When the Pictures Don’t Line Up

Do you have team members that seemed great in the interview, are beloved by clients, and seemed to really be going somewhere but they just can’t get organized, keep making careless errors, or have trouble focusing?

If this sounds like one of your team members, you’ve probably wondered if he or she is just lazy or disorganized. But if his or her performance and perceived intelligence don’t line up, he or she could have an undisclosed learning difference.

Learning differences are neurologically based processing differences that, at a fundamental level, interfere with the development of skills such as reading, writing, and math. Adults with learning differences can experience challenges with higher-level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory, and attention. Although considerably studied in early childhood education, learning differences have not been adequately examined in adulthood, especially in the workplace.

As a manager, it is essential to understand how to work with employees with learning differences to maximize their value on your team and avoid assumptions of laziness or a lack of motivation.

Strengths of Team Members with Learning Differences 

study of 300 business leaders found that 40% of them self-identified as dyslexic. This is four times the rate of the general population. This study is one of many that highlight the connection between learning differences and financial success. Some examples include Corcoran Group founder Barbra Corcoran, business magnate Richard Branson, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, and Charles Schwab.

While learning differences do pose specific challenges, generally, those with learning differences have above-average emotional intelligence, which makes these individuals  great at managing others and establishing a sense of interconnectedness at the office. Your team members with learning differences may also have a knack for creativity, big ideas, and narrative reasoning.

Simple Accommodations for Team Members with Learning Differences 

As a manager, you may find that your team members with learning differences need accommodations that others don’t—and you may be surprised to learn how simple and inexpensive many accommodations are.

These tools not only will help those who need the extra support but also can benefit all team members. Once they are in place, you will find that your team will operate more effectively and efficiently.

Simple accommodations are:

  • Asking if team members prefer verbal or written instructions

  • Providing a quiet space to work

  • Promoting the use of calendars, schedulers, and checklists

  • Allowing the use of voice-activated recorders and voice-to-text programs and screen-reading software

  • Encouraging the use of hyperacute grammar and spelling software

  • Breaking down large projects into smaller tasks with specific goals

  • Providing a mentor for employees and additional training time on new functions or processes

Learning differences are often referred to as “hidden disabilities” because they are not readily apparent and can be misinterpreted as laziness or a lack of motivation. If you are a manager with a team member who is displaying significant strengths in specific areas but not others, it’s important to have an open dialogue about a path forward. When managers and employees work together to capitalize on strengths and provide accommodations for differences, both the company and the individuals prosper.

Tommy Morgan