Diversity at work extends beyond the well-known bounds of race, gender, religious beliefs, and other factors that often define diversity in the minds of business owners.

Workplace diversity extends to opinions, experience, points of view, in-house goals and objectives – a diverse collection of ideas, opinions, and solutions. A diverse group of engaged employees may deliver results that can help lower operating costs and improve business efficiencies.

Researchers, reporting in Stanford Business, found that informational diversity "stirred constructive conflict, or debate, around the task at hand. That is, people deliberate about the best course of action. This is the type of conflict that absolutely should be engendered in organizations.”*

Diversity of thought can create out-of-the-box solutions to out-of-the-ordinary problems. It’s also useful in identifying negative consequences before they become negative realities.

Fostering thought diversity also enables businesses to develop strategies and solutions with diverse input from fewer stakeholders, lowering operating costs and increasing business productivity.

The key, of course, is to manage diverse thought and avoid morale-busting activities that diminish the drive to contribute to solutions in the future.

So, how do you create thought diversity in your workplace? Here are some suggestions.

Create a broad definition of diversity. Change the corporate status quo and look for diversity of thought, new opinions and perspectives, a new way of doing business.

Create a diverse office culture. Make sure that all employees recognize the value of their opinions and suggestions. A shipping clerk may have a great idea to cut postage costs. Who knows best how to do the job better? The person doing the job!

Don’t just put out a suggestion box. Actively solicit opinions from all employees about ways to increase productivity, cut costs, create new revenue streams, or expand into new markets.

Even major business decisions – the ones made at the top – may benefit from input from a knowledgeable employee working the factory floor. There are good ideas everywhere in a company that encourages thought diversity.

Review hiring practices. Analyze your hiring practices from outside the box. The ideal candidate may not be someone from your industry. She may be from a parallel work sphere, and able to offer a new perspective.

During the hiring process, consider work values, ethics, and special skills.  Highly-opinionated prospects might not be the best choice to fill an opening. Teamwork that fosters diverse thought from a variety of perspectives may be what’s needed to deliver innovative solutions.

Carefully review your standard hiring procedures.  You might uncover valuable assets hidden in a résumé from someone whose previous work experience might otherwise not be considered a “good fit.”

Manage diverse opinions and ideas. When brainstorming to develop new products or processes, remember the old maxim that “there are no bad ideas.” However, there are plenty of ideas that may be inappropriate, too expensive, unfocused, incomplete, or just plain wrong for the task or project.

Welcome and consider ideas from everyone in the company. Consider the feelings of employees who have offered solutions that have been rejected. Thank all employees for their contributions, and make sure to encourage more thought diversity in the future.

Opinions and ideas, strategy and tactics from a variety of sources may lead to innovative solutions, but diverse thought in the workplace also must be constantly encouraged and carefully managed – a difficult tightrope for many business owners.  You may have to manage strong differences among your diverse team, but these differences must be managed in order to garner the kind of “hands-on” information that leads to innovative business solutions.

Today, small business owners must do more with less. A diverse team of dedicated employees may be the solution to boosting innovation, as well as the company’s bottom line.

* www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/diversity-work-group-performance


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.