considering this, what skills do we deplete when we lose our ability to think more critically?
1. Informed decision making: In the same way that having a homogenous pool of contributors is bad for decision making, the same is therefore true when we only have one source of information that we are making our decisions from. This lack of cognitive diversity in our critical thinking results in people reinforcing the one thought that has been presented to the table. When an organisation is in a research and development phase of a new project or product development, we would not invest substantial funds into delivering this based on hear-say or one sole source of information. The really important thing here is then to ensure how we look for more information, and not just go ahead and reinforce what the initial information source has presented as a conclusion to a hypothesis.
2. Questioning data or their sources: Don’t get me wrong. Data is important. It’s a great tool that we can utilise in order to get people over the line who lean towards analytical and logical styles of communication (which can often be the preference of C-Suites and Execs). But we really need to look at what the data is telling us. Why does it lead to these conclusions? Are they the only things we can deduce? We sometimes forget that data only tells us what we ask of it and therefore we need to be a little more inquisitive in terms of how we choose to gather that insight. As an example, it’s great to know what percentage of our organisation’s leadership is female, or from any other protected characteristic. But what is it actually telling us, or importantly, what is it not telling us and what other data could be valuable? Are those coming from minority groups having a longer tenure before achieving promotion? Do we understand how their employee satisfaction rating compare to colleagues who form the majority of the workforce?
3. Commercially outperforming potential: One of the most impactful limitations of mental homogeneity is the fact that with only a singular unquestioned input is the fact that businesses have no alternative considerations before deploying the solely identified strategy. If there are no other considerations, organisations have no real concept whether their planned approach will be the most effective in increasing revenues (as seen in Boston Consulting Group’s 2018 study on How Diverse Teams Boost Innovation). Through having more diverse teams, we gain more insight and ability to resonate and understand customer needs and wants better. Simply put, this adds to companies’ bottom line.
With only 28% of employers rating their workforce who graduated 4 years ago as having excellent critical thinking skills, we can see how this can limit the business performance. It is up to us to think about how we choose to develop these skills of our employees. Some simple and easy ways to improve these include:
1. Champion curiosity: As leaders, when we are looking to drive any level of change in our business that is based on evidence and research, ask your teams to push and discover what else could you have not considered? How could you get a wider range of inputs? Are there key stakeholders you haven’t yet gained thoughts and opinions from? It’s really important to do this in a constructive and positive way as to not diminish the efforts that have already gone into this and to clearly frame it as something that takes the initiative from good to great.
2. Curate conversations: Having the information to hand isn’t enough. We need to ensure that the way we communicate with the workforce helps to foster more critical thinking. Create coaching and mentoring programmes to provide more than one perspective to be influenced and led by.
3. Create confidence: Trust is one of the most crucial things to empower and engage our workforces. Think about how what you say and do as leaders to your employees creates a way to make your people even more productive. The more that we impart trust in our people, the more bought in our people will be. And the more enjoyable the experience of our staff will be.
What does this all have to do with toilet roll? As businesses, if we continue to blindly follow singular information sources that we see as fact without wanting to verify it, without the curiosity to challenge it and think what we are not seeing / hearing / sensing / potentially innovating for, we will always only be able to realise a standard growth trajectory. It is the inquisitiveness from our people that help propel our businesses forward. And this is where bringing in people who are different to the predominant demographic of the workforce benefits.
However, a standard mistake that organisations make when bringing in people who think differently and have different experiences and ways of thinking is getting them to then “fit” into the way the company thinks. If your company only hires people who "fit" the existing culture and who don't add to it, you are basically telling your potential and new staff that your firm only likes people who are like the people you already have. By constraining this individuality, we lose the very competitive advantage we have brought into the company in the first place. Eroding this from our employees is likely to result in them losing their confidence in their curiosity and reducing the potential for this exponential growth. Embedding and fostering an environment of trust in the workplace and helping to nurture a sense of curiosity will not only create broader and more inclusive business strategies, but will also help create a workplace where everyone is truly engaged. A better workplace. One where everyone feels like they truly belong.