Tag Archive for: Workplace

Red Camera showing Zooming out on neurodiversity

Zooming out on neurodiversity

Have you ever attended a drawing class? I have, and as someone who is particularly bad at drawing, it surprised me. We visited the Eden Project, where an incredible local artist taught us to draw more effectively. It turns out that it has little to do with how well you hold a pencil and a lot to do with how often you stand back and look at your drawing from a distance. I created artwork that resembled the object I was attempting to draw. It was a huge surprise and impressed the little girl sitting next to me. This got me thinking about zooming out on neurodiversity!

When integrating neurodiversity into organisations, we are often tempted to make many small changes. These can be beneficial, but if we don’t take a step back and look at the big picture of what’s happening in the organisation, we risk a disjointed, ineffective approach.

This is especially true when discussing the subject of awareness. I facilitate a lot of neurodiversity awareness-training sessions, which are always well attended with very engaged interactive audiences. Still, there is a risk that if all you do is raise awareness, nothing changes, and you end up having a very informative meeting accompanied by lovely biscuits.

Professor Amanda Kirby highlights the dangers of oversimplification, stereotyping, tokenism, cause blindness, pinup people and becoming a broken record. Neurodiversity is not simple! Neurodiversity is very complicated because each individual will present their neurodivergent traits differently. There is a temptation to simplify neurodiversity to make it more accessible and understandable for everyone. Still, we must treat each person individually and provide a tailored solution to their struggles.

Raising awareness can create new stereotypes of how people behave. For example, I frequently get asked, “what should we be looking out for?” And “how will we know if someone has a neurodivergent trait?” I don’t think this is always helpful because it is more important to ask the individual what is beneficial for them and not put them into a box so we allow them to progress and then flourish.

Tokenism

(We all love a bandwagon and going along with the crowd). It was recently Neurodiversity Week, which is fantastic, but if all it does is make noise, it is ineffective; nothing changes for the people who need it the most, and our organisations suffer from not embracing and engaging with different thinking styles to help with innovation.

Cause blindness

People will become bored if we continue to bang the drum but make no progress. You must act, even if it is only a tiny action, or you risk nothing effective happening.

Poster people

It’s common to hear the same stories about the same people. Richard Branson is an excellent role model but is not the world’s only dyslexic entrepreneur. Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is not the only autistic entrepreneur; there are many brilliant people with neurodivergent traits who have done outstanding work. You need to think more broadly and not just roll out the same old pinups.

Broken records

Whether you like it or not, our world history has some challenging lessons for us to learn. Taking a person’s humanity and labelling them can dehumanise them. You must ensure that you focus on the individual and learn from mistakes in the past.

As we stand back and take a look at what it means to be inclusive within our organisations, I think it’s helpful to consider some of the following areas.

The issue we’re attempting to resolve by zooming out on neurodiversity

Instead of raising awareness and avoiding it, let’s get real and address it. Is it about recruiting, retaining employees, or something else? Let’s be clear about the problem and ensure our efforts are directed towards resolving it. Sometimes more data will be required, while other times, it will simply be a question of what should happen next.

Communicate with others

We frequently make assumptions about what is required. We must have an open and safe conversation about what and how change needs to occur. This conversation must be sensitive to specific cultural backgrounds or thinking styles, but it must happen.

Collaborate with others

It is beneficial to collaborate with other organisations that can assist you in moving forward with solving the problems you’ve identified. They may provide specialised knowledge or simply the ability to step outside the situation. This does not need to be a general label but a specific response to a problem you are attempting to solve.

Think carefully about your goals

SMART Goals aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they can help you figure out what you want to do and ensure it’s realistic and time-bound. This is critical because it allows you to assess your progress and determine whether your actions are effective or if something needs to be changed.

Taking action by zooming out on neurodiversity

This will not occur unless we take the first step forward. Moving forward may entail collaborating with an outside organisation to help you achieve your goals or forming an employee group. What matters is that you do not postpone this until tomorrow. Take the first step and figure out what you need to do next.

Measure what’s going on

You’ll never know if your changes have had any beneficial impact unless you measure their outcomes. Before you measure the outcome, it’s always helpful to take a baseline of where you are before you start otherwise, you will never know if anything you’ve done has made a difference. I would encourage you to consider ways to measure and understand the changes you have made easily.

Keep going by zooming out on neurodiversity

Moving inclusion forward, particularly in neurodiversity, requires a sustained effort. Many leaders will need to be involved in moving your efforts forward, and the organisation must buy into the entire process. If you want long-term change, you must ensure that you have the energy and drive to continue this effort for an extended period.

Would a conversation on zooming out be helpful? – Contact us here.

Broom and dustpan in Cupboard

Project neurodiversity sorting out the broom cupboard

John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems says “25% of CEOs are dyslexic, but many don’t want to talk about it”. There is an argument that if leaders self-identify as neurodivergent the rest of the workforce will feel more comfortable coming forward and having a conversation about neurodiversity.

Organisations can thrive instead of survive if they embrace neurodiversity. The current situation looks like there is a lot of noise, good ideas and goodwill in helping individuals become more effective in the workplace. The reality is that many of these initiatives are disjointed, not bespoke, and fragmented, so organisations are running many different special projects at the same time. This creates a substantial operational overhead that can detrimentally impact the organisation’s effectiveness.

This is a big problem that is not going to go away unless we start to think more holistically and in a project-orientated way across our organisations to help support neurodiversity. We have to think about the constraints we have to operate in. What is the scope of what we are trying to do? How long is it going to take? Do we have the resources to deliver it? And most importantly, how will we know what success looks like?

The project management approach is just as relevant to individuals. In my experience, many individuals have had a very fragmented and disjointed approach to support. To help them manage more effectively I would argue we need to treat neurodivergent support far more like a project.

Project Mindset

It is often easy to get baffled and confused by the potential solutions and lose sight of the problem we are trying to solve. Are we taking a project mindset to neurodiversity in the workplace? Are we focusing on what the problem is?

As an example, John needed support with task management. His company provided him with a robust task management app. The app allowed him to connect tasks across applications and distribute them throughout the organisation. John required a simple solution to help him understand what he needed to do and the priority that should be assigned to each task. As a result of the solution, John became obsessed with making sure he was fully utilising the app rather than focusing on solving the problem. He became stressed, anxious, and guilty about not using the app completely, which distracted him from the problem at hand, which was effectively prioritising his workload.

John’s situation is true for many individuals, as often incorrect solutions are provided that often create additional problems instead of solving the original issue.

Adjustments and support fall into two models which are, The Medical Model, which is about fixing the individual and The Social Model which looks at the social/organisational factors that disable the individual from working effectively.

Often the easy answer is to try and fix the individual by providing an off-the-shelf solution, but there needs to be experimentation, open dialogue and possible coaching.  Then a solid process can be written down and used going forward.  This needs to be led by the individual with support from the organisation. When we look at this in a project way, it means taking a step back and thinking about the impacts of what’s going on within the organisation.

The broom cupboard

Another example: I worked with Toni, who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and was dealing with work overload and unhelpful organisational behaviours. Toni enjoyed teaching and was successful in the classroom, but her administrative abilities let her down. Furthermore, there was bureaucracy within the organisation, which meant that basic administrative tasks were assigned to senior staff.

We began with small wins to gain momentum, such as examining how Toni could better complete her administration. We set up a distraction-free environment in a broom cupboard for her to complete her administrative tasks. Toni’s mood improved dramatically as a result of a simple change that was inexpensive and quick to implement. Then we altered the way classes were assigned, allowing Toni to have breaks and time for administration between teaching. This was a more difficult organisational issue that required leadership support. The changes were made one at a time and were evaluated based on their impact and usefulness to the individual and the organisation.

In this particular case, it was helpful to get quick wins before working on more challenging adjustments. This allowed Toni to build trust and gain confidence in what was being implemented to make sure the solutions met her needs.

Action is key on Project Neurodiversity

“Often movement is the most important thing.”

Claire Pedrick

We are often afraid to begin, but to determine what is useful, it is critical to ask the individual and the teams involved what the problem is and how we can begin to solve it together.

Toni was overwhelmed in the previous example because she couldn’t see a way to begin solving the problem. What worked was solving one problem, reviewing the solution to ensure that it resolved the issue in the short and long term, and then moving on to the next. Action will frequently involve challenging the status quo, but I would argue that well-thought-out systematic changes will often benefit not only the individual but also the larger organisation.

Creating workplace adjustments should be viewed as a project that should be implemented, but be prepared to roll it back if it doesn’t work. The process should be structured, and documented and any changes made need to be communicated, recorded and approved by all stakeholders who use the process.

I hope the information above has helped you think about neurodiversity and how to use the concept of a project to make changes more effectively. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in making your work environment become more neuroinclusive.

Apple

Neuroinclusive workplace – moving from awareness to action

When I was growing up we had a fruit bowl that was often filled with all sorts of different fruits, oranges, apples, mangoes, pineapples and sometimes even passionfruit. Now imagine a fruit bowl that is just full of apples and no other fruits are allowed. If another fruit wants to come into the fruit bowl it has to look like an apple, taste like an apple and be in the right shape to be considered an apple. Now I would argue many of our workplaces look like the fruit bowl and only have apples. This is true when it comes to the neuroinclusive workplace. I would also argue that we spend a lot of time trying to make oranges look like apples, when actually they make far better oranges!

Welcome to the reality of the homogenous workplace.

Diversity matters and it has a positive impact on the bottom line:

  • report by Deloitte found that 69 % of executives reported diversity is an important issue.
  • When studying how diversity and employee engagement affected performance Gallup found that, “the combination of [high] employee engagement and gender diversity resulted in 46% to 58% higher financial performance.”
  • In a similar study drawing a connection between performance and diversity, Boston Consulting Group “found that companies with above-average total diversity had both 19% higher innovation revenues and 9% higher EBIT margins, on average.”
  • McKinsey insights found businesses that have more women in executive positions are 25% more likely to earn more.
  • McKinsey found that in their Diversity Wins report “Companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are 12% more likely to outperform all other companies in the data set.”

Much of the research to date has centred around gender and racial diversity within organisations. What is clear from indicative evidence is that neurodiversity matters in solving problems and moving organisations forward in innovation. This has the benefit of also increasing profitability and operational effectiveness.

the neuroinclusive workplace

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing in a neuroinclusive workplace

I believe we need to accept that making the neuroinclusive workspace a reality involves going through the steps of forming, storming, norming, and performing, like the formation of any team because the neuroinclusive workspace is about forming a team in a different way.

Awareness, I would argue sits at the forming stage. What we now need to do is step forwards into the storming, which can often involve deep and challenging conversations.

What is not always clear is how to go about the storming. Some insight can be gained from neurodiverse hiring programs to attract subsets of neurodivergent individual traits, for example, a focus on autism and the perceived benefits of hyperfocus. These on the surface are often great programs but they can fail to fully realise the benefits of neurodivergent thinking across the organisation. There is also the other resounding issue of individuals who find out about their neurodivergent traits later on in their careers, potentially after changing roles or a reorganisation. This can have a negative impact on the organisation and its effectiveness to achieve its goals.

Where does the neuroinclusive workplace fit within your organisation?

What is often also poorly understood is the reality of different thinking styles intersected with everything else that is going on in an individual’s life and how that can positively affect an organisation’s performance. As you can see throughout this piece we are talking about generalisations of conditions and assumptions. What’s more important is to consider the individuals that are involved. When we consider this it becomes obvious that this is about relationships and understanding. One of the most effective ways to make this happen is by getting individuals who have neurodivergent traits together with leaders so they can have frank and open conversations. The focus of these conversations could be on how to use their skills collaboratively together to help the organisation gain the benefits and innovative potential of neurodivergent thinking.

This is more than just a coffee, it must be a conversation that has structure and ground rules so that both parties can learn from each other and start to form an understanding of the strengths and difficulties that they face.

If this is a conversation that you’d like to start within your organisation and you need help to make it work please contact me.

Neurodiversity

What is Neurodiversity?

Have you ever helped someone and seen their eyes light up as they realise that they can solve their own problem and keep solving their problems? I call this, “Making Neurodiversity Heroes.”

In my mid-30s I faced a stark choice, whether to try and complete a qualification where I needed to write essays in a closed room with no help, or whether to bail out and do something different.

As I had been diagnosed with dyslexia I was able to get help through the government Access to Work scheme and as a result, I now have a diploma in marketing. This wasn’t a magic wand, but instead the start of the process of discovery in recognising I had real strengths I needed to amplify, along with several difficulties I needed to manage to be successful.

Neurotypical and neurodiverse

Neurodiversity is about how we all think differently. What I am specifically interested in are the people that don’t fit what we call, “neurotypical,” which is what the average person is like in terms of their thinking style. Neurodivergent on the other hand describes those people that think differently. This can be in small ways or sometimes large ways.

Where did the term neurodiversity come from?

The term neurodiversity has been used since the 1990s and was originally brought into use through a collaboration between sociologist Judy Singer and journalist Harvey Blume, regarding their work around autism. What the term means has expanded since then and it encompasses all types of thinking. What is important within this is recognising that some people are neurotypical and others are neurodivergent.

Why I became a neurodivergent coach

1 in 8 people are neurodivergent within the workplace and many experience challenges conducting their everyday work. These challenges are often related to efficiency and communication, along with being able to carry out tasks in the same way as neurotypical colleagues. This often means that neurodivergent individuals ignore their strengths and instead focus on their perceived difficulties, not bringing the full value they could to their workplace.

I’ve seen what happens to both individuals and organisations when people are helped and use different processes to complete their work. This is how heroes are made!

Amplify strengths and manage difficulties of neurodiversity

Neurodivergent individuals can be helped to amplify their strengths and manage perceived difficulties. For example, if they are dyslexic, a strength could be around communication skills and emotional intelligence. A difficulty could be around processing and short-term memory and to manage these difficulties new coping strategies could be put in place as well as assistive technology.

It’s important to remember that if you have met one neurodivergent individual you have met only one. Just as each neurotypical person is an individual, each neurodivergent person is an individual too, so they need to be treated as one.

When strategies and potential solutions to help amplify strengths and manage difficulties are being looked at, it is vital that the individual can make choices about the best way to implement solutions in their situation. I have seen with first-hand experience how neurodivergent individuals can become as efficient, if not more so than their neurotypical colleagues.

I started The Neurodivergent Coach to help organisations and neurodivergent individuals to flourish.

If you would like to discuss any of the strategies or ideas mentioned here, please get in touch.