Diversity, Innovation, and Hiring for Cultural Contribution

metacool diversity innovation cultural contribution

The future of your organization is shaped by the people you hire today. And given the pace of change in today’s world, not forging ahead means falling behind. As John W. Gardner once said, the “only stability possible is stability in motion.” Constantly innovating your market offerings, operations, and culture is an imperative.

Most innovations arise from transplanting what works in one field to another, bringing two separate ideas together, or by simply noticing what’s already there. Innovative organizations do all of these routinely, because:

  • the knowledge base of their employees spans a broad range of intellectual disciplines
  • their members represent a wide range of life experiences and circumstances
  • as individuals, they’re able to listen carefully to the viewpoints of others

Here’s the key to this list: diversity. The more diverse the people in your organization, the more points of inspiration it will contain. This enables the creative connections that generate the kinds of innovations that keep you at the fore.

But most hiring processes focus on “cultural fit” and lead to the opposite of diversity. Why? Because when we hire based on how well someone will fit in today, we tend to choose people similar to those already around us.

So how do I hire? My solution is to prioritize cultural contribution over cultural fit. I try to choose candidates who could make a positive contribution to the future of our culture, even if they don’t feel like today’s mainstream employee. I don’t optimize for fit with our existing culture, because over time that will lead to uniformity and irrelevancy. Instead, I try to envision a future where this person’s unique point of view has shifted how we work and what we value. I hire for an individual’s potential cultural contribution.

Focusing on cultural contribution in hiring and in day-to-day organizational life sets the stage for creativity and innovation to flourish. Some examples:

  • Putting engineers together with social scientists and business people almost always leads to breakthroughs that each group could never reach alone. A diversity of knowledge and viewpoints massively boosts their creative output. I see this every year at the Stanford d.school — it’s how students there have been able to create remarkable offerings such as Pulse and Embrace.
  • Encouraging everyone to bring their own particular life experience to work— no matter their educational background, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political views, social status, national origin, or spot in the organizational hierarchy — dramatically increases the quality and kind of ideas that emerge. When nurses at Kaiser Permanente were directly involved in a program to improve the exchange of patient information at daily shift, their first-hand insights resulted in massive efficiency gains.

And even more importantly, hiring for cultural contribution forces managers to think critically about their existing culture: What’s lacking? Where do we want to go? Acknowledging that our culture needn’t be static helps us have serious conversations about what we want and how the world works. Doing so helps us develop a confident awareness of what makes our culture thrive. At the end of the day, an organization with a diverse, creative community living in a self-aware culture can move mountains. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Through my own leadership roles and across the hundreds of client organizations I’ve worked with, I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of hiring strong cultural contributors. And I’ve seen how the resulting diversity drives a more innovative, competitive, vibrant, and lasting organization.

When we hire with cultural contribution in mind, we commit to evolve to where we need to go by trusting our newest contributors to take us there. That’s a bet I’ll make every time.