“[Harvard] is predicated on extraversion. Your grades and social status depend on it. It’s just the norm here.”1
In 2012, New York Times Bestseller author Susan Cain wrote a book called Quiet – the product of a 7-year-long study on the overwhelming bias towards individuals exhibiting extrovert tendencies in some of the most elite corners of American society. I’ll never forget those words from a Harvard student that she interviewed while conducting research for her book.
As an introvert myself, it got me thinking, “Is this really society’s norm and if so, can I still have an impactful place in it?”
While we didn’t all go to Harvard, there is a concept introduced in this phrase that rings true to everyone in society both American and international: Every group has certain cultural norms and expectations that will define an individual’s success or failure as a part of that group.
These expectations can sometimes drive us to over-value ‘fitting in’- creating groups with similar backgrounds, behaviors, educations, or other factors that we know do not result in the highest performing teams or organizations. The same is true of the work environment.
With a quickly emerging and deepening focus on DEIA in the workplace, these are themes that we as business professionals can no longer (and shouldn’t want to) ignore, especially given the research that diverse teams are proven to generate higher employee performance and enjoy increased financial success.2 So how can we ensure that our societal norm is one that promotes diversity of thought and expression? One great way is to invest in understanding the different ways of working by conducting personality assessments for employees.
Before you dismiss this concept as a lame 90s pastime from teenage magazines, consider that statistics show cognitive diversity enhances innovation by roughly 20 percent and reduces risk by 30 percent.3 With this degree of corporate health and growth on the line, “Just the norm here” is not going to cut it in 2022.
Personalities directly affect work styles, communication styles, and a slew of other things that are the usual culprits of misunderstandings and team misalignments in the workplace. By making space for everyone’s personality and work style to be valued and understood, you create the opportunity for employees to feel seen and appreciated, while dismantling the notion that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to be.
In the same way you wouldn’t put six engines side by side and call it a car, having too many people in an organization that have the same way of thinking and functioning may feel harmonious, but will be far less impactful than an amalgamation of personalities.
By shifting the focus from right and wrong, and placing it on team building with diversity in mind, you can capitalize on the different strengths that employees bring to the table and teach employees how to navigate and respect personalities and tendencies that differ from theirs.
So how do you choose the right personality assessment for your team? There are currently several popular options (e.g., Strengths Finder, Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, Insights, DiSC), but whichever you choose, consider assessments that:
- Stay away from ranking or criticizing personality types.
- Focus on the business strengths that each personality type offers.
- Explain the ways in which these personality types relate to each other and can be matched to create maximum innovation.
- Include an option to hire a consultant or coach to administer group exercises that will help teams and employees decipher how to apply their knowledge to create a more respectful, effective, understanding, and inclusive culture.
Even though conversations around personalities may be foreign territory for a lot of businesses, remember that many full-time employees spend more hours with coworkers than their own family members. By making the workplace a safe environment for everyone to show up as their authentic self and teaching them to play well with others in a business context, you can ensure that the workplace will be a more positive and productive place to be.
Lisa Prather is a Strategic Communications, Marketing, and Change Management Consultant. She is an intellectual adventurer who enjoys learning about other countries, customs, languages and cultures.
- Cain, Susan. Quiet. Page 44. New York, Broadway Paperbacks, 2013.
- Sakpal, Manasi. “Diversity and Inclusion Build High-Performance Teams.” Gartner, 20 Sept 2019, https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/diversity-and-inclusion-build-high-performance-teams
- Bourke, Juliet. “The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution: Eight Powerful Truths.” Deloitte, 22 January 2018, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/deloitte-review/issue-22/diversity-and-inclusion-at-work-eight-powerful-truths.html