Diversity of Thought – Thinking beyond the Pipeline to Drive Business Results

Award-winning ConAgra Foods, Inc. is leveraging profiles on how people think as a roadmap for successfully driving real-world business results. The ConAgra Diversity in Thinking Styles approach is aligning its teams and increasing the company’s operating efficiency.

“People think differently and process things differently. This is about understanding one another to leverage the power of every individual on a team. We’re getting real results that are leveraging the power of our teams internally and around the world,” ConAgra Vice President of Human Resources Angela Jones said.

ConAgra began unlocking the power of whole brain thinking a little over two years ago, when it introduced the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) internally to explore the thought diversity of employees. The original intent was to assess, apply and share individual thinking preferences. ConAgra has since taken its Diversity in Thinking Styles approach to new levels with employees, teams, vendors, customers and its international team.

“A leader’s ability to be inclusive of diversified thinking styles and to leverage that diversity to practice whole brain thinking is a strategic enabler for us to drive both engagement and business success,” Jones said. The company is leveraging an understanding of this both internally and externally in creative measures that are driving innovation. “It’s leveraging the power of every individual on a team. This is the framework for leveraging diversity of thinking styles and capturing the power of whole brain thinking,” Jones added.

Diversity in Thinking Styles

Since the company introduced this Diversity of Thinking Styles approach to its diversity learning curriculum, it has seen a 28 percent increase in training requests from its business partners. Well over 600 employees have navigated through the assessment and over 50 team and pairs sessions are positively impacting cross-functional channels throughout the company.

The results from the HBDI validated assessments equipped the company with an understanding of both individual and team thinking preferences. The action plan emerging from the results is resulting in clearer and more effective communication among those whose thought processes are similar and also those who think differently. “It’s resulting in improved teamwork, relationships, problem solving, and other aspects of personal and interpersonal development,” Jones said. It’s also opening pathways for achieving more clearly articulated and shared goals.

The underlying concept is there are discernable differences in people’s thinking, and when you know and understand your own, you can choose and use more effective strategies for understanding others and managing time and projects.

Strategies for Understanding Others

ConAgra now has seven certified facilitators who take intact teams through interactive activities that show participants how their individual thinking preferences roll-up to their collective team thinking style. They do this both under normal conditions and under stress.

The results of the personal assessment are shared privately and each employee receives coaching on how to leverage all four quadrants of the brain to gain more creative solutions. The team leader is given a team review to see which members are positioned in roles that effectively leverage their strengths. This group session is designed to help the team understand how to be inclusive and most efficiently leverage each members capabilities to achieve the team’s business objectives.

In addition to positively driving business results and efficiency, the initiative has also proven helpful in resolving traditional diversity conflicts in both peer-to-peer and boss-subordinate relationships. “There were instances where individuals assumed their conflicts arose from gender or ethnic bias. However, when the see the differences in their thinking, they are able to see a different reality and align on common ground to improve the relationship with acceptance and understanding,” ConAgra Manager of Diversity and Inclusion Damita Byrd said.

By bringing two teams together, such as branding and research and development, the company is able to compare and contrast team profiles and discern how the differences are impacting matrix performance and how to leverage the new knowledge to accelerate collaboration.

ConAgra has created a roadmap to fully leveraging individual thinking styles to improve team performance and to serve their stakeholders better by fully leveraging left and right brain thinking.

ConAgra Foods Inc. is one of North America’s largest packaged food companies and its largest private brand packaged food business. Its portfolio includes brands found in 99 percent of American households, and has a strong commercial and foodservice business. With headquarters currently in Omaha, Nebraska, the company recently announced it will be relocating its headquarters to Chicago, while still retaining a presence in Omaha.