A recent Wall Street Journal study found diversity gives a company a measurable competitive edge. The top 20 most-diverse companies in the study produced better bottom-line results and more innovation. This doesn’t surprise me. When you make a deliberate effort to bring people together with diverse backgrounds and experiences, you can tap into new ways of thinking – fresh perspectives that challenge the ways that things have always been done. I see these results each month in my CEO peer advisory group, as executives from non-competing companies come together to help each other solve their challenges. Not only do they bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds, they’re not constrained by institutional knowledge. They can offer fresh, objective perspectives on a solution.
Tapping into diverse experiences – both inside and outside your team – is the key to unlocking this potential for your own organization. Here are a few ways leaders can create an environment that celebrates diversity of thought:
- Be wary of confirmation bias. Don’t surround yourself with colleagues who tell you only what you want to hear. Actively seek out people with different backgrounds, different ideas and different thoughts. Ask their opinions, and not just when the organization is in crisis mode.
- Challenge long-held beliefs. Show you are open to changing your mind. Being surrounded by “yes people” won’t help leaders solve long-standing challenges or identify new solutions. Mediocrity is the defender of the status quo. When making hiring decisions, you want passionate and knowledgeable candidates who are also willing to ask clarifying questions and challenge your ideas.
- Reduce the focus on hierarchy. Don’t assume the most senior person in the room has the best ideas. Reducing hierarchy increases the exchange of ideas across the organization. The person answering the phone or responding to comments on social media might have an invaluable and timely piece of information for the head of sales.
- Consider there can be more than one right answer to a problem. As a leader, you set the organization’s vision, purpose, objectives and strategic direction. But you don’t have to approve every step, process and report needed to measure success. Your team will feel more motivated to find a solution when they have the freedom to find the one that works best for them. And you might find yourself pleasantly surprised with new solutions.
- Find the right blend of specialists and generalists. I recently read David Epstein’s “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” which challenges the idea of domain expertise. He argues people with diverse experiences and interests are more effective than people focused on a single specialty. So, instead of looking for a candidate with 10,000 hours of experience in just one area, you might be better off with a colleague who brings a range of experiences to your company.
The evidence is clear that diversity and inclusion strengthen an organization and give it an edge over the competition. Fresh ideas come from diverse perspectives that challenge the status quo. If you can create an environment that celebrates diversity of thought, it could be the spark to ignite your company’s growth to unimagined heights.
Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35 year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executive of companies all over the world. To learn how a peer advisory group can help you navigate challenges, make better decisions and achieve growth, visit vistage.com.