Overcoming Monoculture: Keeping Ideas Alive

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 04-13-2005 Print Email
Opinion: How do you break the cycle of homogeniety in human organizations and find new ways to solve problems?

All human organizations tend to be self-amplifying. —Angus' Eighth Law

As I explained in the first part of this deconstruction of orderly seeming groups, the natural tendency of any organization to become ever more like what it already is a silent killer of effectiveness.

Managers with a certain mind set hire and promote people with the same mind set, sending the message to those who think differently that they're not welcome; over time the decision-making process becomes entirely homogeneous and the organization loses any ability to change or adapt to new conditions.

It's a gravitational field, not a piece of predestination, so with a conscious approach, you can overcome the trend. It's easier in a healthy workplace, but even the most politically stained large organization can apply some tools.

Cracking the Self-Amplification That Weakens

The longer the self-amplification cycle lasts, the more ingrained it becomes. This argues for attacking it as early as possible.

If the organization is reasonably healthy, "diversity" hiring has powerful side-effects that tend to disrupt the worst aspects of self-amplification.

Diversity hiring too frequently is a checkmark item, and in most workplaces, managers go through checkmark tasks in neutral and do a half-axed job of them.

A woman in an all-male shop, a man in an all-woman department, an African-American in an all-"white" bastion has the probability of bringing in a different cluster of life experiences or ways of seeing, and solving, challenges.

People tend to want to hire someone more like themselves or their existing successes, and this natural tendency can undermine the value of the diversity hires.

Unless both H.R. and the hiring leads are determined to hire someone who is truly adding to diversity, they are likely to choose the woman whose operant behaviors most closely resemble their existing talent pool's individuals, and feel the diversity candidates who are least like the incumbents are "too different."

This can destroy the value. Tell H.R. not to vet the apparently qualified candidates of those who seem "too different" so you can at least meet them.

Force them to send you a certain number of wild cards, people who have some qualifications or promise, but who are not optimal; this'll give you a chance to look for something you don't normally get or already have in your group.

The Lotus division of IBM has always been excellent at getting momentum out of its ability to see virtue and not cost in the hiring a diverse cornucopia of talented people.

One does have to be careful not to over-do the difference.

A friend of mine had a client who experimented with turning over diversity hiring to a small committee of ambitious minority employees.

That committee brought in a group of hires, all from one ethnic group, all of whose outlooks and qualifications were very similar, though very different from the rest of the rigidly monocultural company.

The result was a division into two antithetical groups of people, with no one who bridged the gap and few tools to ease the differences.

This client foolishly believed "diversity" hiring was to blame, where it was actually the company's implementation and inability to smooth the flow of new blood into the system that caused the failure.

Most organizations are not healthy enough to do good diversity hiring (if they were really healthy, they wouldn't need to have a special program for it).

Next Page: Costly, But It Works.



 

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