Hire for diversity, not performance

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Dave Winsborough
September 22, 2021

You've built a team of exceptional workers, who do a great job of delivering their outputs. You have nurtured this group carefully over a couple of years, using talent assessments to match employee profiles to that of high performers. Given this, the group is a lot the same — kind of quirky, introverted, naive, a bit obsessive and they love routine, but work quality is high and productivity good.

And then a pandemic hits.  

Suddenly this group’s routines, important rituals and processes are completely disrupted. Now they all want your attention individually, and they seem lost and unable to cope with the back-to-back Zoom calls, working from home and changed systems. Never mind quality, getting anything done seems impossible.

Organizational change drastically confounds the traditional ways we go about hiring and developing employee talent. Traditional ways of using talent assessments for hiring are overtly biased: they filter out some people because their characteristics don't fit a pre-defined high performer profile, and select people who are all similar. 

Psychologists have pushed this technique because it works well. But only if the job requirements remain constant and the world doesn't change. The need for diversity and variability in talent that can respond to change is often overlooked, and in its place, predictability and conformity are (well-intentionally) sought after. 

If it wasn’t already obvious, 2020 showed us that our teams and organizations need to have flexible, diverse and adaptive talent as all industries are not magically insulated from real world events.

Rather than cultivating employee talent that is tightly mapped against a “cookie-cutter” set of high-performance competencies, smart firms and leaders seek greater variability in their hires  — even if that costs a little bit of performance. Resilience, creativity, and adaptability beat high performing clones every single time there is a change or a disruption to 'normal'.

Human history is replete with examples of teams that went on to succeed and achieve ambitious goals, not because they all conformed to traditional notions of talent (i.e. experience, technical expertise and intelligence), but because they had a diverse set of complementary characteristics and understood how to work together, or what we call Cognitive Diversity.

 If you are looking to hire talent into your team, we ask you to consider the performance-diversity trade-off:

  • If you hire for traditional notions of performance, you will have a team that is well-positioned to work and execute goals in a specific and consistent way but struggle with agility and flexibility.
  • If you hire for diversity and plan to complement and close existing talent gaps, you’ll have a team that is adaptive, inclusive, creative and able to overcome any problem that comes its way. 

At Deeper Signals, we are pioneering new approaches that enable smart firms and managers to square the circle: identify the qualities of high performance and talent, but also warn of conformity and not enough cognitive diversity in the talent pool. These insights help leaders build teams that are fit for purpose and future ready.

Leadership is always about tradeoffs. Time to trade-in old approaches for new. 

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