diversity

So exactly what criteria should we actually use for recruitment now?

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Employers are realising that students with better grades or degrees aren’t necessarily the best performers (and for that I blame the devaluing of degrees and A levels in attempts to attract more students or get more brownie points. You can no longer trust a degree classification).

And in the march to more social diversity it seems you can forget about spells working abroad, being in a sports team, or having a good internship. Now I can see how the latter would disadvantage people from lower socio-economic groups but where do you draw the line?

Do you want token ethnic minority or working class or female employees just to look good? Do you want to be a social engineer or just employ the best people?

I read about a consultancy firm recently that had changed its recruitment process by excluding from CVs the following information:

  • Academic achievements
  • Work experience

They claim such blind CVs led to almost 20% more candidates in its graduate and school leaver intake who would previously have been ineligible. So what are they actually using as criteria?

And this approach has been tried decades ago leaving off the name of the school, the marital status, age etc to try and level the playing field. But then you still have to get through interviews.

We all know interviews are notoriously unreliable partly because of the way candidates present themselves and how attractive they are. But they could be better if interviewers, and candidates for that matter, were trained properly.

Recent research from the US suggests that highly qualified candidates are three times more likely to get a job if they are honest about their shortcomings as they come across as more authentic. Of course whether it works for less qualified or less competent candidates is a different matter.  Candidates often lie about their skills or experience (between 2/3 and 9/10 if research is to be believed).

Psychometrics including aptitude and situational tests are more reliable than interviews – but you need specialist expertise to use them.

Assessment centres are more reliable predictors with multiple tasks for candidates and multiple trained raters. But again you need the expertise to do it and they are expensive to set up when most companies want a quick and easy solution.

Companies are trying a range of things to attract more diverse applicants but diversity isn’t necessarily a good thing for the business in every situation as research shows.

Teams and Groupthink

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group_of_business_people_1600_wht_8392When the Treasury Select Committee published its findings on the global financial breakdown in 2008/9 it brought back memories of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 which failed and probably strengthened Castro’s position.

Irving Janis‘s extensive work on the subject of Groupthink included his analysis of the reasons for that and other failures. And it still holds true today.

In recent times it has become a common belief that team working is the key to delivering results and that the more cohesive the group, the more effective it is.

It may be more fun to work in such a group but the evidence also suggests that members of groups may indulge in “social loafing“, there can be diffusion of responsibility in the absence of individual goals, and that sometimes individuals can outperform teams.

Janis proposed that close-knit teams are insufficiently critical of each other, don’t seek alternatives, believe in the group’s invincibility, want consensus, restrict negative information and generally, as the Select Committee said, adopt a herd mentality.

The Select Committee suggested that diversity was the answer – in this example by having more women at senior levels. This is old news now; on a similar note in Management Today at the time Emma de Vita bemoaned the testosterone fuelled culture in the city and made some interesting points about leadership styles.

She also and cited some research at London Business School that found that having a 50-50 gender balance produced more effective, stable and innovative teams. A finding that the Norwegian government put into practice in 2008 so that all public companies are required by law to have 40% of females on the board.

It had previously been suggested in The Times that women board members may be better at getting rid of bad bosses (but not as good at making money) as women tend not to meet at the golf course or the club and therefore may be less susceptible to groupthink.

Gender is not the only difference that organisations should explore however. Different socio-economic backgrounds, qualifications, and career experiences are probably more important. See post on Teams & Diversity

And the dangers of creating an inner cabal or kitchen cabinet probably cost the Conservatives electoral victory in 2010. The failure of the Tory’s “Big Idea” to energise voters and the last-minute slide in the polls infuriated many conservative MPs. They blamed David Cameron’s “Leadership by Inner Circle”.

He apparently relied on a close group of advisors rather than the shadow cabinet which he informed rather than consulted. Candidates were saying that the public wasn’t interested in the “Big Idea” but more mundane issues such as crime and immigration. Failure to listen to critics and a wider circle is symptomatic of Groupthink.

Originally posted on Sganda

Teams and Diversity – not so simple

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893Current thinking is that diversity is a good thing.

Diversity is claimed to increase creativity and the quality of work and there are several examples of where this has proved to be true.

However a review of research over 50 years (described by Elizabeth Mannix and Margaret A Neale at Cornell and Stanford universities respectively) shows it’s not all good news.

More worryingly researchers at MIT, Harvard, and other institutions found it was difficult to support a business case for diversity in terms of financial RoI.

Mannix and Neale define diversity as; “any personal attribute that someone else may use to detect individual differences“.

How and why a company diversifies is critical. Without proper management or worker training diversity can damage performance.

The ways managers recognise diversity e.g. by race, age, gender, or ethnicity, can have negative effects on collaboration and affect group performance, commitment, and satisfaction negatively, perhaps because they trigger preconceived biases and stereotypes.

Racial diversity, for example, was found to damage team processes. On the other hand less obvious, underlying differences such as functional background, education, or personality, tended to improve team performance as long as it was managed effectively.

Earlier research ( Jehn, Northcraft & Neale, 1999) differentiated between social category diversity such as age and sex; informational diversity such as education and functional role; and value diversity as measured by differences in goals and values.

With social category diversity heterogeneity positively influenced group member morale; differences in informational diversity increased task conflict i.e. differences of opinions, which enhanced group performance; and values diversity decreased individual satisfaction and commitment to the group.

Other research (by Pelled, Xin & Eisenhardt, 1999) found that whether or not diversity is job-related is important. Diversity in functional roles and background beneficially intensified task conflict which improved cognitive performance whereas racial diversity, which is highly visible but not related to the job, boosted affective conflict ie it increased interpersonal tension and emotional conflict and depressed group performance.

Age diversity lowered affective conflict but gender diversity didn’t seem to make any difference either way to group performance. The longer groups worked together the less the emotional conflict. This is in line with Hackman’s work on teams.

Another interesting finding is that university department’s with high proportions of women don’t necessarily welcome more of them. Increasing the proportion of women made it a more negative environment for them. This might be explained by the Queen Bee phenomenon.

Research, admittedly 30 years ago, suggested that men were happiest in a male or female dominated settings but not where there was gender balance which led to lower self-esteem and depression. It’s hard to believe that is still the case although the same research showed the women preferred either gender equity or male-dominated work-places. That may still be the case as most women say they prefer a male boss.

More recent research suggests that adding women to a team can make it collectively smarter (unless they are given feedback in a group setting) but adding women to boards doesn’t necessarily make the company more successful – it depends on their experience and competence, as evidenced by high performing NHS boards.

So what can managers do to harness the talents of a diverse workforce more effectively?

  1. As the research shows just having a group of superficially diverse people i.e. easily identifiable by race, gender, or age, doesn’t work, perhaps because these factors are not job relevant or because of stereotyping.
  2. Clearly picking the right people for the team regardless of their social categories is important. Then having functional or educational diversity and rites or rituals, common values and goals helps. As does the culture and any training (although diversity training doesn’t work).
  3. Information needs to be kept flowing and the influence of minority members enhanced (giving them a voice as the corporate anthropologists at a recent Global Leadership conference would say).
  4. Exploratory team tasks such as fact-finding and research are better served by heterogenous groups, whereas exploitation of knowledge to accomplish a task is best served by an homogenous group. Unless there is a matrix/project management type structure in place this is difficult for a manager to achieve with a fixed team.
  5. Another disappointing finding about teams is that when making decisions they focus on shared information rather than the information that hasn’t been shared. But the better connected the team members are the more likely they are to risk sharing their unique information.
  6. Values and goals diversity was mentioned earlier and there is evidence that having superordinate goals and shared values can overcome many of the differences in a diverse multi-national group especially when the shared values are collectivistic rather than personal.
  7. One key finding is that minority views need to be heard as these views can enhance creativity and problem-solving ability in the team. So the manager needs to create a tolerant environment with an emphasis on interdependency to reach cooperative goals that recognise the minority viewpoint. In practice many organisations weed out mavericks or people who managers might consider difficult and prefer to clone what they already have. HR people should know better!

Based on “Diversity at Work” by Elizabeth Mannix & Margaret E Neale in Scientific American Mind August/September 2012