Understanding people

Understanding people 

John Amaechi OBE, Chief Executive Officer, Amaechi Performance Systems

Understanding people – the performance prerogative

John Amaechi is a psychologist, best-selling author, NHS director and former NBA basketball player who believes that engaged and diverse teams are key to performance. 

“When diverse teams are managed well, they perform at a far higher rate than a homogeneous team however they are managed. However, when diverse teams are managed poorly, they perform significantly worse.”

Bias ends where you stop unconscious bias if it exists.
— John Amaechi

This is why it’s important to have diverse teams, but also why the first and front-line managers leading those teams must be equipped to manage diverse people. If they’re not, then your diverse team will perform very poorly.

The issue, said John, was that most people in first time, front-line management positions don’t have specialist skills in dealing with diverse people - that’s where the real prerogative is for us to make some of those changes.

The limitations of unconscious bias awareness

Policies won’t make organisations more diverse, because they are about compliance not performance. Unconscious bias training does not help either, he said. 

“Unconscious bias training lies on a couple of very tenuous tenets. The first is that unconscious bias training only works if unconscious bias is the problem. The second is the idea that being made aware of your bias will make you want to change it. The problem with that is that we know what the bias is, but lots of people are comfortable with it.” 

"Which kitten is the cutest?" - John Amaechi, on stage, Quest NBS and CIMSPA conference

"Which kitten is the cutest?" - John Amaechi, on stage, Quest NBS and CIMSPA conference

It’s not unconscious bias that was the problem; it’s an absence of appropriate interpersonal vigilance, said John.  “Bias ends where you stop unconscious bias if it exists.”

Organisations are very good at handling the big issues, but tend to let the little things go. By not dealing with such issues as inappropriate language and casual sexism as soon as they arise, organisations run the risk of letting them build up until such an extent when they need to invest in outside help such as unbiased training to solve the problem. And so the cycle continues. 

John believes that great inclusive leaders possess the following:

  • Conscious – being proactively aware of individuals around you
  • Credibility
  • Congruence
  • Consistency
  • Clarity

Becoming truly inclusive

To become inclusive, leaders must first admit that their organisations have failed in the past in terms of inclusion. They must declare the tone they are going to set and the standards they will adhere to, and then demand that the people around them hold them accountable. They can then expect their people to follow. And if they don’t, leaders must explain that this is not the way their organisations work.

“Those who would negatively disrupt your inclusive culture are increasingly sophisticated. You guys determine what ‘fit’ means in your organisations. If you treat every interaction and decision as a conscious choice and not a reflex, you shortcut the possibility for the unconscious to dominate. No organisation is too big to change. That’s a lie we’ve been telling ourselves for years.”