The Key to Enhance Business Innovation? Stop Hiring People That Look Like You!

Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Jeff Dachis, Van Jones (photo credit: Culture Shift Labs)

Do you want to innovate and become a leader in your field?

Take a look around your workplace. Look at your workers, your managers, your senior leadership.

Now ask yourself, are you hiring people that look like you?

If you are, you need to stop. A homogenous company is one which can easily fall victim to groupthink. If everyone is from the same culture and thinks in the same way, your business is going to follow a comfortable and familiar path.

But this is not going to spark innovation. It’s not going to generate new ideas or open new markets.

Business innovation starts with creativity. Creativity will always be stifled in a homogeneous environment. But in a diverse environment creativity can thrive, flourish and bloom.

With a truly diverse workforce you can:

● Adopt new perspectives on difficult problems

● Draw from a broader range of experiences

● Identify hitherto missed opportunities

● Make connections with new customer demographics

The case for diversity in business

The case for diversity in our society hardly needs to be made. From the sports legend that is Michael Jordan to the Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, our culture has been enriched immeasurably by people of color.

But what about diversity in business? The contributions of women and minorities in business are often overlooked. Do you remember using liquid paper to correct an inadvertent error? Well that was the idea of Bette Nesmith Graham, one of the most famous women inventors of the 20th century.

In the modern world of tech, women have been quietly making their contribution. Do you know for example, that Steve Jobs’ early Apple team had a number of talented women on it?

And let’s not forget people of color. Like John Wendell Thompson, the brilliant African-American tech executive who succeeded Bill Gates as the chairman of Microsoft.

Visionary leaders in all sectors of business are actively embracing diversity:

Aaron Dworkin, Robert F. Smith, Alek Wek, John Demsey (photo credit: Culture Shift Labs)

“All of the many progressive societal changes that we have experienced recently are pointing us to a place of far greater inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity… We decided to do something completely different this year, something that reflects not only the spring 2016 runways but the shifting times we live in.”

— Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine:

“Diversity is critical to innovation and it is essential to Apple’s future…This means fostering diversity not just at Apple but throughout our entire ecosystem, from the customers we welcome in our stores to the suppliers and developers we work with.”

— Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Why diversity promotes innovation

It’s very simple. Diversity drives innovation because diverse groups are less conformist.

Imagine a homogeneous group of people. They grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools, and now they go to the same social events. In a brainstorming session, they’re going to come up with ideas that are pretty similar. What’s more, there’s often a group dynamic at play which encourages sticking to group norms and discourages new thinking.

Now take a diverse group. These people are from different cultures, different genders, and different backgrounds. In a brainstorming session, all bets are off. It would be hard to predict what ideas they’re going to think up, and you can bet that some of them will be startlingly original.

Nilka Thomas, guest, Janine Dorsett, Daisy Auger Dominquez (photo credit: Culture Shift Labs)

All the studies bear this out:

● Forbes commissioned a study on fostering innovation through a diverse workforce that concluded: “Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale. Senior executives are recognizing that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds is crucial to the development of new ideas.”

● Academy of Management Journal conducted a study in the banking industry which found: “Cultural diversity does in fact add value and, within the proper context, contributes to firm competitive advantage.”

● Harvard Business Review conducted a study which reported: “Employees at [diverse companies] are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”

Drawing up a diversity strategy

“Diverse teams and companies make better decisions.”

— Eileen Taylor, global head of diversity for Deutsche Bank

Teams can benefit from diversity to become more creative. Your team leaders should therefore actively seek to recruit members from a diverse background. This can and should encompass different genders, a range of cultures and varying educational backgrounds. Your teams will therefore have a wide range of knowledge and experience to inspire new and innovative ideas.

To have diverse teams your company needs to be diverse. Your hiring practices must actively seek out men and women who are diverse in their race, culture, education, and experience. If you do this you will benefit not only from the individuals you recruit, but also their own networks. These networks can give you valuable inroads into a range of untapped markets.

Your diversity strategy must extend right up to management and board level. Your managers themselves should be drawn from diverse backgrounds. They should be capable of leading diverse teams and be able to give responsibility to team members without excessive micromanagement.

Frito-Lay, a $13 billion unit of Pepsico successfully implemented a diversity strategy to appeal to the growing US Hispanic population. By tapping into ‘Adelante’, their internal network of Hispanic employees, they were able to develop and market snacks targeted at Hispanic communities and see sales to these communities grow by 32%.

Managing diversity

Embracing diversity is beneficial but it must be managed carefully. There’s a danger of haphazardly combining people of divergent races, cultures and backgrounds leading to a ‘Tower of Babel’ situation. Some members may be uncomfortable in dealing with colleagues who are ‘different’. Other members may feel excluded and be reluctant to contribute.

To make diversity work you may need to implement a culture change in your organization. Too many companies are working on what former SRI CEO Curt Carlson terms an “obsolete management model”.

Curt Carlson

Successful culture change depends on skilled leaders who understand the value of diversity. They can develop a vision that can be developed and shared throughout your company. This vision should be communicated in continuous messages based on big actionable themes.

You should also consider following the example of Barclays Bank and draw up a set of performance metrics to monitor the success of your diversity strategy. For example, Barclays monitors its commitment to promoting talented women through tracking the percentage of women in senior leadership roles.

Changing your culture to embrace diversity is a large-scale and long-term undertaking. But the development of fresh ideas and access new markets will make the effort more than worthwhile.

About Culture Shift Labs

CSL is a strategic advisory and business development firm that helps bold thinking corporations and executives with growth by way of diversity and innovation.

We assess, create and execute diversity and innovation and new markets strategies and tactics and customize Think Tanks and Innovation Pop Up Labs for clients who are ready to act. Additionally, we engineer connections between corporations and members of the “diverse elite” in our vast proprietary database: the “diverse elite” is a moniker for innovators, influencers, investors and inventors of color and women.

For more on how we can help you leapfrog over the competition, find new markets, business and growth opportunities, visit us at Culture Shift Labs.

CEO @ Culture Shift Labs | Growth Strategist | Biz Dev Exec | Advisor to Leaders | Author | SME: Diversity & Innovation | Serving Early Adopting Execs.

CEO @ Culture Shift Labs | Growth Strategist | Biz Dev Exec | Advisor to Leaders | Author | SME: Diversity & Innovation | Serving Early Adopting Execs.