In Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators & Guardians, Suzanne Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christofort reference Deloitte research that suggests performance gaps are a result of “leaders who fail to effectively tap diverse work styles and perspectives.”

Although certainly not a new or revelatory discovery, I’m happy to see my passion get some prominent air time and credibility. My hope is that Deloitte’s new system, called Business Chemistry is more than just another cool new tool that helps them sell more services. Ideally, it would help managers and leaders recognize, appreciate and engage people, not just for the sake of productivity, but as part of a larger commitment to valuing diversity and helping people reach their full potential.

Using tools and data appropriately

I’ve used lots of different assessment and typing tools over the years and even developed my own because I needed one that was “test free.” I’ve found value in almost every tool I’ve used, but I’ve been careful to recognize that every tool has flaws and in the end it’s not about the tool, its about what you do with the results.

I’m appalled at the number of well meaning people who use assessments inappropriately. They pick and choose from the results to prove a point or back up judgements and unhealthy conclusions. “See, I told you she was weird” or “He isn’t driven to succeed like the rest of us are.”

I refer to assessments as discovery and insight tools because that helps keep me objective and focused on the story the data tells. No matter what I use assessments for I try to go in with an open mind and no preconceived judgements. Sometimes this is difficult, especially if you’re using assessments to assess fit with a particular job, team or organization.

When matching to the job, stick to looking at strengths, work style and environmental preferences. The goal is to pick a person who is most likely to be happy and successful in the job because they get to use their natural strengths and talents and work in an environment that’s most conducive for them. If you look at candidates from the “will they be happy and engaged, which then leads to productivity” vantage point, you’ll be more effective than if you go in thinking “Do I like this person and feel they would be an asset to the organization?” vantage point.

Matching to culture or team gets a little tricky because it often dips into values and beliefs. To the extent possible, keep it objective and in the space of picking a person who stands the best chance of excelling in the environment. Try to look at cultural and environmental aspects as neutral. This will enable you to maintain more objectivity when looking at potential candidates.

For example, when we profile an organization we look at things like structure (extent to which processes and expectations are well-defined), frequency of change and risk preference (risk-engaging or risk-avoiding). We rate organizations along a continuum and we have no judgement about whether one side of the continuum is better or worse than the other. Same thing when we look to match a person to the org. If the organization is very dynamic and things are changing all the time, we look for a person who thrives in that kind of environment. Similarly, if the person tends to prefer clearly defined processes and expectations and your organization is much more of a “figure it out on your own” kind of org, then it’s probably not a good fit.

The same guidance for remaining objective applies when using assessments with existing teams. If you use Gallup Strength Finder or other strengths-based tools, make the goal one of matching people to work that makes the best use of their skills and talents, rather than judging people for what they have or don’t have in terms of strengths and competencies. If you use personality or behavioral assessments, make the goal one of appreciation for different styles and better communication, versus one of highlighting differences and lack of fit.

Celebrate Diversity

I think many of us believe we appreciate diversity more than we actually do. We say the words, but when it comes to staffing or day-to-day interactions and language, we often show our biases. It’s human to some extent to lean toward and prefer people who are wired the same as we are. When we’re surrounded by people who are like us, we feel comfortable. We tend to see things the same way and have a similar approach to work. Feeling comfortable and in sync with your team members is a good thing, but it can be limiting. Without mental diversity, growth and innovation are non existent.

I’m often asked what to do about the outlier – the one person on the team who is different from everyone else. My answer is celebrate them! Look at what you can learn from them, pay attention to where they do well and where they struggle. I worked with a team of about 30 young engineers once who were all the same typical engineer profile – In Myers Briggs, they were INTJ or ENTJ. There was one exception who was ENFP. He came into the organization a vibrant and happy young man brimming over with new ideas. Six months in he was starting to withdraw and by nine months he had shut down completely, so frustrated with the rest of the team who regularly dismissed his ideas and approach to things. Thankfully he was moved into another position where he wasn’t surrounded by naysayers. Not only did he thrive, but he became one of the most innovative engineers and best managers the company had.

Organizational growth isn’t the only thing at risk when you lack diversity. Personal growth is also at risk. We grow personally by getting to know other people, by understanding how they think and view the world. We learn different ways to do things. We’re able to see things from different perspectives. We increase our own capacity by putting ourselves in the shoes of people who are different from us.

Role of Leaders and Managers

A one-size-fits-all approach to managing may be easier, but one that recognizes and leverages different work styles and perspectives will most certainly produce better results. It starts with hiring or matching people to work, but it doesn’t end there. Every day there are opportunities to leverage mental diversity to produce better results and to better understand what drives each person and engage them accordingly.

The added bonus. Learning how to recognize different styles and adjust your approach to better connect and influence is a skill that helps you in every aspect of your life. Not only will it help you be a better manager, leader or team player, it will also help you be a better parent, spouse, and friend.