Posts Tagged ‘Inclusion’

Cultivate UniquenessThis post is the second is a five-part series covering the five values my company, Humana, focuses on.  As a reminder, the values are:

I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.

Today’s subject: Cultivate Uniqueness – what can I do to live out this value personally and professionally?

What do you think about when you hear the phrase “cultivate uniqueness”?  Do you think it’s an encouragement to expand inclusion and diversity programs that tend to focus on certain easily measurable demographic differences?  Is it a plea to encourage different ways of thinking and respecting different perspectives?  Is it both of those and maybe more?  I’ve written previously on the need for more emphasis on diversity of thought compared to the more frequent focus of easily quantifiable demographic diversity.

When our company promotes the idea of cultivating uniqueness, here is what we have in mind according to a recent document I received: “We find ways to connect with each other and our consumers.  Respecting one another, listening with an open mind, and seeking different perspectives result in richer solutions.”  That sounds to me like diversity of thought and the interpersonal respect that goes along with valuing the unique perspective others bring to the table.

So what am I doing or what can I do to live out this value?

Personally, I feel that I have always done fairly well at showing respect to others and listening to others, even when we might disagree.  I honestly try to understand the perspectives others bring to the table, even if they are wildly different than mine.  I’ve been told I’m a good listener.  There are others around who bring perspectives to the table that would never occur to me, and if we gather all of these ideas from a group, we then have a much greater chance at arriving at the best solutions possible given our cumulative knowledge and experiences.  When I was a manager at another company, I loved surrounding myself with a variety of people and personalities, entrusting them to do their jobs in ways I would never have imagined.

Uniqueness Not  So  SpecialOf course, simply being unique in one’s perspective is no guarantee that any particular perspective is helpful in a business accomplishing its objectives.  Ideas still have to be vetted by teams and ultimately a decision-maker on whose desk is the sign “The Buck Stops Here.”  But having more choices in that cafeteria line of ideas should make the possibility of a healthy, well-rounded final decision possible.

It is in my role as the community manager for our enterprise social network that I have the greatest opportunity daily to foster the value of cultivating uniqueness.  With over 1,000 posts per day made on the network, many of them are ideas tossed around that invite conversation where the unique perspectives of others add to the discussion.  As a result of that discussion, an original idea can eventually morph into an even better idea with great buy-in from others involved in the process.  I enjoy bringing attention to discussions that may be controversial from time to time because the thinking behind them may go against the 51-year-old grain of the organization.

One of the greatest values of social networks is realized if and when leaders and others crowdsource ideas in order to ultimately make better decisions.  Whether those decisions are about new products and services, how to improve processes and customer service, discussions about proposed policy or benefit changes, I can guarantee that better decisions will ultimately be made IF leaders and others understand the need to involve a broad base of people in the conversation BEFORE decisions are made and handed down.  It is when large, bureaucratic, traditionally hierarchical organizations make major decisions by a select few gathered behind closed doors that the potential value of cultivating uniqueness goes out the window.  In an age when social networking is readily available inside and outside organizations, such Neanderthal decision-making processes are inexcusable.  You can bet that won’t be the way future generations communicate, so businesses that want to be a part of that future need to change their habits now.

One more thought about the value “cultivate uniqueness” – remember what the word cultivate means.  According to Merriam-Webster, it means to foster growth; to improve by labor, care, or study; to further, encourage, or make friends with.  So not only am I to value the unique perspectives of others, I need to be active in doing things that foster that growth, that encourage the sharing of those perspectives, that creates an environment where others feel welcome and safe in sharing their ideas, even if they think there may be some resistance.

In a world with much division around ideas and philosophies, it would sure be nice to literally make friends with those unique people in our midst whose perspectives can enrich our lives personally and professionally.

Cultivate uniqueness.

Many companies have diversity and inclusion programs.  Generally, these are efforts to make sure that groups which are sometimes estranged and underrepresented are represented, heard and included in meaningful ways in the business.  Such companies see diversity as a strength that benefits the business.

I don’t have a problem with such programs, of course, but I do want to suggest that I think we often take the easy way out in how we measure our success at diversity and inclusion.  Let me explain…

Most measures of such programs include stats on how many minorities, women, gays and a few others groups are represented in the larger enterprise.  While that may be an interesting and at times telling stat, it does nothing to guarantee that we are pursuing and accomplishing the most important and difficult type of diversity that truly benefits business which is diversity of thought.

It seems prejudiced to assume that all people of one gender/race/ethnic background/sexual preference or other grouping think the same way about how to accomplish business objectives.  What does one really have to do with the other?  Looking at easily quantified externals and self-described non-business categorizations tells us nothing about the point of view one brings to the table when solving business problems.

The type of diversity that best brings value to a business is a broad range of ideas, viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences that contribute to creativity, innovation and accomplishing business objectives.  That means we need to do better at the hard task of searching out people with diverse ways of thinking.  Traditional groupings that drive diversity programs don’t guarantee that.

Recent events which trigger this thought relate to the political divisiveness that separates the country.  Many don’t hear others or attempt to understand anyone other than those with whom they already agree.  That tells me we may need far more efforts at learning tolerance of those who think differently from us than we need to concentrate on those who belong to different demographic groups.

Let’s not forget the harder effort of valuing diversity of thought while still making sure we are intentional about more easily quantified efforts.

Leap year lesson #315 is Seek diversity of thought.