Try Fishing in a Different Pond
Take part in any conversation about talent today and you will certainly hear the lament about how difficult it is to find good talent.
Well, I think I have discovered a pond that you may not have fished in yet but that is full of great candidates. Intrigued? Great! Have you thought about hiring a neurodiverse candidate? It’s OK to wonder what I mean by neurodiverse. To be honest, before I did a deep dive into this, I wasn’t sure myself. So let me share what I’ve learned.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a non-medical umbrella term that refers to neurological differences recognized and respected as human variations. In other words, people with an alteration in their mental function. Bipolar, autism spectrum, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome are all examples of neurodiversity. They are viewed as a natural variation in the human genome. In a Harvard Business Review article titled “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage,” Robert Austin and Gary Pisano say that “accepting this definition of neurodiversity means believing that people with differences do not need to be cured: they need to be accommodated.” Everyone is, to some extent, “differently abled,” a term neurodiverse people prefer. However, the majority of us would be considered neurotypical.
Why include neurodiverse employees in your firm?
Firms with neurodivergent professionals in important roles can be as much as 30% more productive. There are many companies that now actively recruit neurodiverse workers in order to benefit from their unique skills and abilities, according to the World Economic Forum. The difference they bring in terms of their approach to business challenges and problems can make an impact on the culture of your organization. Neurodiverse abilities “…such as visual thinking, attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual memory, and creative thinking can help illuminate ideas or opportunities teams might otherwise have missed,” Deloitte wrote in January 2022.
Neurodiverse candidates think outside the box and are gifted for digital success. For example, ADHD individuals are exceptional at focusing and problem solving. They score higher on creativity tests than non-ADHD people. Autistic brains are said to be highly creative with exceptional concentration, logic, imagination and visual thought. They are meticulous and have higher analytical thinking, according to “Why You Need Neurodiverse Talent,” by Ashutosh Gupta, in a September 2021 Gartner article. Individuals with dyslexia have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box. Eighty-four percent of dyslexic people are above average in reasoning, understanding patterns, evaluating patterns, evaluating possibilities, and making decisions.
What types of accommodations need to be made for neurodiverse employees?
It begins with the recruitment process. Companies have to adjust their recruitment, selection and career development policies to reflect a broader definition of talent, Austin and Pisano say.
Small adjustments to job descriptions can go a long way. Eliminate the mention of soft skills if they are not needed for a technical position. When interviewing neurodiverse candidates, create an environment that is friendly for them; make time before and after the interview to allow candidates to settle or adjust. Some companies even hire coaches to help neurodiverse candidates prepare. Consider using a non-interview approach to assess candidates.
The Specialisterne Foundation, founded by Thorkil Sonne to spread know-how when working with neurodiverse individuals, offers a seven-element approach.
1. Team with social partners for the expertise you lack. Companies can work with organizations committed to helping people with disabilities get jobs.
2. Use non-traditional non-interview-based assessments and training processes. Create “hangouts,” which are comfortable gatherings, lasting half a day, in which neurodiverse candidates can demonstrate their abilities in casual interactions.
3. Train other workers and managers. Low-key training sessions help existing employees understand what to expect from their new colleagues.
4. Set up a support ecosystem. Create a support circle that includes a team manager, team buddy, job and life skills coach/mentor, and HR business partner.
5. Tailor methods for managing careers; however, be sure that the participants undergo the same performance evaluation as others in the firm and make no allowances for unsatisfactory performance.
6. Scale the program. Expand the program into areas in which the tasks are a good fit with neurodiverse talent.
7. Mainstream the program. Look for ways to make your mainstream processes “neurodiversity friendly.”
Once a neurodiverse candidate is hired, managers and team members will need some training in advance to ensure that you get the most from your neurodiverse employee. Employers can make their workplaces more neurodiverse friendly. Offer to adjust workspace to cater to sensory needs—perhaps more dimly lit and in a less congested area. Provide or allow the use of noise canceling headphones. Try to use a clearer style of communication, both verbally and written. When communicating, think the 3 C’s: clear, concise and complete. Avoid open-ended questions and metaphors or ambiguities. Literal expressions are best. Ensure that workplace etiquette guidelines are clear. Always try to be kind and patient. Always give advance notice about changes in plans. It is important to establish patterns. Plan and execute work in iterations of consistent duration. Define success. Identify what is acceptable and what is considered done. Meet daily for a brief standing meeting to increase communication and assess progress.
Are there companies that have successfully integrated neurodivergent talent into their organization?
SAP employs 217 neurodiverse people across 17 countries. It has a 90% retention rate with this population. Its CEO believes that fostering an inclusive culture where employees can thrive and feel valued, respected and included is key. “Understanding and learning how our differences make us stronger is critical,” says CEO Christian Klein.
JPMorgan matches neurodiverse candidates to jobs that complement their skills. The results? Decreased error rates, improved morale, and an inclusive culture amongst teams with neurodiverse/neurotypical colleagues.
Just because a person thinks differently than you doesn’t mean those thoughts aren’t valuable. If they contribute to solving a problem differently than you do, it doesn’t mean their contributions aren’t valuable. As business leaders, we must apply curiosity, look past the hurdles flagged by our biases and cultural constructs, and see the potential in a neurodivergent employee.
Yes, there are many challenges to implementing a neurodiversity program within your firm. It is difficult to identify prospects. You may dash the hopes of those not hired. It can be tricky to navigate the fairness and norms of difficult interactions that might arise. However, neurodiversity programs help companies adopt a management style that emphasizes the importance of ensuring that all employees are in roles that maximize their ability to contribute.
I hope you will try fishing in this pond. There are many great catches out there!