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Seek out 'Culture Expanders' not 'Culture Fit'

Seek out 'Culture Expanders' not 'Culture Fit'

This article is part two in a two-part series about why homogenous organizations stifle innovation.

Early in my career, I was on a team of three people. My organization was very invested in the Myer-Briggs personality index. My teammates and I were INFP, ENFP, and ENFP. While the three of us got along very well and were always able to act empathetically, since we understood what made the others tick, we also had some considerable weaknesses and blind spots as a team.

One of our weaknesses was that we were dreadful at logistics, details, and planning. (For those unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs index, people who are “NFP” tend to be more abstract, spontaneous, unscheduled and more likely to go with their gut feeling than try to plan ahead and stick with it.) True to form, we tended to not develop concrete plans and had a “we’ll deal with that issue if/when it comes up” approach, rather than proactively plan and schedule.

As expected, we were a nightmare for detail-oriented people in other groups who needed clear expectations and timelines. By having a very homogeneous culture in our team, our blind spots actually caused a lot of anxiety for people who depended on us. Some of our projects ultimately failed due to a breakdown of external partnerships. Our team was cohesive and fun, but it was limited in its ability to get a variety of things done well because we lacked diversity of personalities and skill sets. On top of our shortcomings, our team also struggled to try new things, instead focusing on the things we already knew how to do well.

Often companies end up looking for people who fit best with the existing culture, when instead, they should be looking for someone who can bring something new to the business, help fill blind spots, push boundaries and expand the horizons in ways that will equip the organization for future success.

At our 2019 Summit, Frans Johansson dove deeper into his research about how diversity leads to innovation. He challenged the room to rethink the notion of diversity being a 'nice-to-have…but at the end of the day the most qualified person should be hired.'  He pointed out the flaws, biases and limitations in how we perceive expertise and qualifications. Here’s a great example to consider:

Imagine Greg and Valeria are both applying for the same job at the same company. Both candidates are strong, but Greg checks off more of the boxes that the company is looking for. He has the right level of education, the work experiences they’re looking for and he just feels like a great fit. The hiring manager assumes that he would bring more to the company than Valeria, who didn’t attend a fancy school and worked for some smaller, lesser known companies.

Now, let’s take a look at the impact each of them would hypothetically have on the company if they were hired. Imagine the image below represents the collective knowledge, experience, and skill set of the organization prior to its decision of who to hire. Each bubble represents an employee on the team in terms of what unique value they add the business. When the bubbles overlap, it represents skills, knowledge, and experience that the individuals share.

Now, the next chart represents what their company would gain in terms of breadth of experience and expertise if they were to add Greg AND Valeria:

Valeria might be less appealing on paper, but she offers a unique perspective and skill set that was previously lacking in the organization. In this example, she adds more value to the business than Greg. Not only does she cover ground that no one else does, she also widens the overall pool of expertise, knowledge, and skills that the organization was not even aware of. With Valerie, new doors can be unlocked, and this new frontier presents previously unknown opportunities for the organization. But due to preexisting frameworks and biases around expertise and qualifications, this organization may end up passing on Valeria and missing out on the opportunity to take their culture and business to new places.

This is why the time has come to move beyond the idea of a “culture fit” and into a framework of a “culture expander.” While it is always important that applicants meet baseline qualifications and be compatible enough with the team to at least not break out into fist fights in the break room, innovative organizations need to think less about who fits in to the business they have today and more about who opens doors to the kind of business they can be tomorrow.

So let's say the company decides to hire Valeria. Are they guaranteed to gain the benefits of her great ideas and new perspectives? Of course not. Having Valeria in the business is the first step. Unless she is treated equitably every day, has a manager who listens and involves her in decision-making, and feels like she can offer her ideas freely in the workplace, all the potential she brings will likely remain untapped. 

To unleash the competitive advantage of Innovation by All, seek out people who can challenge conventional ideas and discover new intersections of thought and ensure they are involved and empowered to challenge and expand your culture, and therefore, your business.


Matt Bush