Elizabeth Arnott, SPHR
Steps to a Thriving Neurodiverse Culture: Provide Explanations
"Do what I say." "Why?" "Because I said so." Remember those exchanges between you and adults when you were a kid? Did you joyfully then do what you were asked? Me neither.
Neurodiverse employees often will produce much better, quality work if they know the why behind the ask. This isn't new though. Most employees respond better when you explain why you need something done. And they respond better when the explanation makes sense. When employees are asked to do something for a nebulous reason, they don't feel that sense of urgency to get it done - they aren't motivated because they don't know why it's important. Give them the dots to connect. Show them the logic in your request.
One manager I worked with required her employees to create time-consuming paperwork tracking their tasks, and storing the papers in color-coded folders. When employees asked about why it was necessary for them to do this, the manager replied "Because I asked you to." Unsurprisingly, complaints poured in to the HR office that week. Even though the practice was discontinued shortly afterwards (because the task, in fact, had no purpose) the damage was done to this manager's reputation and to her relationship with her employees.
A young man, we'll call him Seth, started a temp job at a call center. He was not excited. He was given the task of calling former customers to get their signature on the work order form that the contractor had neglected to give them. Tedious! Uncomfortable! For someone like Seth, the personal interaction that this task required was very daunting and personal interactions were not his strength. But the message when they gave him the assignment was: "We need you to do this because otherwise we don't get paid for any of these jobs. The company is in jeopardy because we are missing millions of dollars here. We need your help."
Seth realized the importance of his job and why this tedious job needed to be done. It made sense that they would try to recover this money that was just waiting to be collected with a simple signature. He put his discomfort aside and worked harder and faster than he had worked at any job. He wasn't paid a generous wage. He wasn't given gratuitous benefits. He was just given an explanation. In three months, he recovered over a thousand documents worth $2.5 million.
Less experienced managers and supervisors sometimes feel that they don't owe an explanation to their employees, that it might open them up to criticism. That's true. You might get criticism. But by explaining to your employees why you are asking them to complete a task, you show your respect for them. You show that you need them and that they are important. And the reward for that will go far beyond any harm that a critique of your explanation could do to your relationship with your employees.
If you want the best performance from the employees in your thriving neurodiverse culture, your honesty and explanations are what they need to put their best foot forward in any task you assign.