I will never forget the comments of one of the many managers we interviewed as part of our market research at Uptimize.
This manager openly knew – and initially cared – little about neurodiversity. Indeed, we typically find around 60% of our corporate learners are initially largely unfamiliar with the topic, and this manager very much fit that bracket. Not only that, you could sense his cynicism as to the topic’s immediate relevance to him or his work.
However, things changed when we asked this manager about his goals for his team – his deepest hopes of what he wished to accomplish in his role. “Diversity of thought”, he said simply. “That’s it. I know that’s the answer – I want to make sure we have different perspectives and can harness these. I just don’t really know where to start…”.
This manager, not uncommonly, had not yet “joined the dots” between his goal of a more effective, innovative team, and the fact that that very team by definition think differently. Was he doing everything possible to unlock this diversity of thought? Was he hiring in such as way as to add more diversity of thought into his team? The likelihood, back then, is no.
As corporate awareness of and interest in neurodiversity skyrockets, however, this is quickly changing: and organizations are able to join the dots between many of their existing (critical, C-Suite level) priorities around talent, retention, and innovation, and the importance of recognizing and embracing neurodiversity at work.
Managers, like the manager we interviewed, can be a notoriously difficult audience. I should know – I have been one – and I very much understand and empathize with the pressure managers can be under to deliver results, to keep the main thing the main thing, and so on. All of which, of course, can conspire against their enthusiasm for change, for corporate training, and anything else that might initially appear an unwelcome distraction from their path.
Nevertheless, one of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Uptimize has been in seeing how managers have taken to the (often new, to them) topic of neuroinclusion. More predictable, perhaps, though no less satisfying, is to see neurodivergent employees themselves express relief and gratitude that their organization is embracing the topic – many, sadly, as we know from our community focus groups, may have never ever experienced an organization that cared about neurodiversity before. Indeed, we have heard such feedback from neurodivergent managers themselves, one of whom shared that “As a neurodivergent person, I was crying as I felt so connected to the video testimonials”.
But we’ve also seen managers share feedback such as ‘It was really good to learn about the different ways of communicating and working with people’ (Manager, tech company), “I’ve learned to listen and observe people’s behavior more effectively to ensure team members are happy with how we work” (Manager, investment bank) and my personal favorite “I was a little skeptical about needing training on this topic but it has made a real difference to me” (Manager, global mining firm).
Such managers are finding – and sharing – that neuroinclusion is vital to inclusive and effective leadership. So without further ado, here are six ways that neuroinclusion can transform management:
Managers have a crucial role to play in their organizations.
Data shows managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, and indeed managers have a vital role in ensuring happy and productive teams. This is born out by the stories shared with Uptimize as part of our focus groups with the neurodivergent community, many of whom have bemoaned informed managers making things difficult for them, or even being openly hostile (indeed one employee, when trying to explain his preference for note taking on his phone as being a result of his neurodivergence, was snapped at by his manager who said “I don’t care what you have”. Some neurodivergent professionals report their satisfaction with more inclusive, empathetic managers – often those who are neurodivergent themselves, or who have the familiarity with the topic that comes from having a close neurodivergent family member. But there’s certainly a sense that getting a supportive manager is very much the luck of the draw. No surprise, then, perhaps, that dissatisfaction with managers is often cited as a key reason behind (any) employees’ decision to seek pastures new – with a consequent cost, of course, to their initial employer to replace them.
Managers can support employee and team well-being.
Neuroinclusive managers recognize not only the importance of fostering team well-being, they understand the active role they can play in this every day. For example, informal employee check-ins, complete with vulnerability from the manager (“I’m not feeling amazing today personally… how are you doing?”) can help employees feel heard and considered. Team well-being check-ins and forums, too, can harness the creative capacity of the group in seeking new ways of promoting well-being for all. Managers can also model (and ensure they live) their organization’s values, and model a sensible work-life balance, both of which can further improve team cohesion and comfort.
Managers may be neurodivergent themselves, and appreciate a more neuroinclusive culture and greater support.
Ableist thinking, fuelled by negative stereotypes, can posit – wrongly – that neurodivergent people are unlikely to be a fit for leadership roles. Some, of course, like many of their neurotypical peers, may not be enthused by the prospect of more admin and conflict resolution – but, as I stress in my book “A Hidden Force – Unlocking the Potential of Neurodiversity at Work” many neurodivergent people can and do make fine leaders, leveraging skills such as creative thinking, as well as learned empathy and resilience. Don’t, then, assume managers must be neurotypical: and consider the importance to your leaders, too, of a culture in which everybody feels comfortable bringing their full self to work and asking for additional support as needed.
To learn more about how Uptimize can help your organization with their neuroinclusion efforts, through our neurodiversity training and consulting solutions, please contact us to schedule an initial discovery call.
Ed Thompson is the CEO and founder of Uptimize – a unique corporate training platform that helps organizations attract, hire and retain talent that thinks differently. Uptimize works globally with organizations like Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte and IBM, building robust and impactful neurodiversity at work programs. Ed has also become a frequent speaker on the topic of neurodiversity in the workplace. His book, A Hidden Force, is available now.