As business professionals, we often talk about company culture, employee engagement, and diversity. However, sometimes when we have these conversations, we talk about each topic separately. As in, “Company culture is important because…” or “Employee engagement will help your organization do…” and “Creating a diverse culture improves the business…”
At this year’s WorkHuman Conference, pioneered by Globoforce, author Adam Grant shared a roadmap for creating a culture of original thinkers. If you’re not familiar with Grant’s work, he is a professor in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also the author of three best-selling books including “Give and Take”. What I liked about Grant’s session was his practical and actionable suggestions.
5 Attributes of a Company Culture with Original Thinkers
We’ve heard many times that diversity of thought unleashes creativity and innovation in the workplace. But how do organizations make that happen? It’s not as simple as “Poof! Be creative now.” Here are five places to start:
- Focus on retention. There are three key touchpoints where this can be done. 1) Do “entry” or new hire interviews. Find out what candidates think of the process. 2) Conduct stay interviews. Or managers could at least ask a stay interview question during one-on-one meetings. 3) Ask the right exit interview questions and encourage open dialogue.
- Make the unfamiliar familiar. This means demystifying processes. Grant shared that it takes 10-20 exposures to a new idea for it to stick. Yet, we expect people to see or hear something once and that’s it. Companies can teach employees how to retain information by making connections with the familiar. For example, Warby Parker might be described as the “Zappos of eyeglasses” or the “Neflix of eyewear”.
- Fight groupthink. There’s a well-worn saying, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” Truth is, people love to talk about problems. Grant suggests changing the mindset. “If you tell people ‘Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”, you’ll never hear the biggest problems. Let people simply identify problems then, work on solutions as a team.
- Share stupid ideas. This relates to the last attribute. And, I believe this applies to every level of the organization. Organizations need to allow people the comfort of sharing ideas, regardless of their initial value. It would also be helpful to provide training to employees so they can work through their own ideas to overcome any challenges or obstacles.
- Challenge leadership. I once worked with a CEO who crowdsourced his own performance review. He was comfortable with the feedback. I believe leadership exists at every level in the organization. But just because it exists doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve our leadership capabilities. It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared to listen to others.
Grant suggests that one way to start encouraging original thinking is by conducting a “Kill the Company” exercise. This could be great activity for your next strategic planning meeting. People might find dinosaurs cool, but organizations certainly don’t want to hire a company full of them.
Organizational Processes Matter
But let’s be clear. Killing the company doesn’t mean creating anarchy. It’s also not to simply pile on to it – as in, “let’s add this new ‘thing’ to our culture statement.” The goal is to find a way to regularly rework company culture. The key is to develop a good process for doing so. Good processes lead to good outcomes. Poor processes either over reward or over punish. Here are two examples I’ve seen before:
A bad process with a good outcome is the same as “achieving the goal but leaving body bags all along the way”. The wrong behaviors are rewarded.
A good process with a bad outcome is the same as “the only thing that matters is winning”. Individuals are punished for the outcome even if they did all the right things along the way.
Another thing that Grant addressed was values. I don’t know that we always think about values in a process context, but values can drive how processes are created and implemented. He suggested that organizations with 8-10 core values might be asking too much of employees. Is it fair to have a lot of core values? Maybe the better approach is to have 3-4 values, with one of those values being diversity. Also, take the time to rank values so everyone understands their relative importance.
There’s a growing school of thought that the term “culture fit” is synonymous with the “same as me” bias. And that organizations who are too focused on culture fit could be losing their ability to cultivate original thinkers. Instead of focusing on culture fit, it’s time for organizations to focus on creating a culture connection, because then everyone in the culture is tasked to do what’s best for the company.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the Healthcare Human Resources Association Conference in Stillwater, MN14