How to ENABLE ‘Mental Difference’ to drive business productivity

I used my OCD this morning to solve a challenge!

It was during my regular 10K run so unfortunately I posted a rubbish time because I was thinking about this business challenge throughout, but never mind, I think I solved what needed to be solved, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

After immersing myself fully in consultancy and product development surrounding mental difference for over six months now, I have seen how fragmented the space is already becoming, even though it is still, what I would describe as, embryonic.

There are lots of great awareness raising initiatives, commentators, experts, advocates and supporters, which as I say is great, but from a business perspective I have witnessed business and HR leaders getting a little confused, and not necessarily getting the answers they seek from events and online resources and sources of information.

I’ve been in business for 27 years now, the last ten in senior resourcing and HR roles in some of the largest organisations in the world, but as I’m currently in consulting mode, I wanted to jump back virtually into an HR leadership role, to establish what I would want from the market to be able to fully embrace the subject of mental difference.

I mentioned before I used my OCD to solve this challenge. Since the age of ten my OCD has forced me to solve catastrophic issues and challenges in my head, over and over again, so it has conditioned me into an extremely competent problem solver and solutions provider (that’s others describing me as that, so please don’t think I am being arrogant). In addition, I personally believe my OCD has unlocked elements of my thinking capability, which allow me to mine a little deeper than I would if I hadn’t had a life long battle with mental illness.

So in a little over 50 minutes (probably more like 60 minutes) I processed and morphed everything I have absorbed over the last six months into a step by step approach to solving how an organisation can embrace and leverage mental difference, and I named it the ENABLE Mental Difference Model.

E = Educate

All workers across an organisation need to understand from qualified medical professionals the range of known mental illnesses and their symptoms, and how best to seek help from the medical profession.

This will enable individuals to understand if they themselves are experiencing things that might suggest they are having difficulty with their mental health and how best to seek advice and support.

Equally it will give others the ability to identify characteristics and behaviours in others that might suggest someone is having mental health difficulties, and if so, what they can do to help that person, either by direct intervention and conversation, or by confidentially bringing it to the attention of the internal mental health first aider(s) or equivalent support staff.

Finally it will help to increase compassion across the organisation and reduce stigma, so that when behaviours are witnessed which would normally draw an adverse assumption or reaction, people might think twice and recognise it as being uncharacteristic and maybe due to a colleague being in some form of cognitive distress.

Naturally some will say this shouldn’t be the job of an employer in isolation and that society and the education system should be providing this level of information and understanding. Unfortunately, it is apparent from the stigma that is still attached to mental difference (reducing but still at an unacceptable level) and the general lack of knowledge and awareness across the business community, that more can be done here. I praise the efforts of the mental health charities and organisations that are making so much progress, and campaigns/petitions like HeaducationUK, to make mental health education compulsory in schools, so please get behind these directly.

But if we can support all of this great work as employers as well, we are guaranteed to reach most or all that are affected to deliver the biggest impact.

N = Normalise

Once a level of understanding exists the conversation surrounding mental difference can be normalised within the working environment.

Events designed to allow the organisation and individuals to open up and discuss mental difference result in creating the right conditions for people to bring their whole selves to work and achieve optimum productivity.

They also surface people that are passionate about the subject, either because they themselves have personal experience, or know someone intimately that does.

A range of preventative and reactive support activities, mechanisms and resources will develop for people to access when required, leading to a more engaged, open, healthy and productive workforce.

Compassion again is stimulated along with a legacy to keep the conversation going. Brand value is generated, especially internal and external employer brand, as the positive messaging surrounding employee engagement and care is amplified across social media and old school face to face networking.

It is vitally important however to have a clear strategy for these events because of the sensitivity of the subject matter and potential outputs, which will include some people opening up about some of their most personal thoughts, feeling and attributes. The correct levels of support need to be in place in anticipation, plus a commitment from the organisation that no-one is judged or treated unfairly because of their disclosures.

A = Align

Your mental wellbeing strategy, needs to align to your general wellbeing strategy, which needs to align with your people strategy, which ultimately needs to align with your overall business strategy (phew, got there). It’s much easier to say this than actually achieve this, therefore, specialist strategy support in the form of high level strategy sessions with total C Suite commitment is essential.

I would suggest this is where you will focus on your resourcing strategy, as part of the people strategy, to shape your roles by the skills and capabilities required, more so than the elements that could bring unconscious bias into the recruitment process. A big one this which I am happy to take offline and discuss in isolation.

Anything short of achieving a full understanding and acceptance that a critical focus on mental wellbeing, and how this contributes to overall business productivity and performance, misses the target and will unfortunately be sub optimal.

B = Business Case

The outcome is invariably going to require investment, but by this time you will not only know it’s the right thing to do, you will know is the best thing to do, to support achieving your business objectives and the expectations of all of your stakeholders.

This is the time to build a robust implementation plan, including; project team, resources, responsibilities, processes, methodologies, technologies, third party support, KPI’s and measurements.

By articulating the opportunity, investment case, validated potential outcomes and implementation plan, you will secure the investment and have the correct governance process in place.

L = Live

Time to go live, as per your strategy and implementation plan. Bring everything to life and put everything into action.

Watch as your employees benefit and your business flourishes. It will be truly transformational across many levels.

E = Evaluate

By now you will know your starting point and it’s essential to evaluate and measure progress and success.

The frequency of monitoring and measuring will be high, probably monthly, in the early months and ultimately move to quarterly.

The measurement points will be driven by the strategy, but to ensure engagement, stakeholder advocacy and support and continual investment, the success needs to be articulated and communicated effectively and continuously across the organisation.


You will notice I haven’t gone down the route of recycling all the facts and figures that have already been widely publicised.

It’s deliberate because I am glass half full and have a view that we’ve got enough of that out there now. It’s time to co-ordinate everything that can be done into a credible, step by step, order (there goes the OCD again).

To optimise the outcome this is a true strategic play, and something that you can’t just dip your toe in. It’s too sensitive to go half measures.

Yes, tremendous productivity gains are achievable but at the same time this impacts demonstrably on people’s lives. Please don’t let that stop you, just choose your advisors wisely.

So that run this morning and my OCD helped me get some order in place for a subject I am so deeply passionate about. I hope this supports your thinking as well.

Oh and just because this article focusses on mental difference, the whole subject of diversity should not get lost. In fact I think the ENABLE model could support a best practice approach to diversity as a whole, but there are better people than me to commentate on this.