Diversity of thought and inclusive leadership: Keys to a sustainable business

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CINDY F. ORTIZ

CINDY F. ORTIZ

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Association of Certified Public Accountants in Public Practice’s (ACPAPP) first International Conference in Macau. It served as the celebration of ACPAPP’s 35th anniversary and it was only fitting that we traveled outside the Philippines for it, considering this year’s theme: Rising to the Global Challenge: Professional Excellence and Global Competitiveness.

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The focus of the four-day conference was how we as members can elevate our profession, strengthen our competitive advantage compared with our global counterparts, and create sustainable practices.

My talk sought to address the last point by advocating for a kind of diversity that goes beyond cultural plurality or gender equality. I talked about cognitive diversity, or diversity of thought, which involves acknowledging and appreciating the potential promise of each person’s unique perspective.

Deloitte’s GovLab, a think thank that focuses on innovation in the public sector, discussed the benefits of cognitive diversity in a publication entitled “Diversity’s new frontier: Diversity of thought and the future of the workforce.”

For starters, diverse thinkers help guard against groupthink, a psychological phenomenon wherein a consensus is arrived at in the absence of critical thinking and dissenting opinions. When an organization deliberately hires diverse team members, these individuals will likely trigger more creative, careful information processing compared with a homogenous group as they study and approach a problem from a variety of angles. Most importantly, this increases the opportunity for innovation.

Secondly, diverse thinkers help increase the scale of new insights.

In early 2006, an ad man handling the Doritos account suggested that the snack brand give consumers the opportunity to create its next ad for the Super Bowl, easily the most watched sporting event on American tv. It was a risky move, considering how big an advertising platform the Super Bowl provides, but it paid off: For the nine years so far that Doritos has ‘crowdsourced’ its Super Bowl ad, the brand has consistently landed in the top 5 advertisements based on the USA Today Ad Meter. By tapping its diverse fan base, the brand has been able to take advantage of the many creative ideas from that group and develop an extensive collection of successful tv ads.

Finally, diverse thinkers help organizations identify individuals who can best tackle pressing problems.

Advances in neuroscience will soon make it possible to match people to specific jobs based on their cognitive talents. One neurobiology company has already developed a machine that can measure how well a person can concentrate on a given activity, for example. An organization that is staffed with a diverse group of people can tap a broader range of individual strengths and, therefore, address more problems.

Knowing all the benefits of cognitive diversity, what can business leaders do today to increase diversity of thought within their organizations?

Hire differently
Study your organization and find strategic skill gaps. Then have your Managers and HR representatives design job descriptions and interview processes that will help find these missing competencies and select people with a mind towards having a cognitively diverse organization.

Another thing to keep in mind when hiring new people is to not be afraid of individuals who may shake up the status quo. Some recruiters hesitate to hire individuals who appear to be opinionated for fear of rocking the boat. Your goal should be to recruit top talent even if they may clash with some of your current staff, which brings me to the next strategy for increasing cognitive diversity.

Manage differently
Hiring a group of diverse thinkers will most likely lead to complexity – some people will disagree, and will probably disagree strongly. Deloitte’s advice to business leaders is be comfortable with the uncomfortable, that is, be comfortable with conflict.

Don’t make consensus an end in and of itself. Instead, manage your diverse team so that every member feels free to express his/her ideas or opinions. Keep your focus on pushing the team to new levels of creativity and productivity, and make sure disagreements do not become personal. This ‘controlled conflict’ can spark innovation.

Lead differently
A diverse group needs a leader who appreciates that diversity. In Deloitte, we call that leader an inclusive leader – someone who appreciates each person’s uniqueness, treats everyone fairly, makes sure everyone in the team has a sense of belonging, and gives people a voice in decision making.

Whatever industry you’re in and wherever you do business, you – just like the rest of us – are likely dealing with disruptive, fast-paced changes coming at you from all directions. You will not always be able to predict what the next trend will be or what impact it will have on your organization. But if you staff your team with a diverse group of people – people who may not always agree with each other but who are creative, innovative, and daring – then you stand a better chance of successfully riding the wave of changes and thriving in this dynamic, global business environment.

The author is the Audit & Assurance Leader of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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