Stop wasting people.

The 2011 SHRM Leadership Conference was my last conference for the year, and it was a good note to end on.  It proved to be a nice opportunity to see friends that are involved in some of the many things that SHRM does.

I also had the opportunity to present on cognitive diversity, which has been one of my more popular topics this year. In this session, I provided a framework for understanding cognitive diversity and I unpack some of the research around how it drives quality decision making, creative problem solving and innovation. This leads some people to think that they need to start traveling to faraway lands to search for people who think radically different than they do. That may not be priority #1.

Most organizations are not able to take advantage of the cognitive diversity that is already on the payroll.

I would suggest that the knowledge, experiences, perspectives and heuristics of employees are the most wasted resource that we have access to.

One of the ways that this shows up is teams that are unwilling or unable to disagree with each other. It needs to be done in a healthy and respectful way, but disagreement is incredibly valuable.

Conflict is the primary engine of creativity and innovation.

-Ronald Heifetz

A few strategies for teams trying to figure out how to effectively disagree with each other on a regular basis:

1.)    Ground rules.  You probably have explicit and written rules for how to request vacation in your organization, but likely have no public agreements for how decisions are made and how disagreement is handled. As long as this is the case, decision making is going to be susceptible to power dynamics, charisma, mood swings, cliques, personal conflict and other stuff that has nothing to do with good decision making. Your ground rules can be very formal or very informal, but put something in place to inform expectations and to make the process more transparent.

2.)    Avoid the road to Abilene. The first idea or suggestion can easily rule the day simply because it is the first idea…we tend to resist rocking the boat. Get ideas and input from everyone before considering any ideas.

3.)    Use a devils advocate. I often use this with leadership teams to get them in the habit of disagreeing with each other and letting go of the idea that it is personal. At each weekly or monthly meeting, someone is assigned the role of devils advocate…their job is to push back on ideas, ask questions, etc.

4.)    Change the format. Step away from the same meeting at the same time in the same place. Mix the energy up, change the dynamics. A few formats to consider for making decisions, have dialogue, submitting ideas:

  1. murderboarding
  2. open space
  3. Ignite or Pecha Kucha
  4. talking circle


Just a few simple ideas related to better utilizing the stuff that we have access to. Conversations about talent are largely ceremonial until we get better at actually valuing and using the stuff inside our employees. They have magic and insanity and our future and the answer in their hearts and minds.

We have to stop being wasteful.

Be good to each other.

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