On Our Minds

Working with so many organizations across multiple issue areas gives us a unique view into what’s happening in the social sector. This is where we share our insights and ruminations.
Hiring Talent with Diverse Thinking Styles
We know that many forms of diversity within and across teams are important for everyone. We believe it. We see it. And we want it for our own teams and organizations. When trying to create a diverse team, gender and racial-ethnic diversity are easier to spot straight away and come to mind quickly. But what about diversity of thinking style? Harrison and Bramson in The Art of Thinking define five styles: synthesists, idealists, pragmatists, analysts, realists. Using this framework, synthesists are integrators, idealists take a broad, holistic view of things, pragmatists have a bias for action, analysts tend to be logical, structured, and prescriptive, and realists have an empirical view. The descriptions of each style are highly nuanced beyond these generalizations, and individuals usually have a preferred or dominant style, though they can also possess a combination of styles that can shift over time. There is a persuasive case that having a diverse range of thinking styles on a team is really important too. However, diversity along that dimension tends to be less of a consideration when making hiring decisions. Here’s why:
  • Thinking styles are not always immediately evident; they take time to emerge over the course of a hiring process.
  • People tend to hire people that they like and are similar to themselves.
  • Many hiring teams tend to be biased towards candidates who are charismatic and engaging, selling themselves well in interview settings. This bias tends to favor idealists and can pose challenges for pragmatists and analysts.
So how can you manage a successful hiring process that authentically engages multiple thinking styles, allowing you and your organization to reap the benefits? It starts by designing a process that is inclusive of all styles, aligned to core competencies, and thorough. INCLUSIVE:
  • Understand your own style. Self-awareness is so important as a hiring manager. Learn about your own style to understand your primary way of engaging with the world. Once you understand your own thinking style and the range of others that exist, you’ll be better positioned to understand others’ perspectives in light of your own and counteract biases.
  • Check your biases. We all have biases when making hiring decisions, for better or worse. After distilling your individual assessment of a candidate, closely listen to your colleagues’ reactions. Recognize patterns across candidates and reflect on your reactions, asking yourself if they are skill-based or style related. Push yourself to provide evidence on how candidates are – or aren’t –  meeting specific competency requirements.
  • Develop a clear set of core competencies. Think of these as the “must-haves” for the role. Core competencies help us assess candidates on the things that matter most in any position. Note, they don’t change once you’ve met a candidate that is super likeable but doesn’t stack up. Core competencies give all stakeholders a common language among interviewers and should be used to inform decision making at each stage of the process.
  • Align interview questions and performance-based tasks to the competencies. Though having the competencies in mind during interviews is great, developing interview guides ahead of time aligned to core competencies is even better, and can help prevent in-the-moment rabbit hole questioning and group think. In addition, performance-based tasks (we call them thought exercises) should be designed to assess one or more of the competencies, in addition to the candidate’s presentation skills.
THOROUGH (does not necessarily mean long):
  • Take the time to get to know your candidates. While it is important to make hiring decisions quickly for a host of reasons, getting them wrong is much more costly. It takes time to really get to know candidates and understand their thinking styles throughout a hiring process. We recommend scheduling all interviews and meetings for at least 45 minutes and including multiple stakeholders (more on this below) in the process. Resist the urge to hastily eliminate candidates based on “gut” and examine whether you are reacting to style or skill.
Note: On timing, we usually find that it’s not months, and not a week, but that somewhere in the middle is just right. A thorough process will help you discover diamonds in the rough with needed skills and steer clear of strong interviewees who are not right for the job.
  • Vary the forms of assessment across a hiring process. Include multiple opportunities for stakeholders to engage with candidates in different settings (i.e., 1:1 interviews, group interviews, written work products, informal meetings, etc.) over the course of the search. By incorporating varied forms of assessment and including stakeholders with different perspectives, you’ll see the fullest picture of a candidate and gain insight into the strengths and gaps of candidates with different thinking styles.
By creating a hiring process that is inclusive, competency-aligned, and thorough, you will more successfully engage and land talent with a range of thinking styles on your team. It will take time to get right, but once you do, your colleagues will thank you for it. Ok, they probably won’t thank you, but they will notice, and appreciate the diverse perspectives, approaches, and skills of their teammates in the end.

- By Angela Remeika