Please, not another business imperative! Every time I open a journal or glance at a blog it seems as though the panacea to all business ills has just been discovered and is waiting for me to embrace it! One minute I’m being told to hire for cultural fit, the next to increase diversity. It’s no wonder that employee engagement is falling because if I’m being pushed from pillar to post then it’s not surprising that my people are confused……

Which of us can honestly say hand on heart that thoughts such as these haven’t slunk through our heads in the wee small hours of the night; when we should be resting but our minds are busy with the imperative to do more, be more, and to drive our organisations through to success. And the problem with dark thoughts in the middle of the night is that they come singly, they present themselves as completely individual challenges which have to be conquered one by one.

But life is not a series of isolated incidents, and nor is business. I’m not pretending that some ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, but then you get snake oil sellers in every walk of life. What I would say is that the strongest leaders are those who are able to see patterns of interconnectedness, to weave differing strands of ideas into a cohesive whole which drives business development and growth and stability.

Take the two ideas from my first paragraph as an example. Hiring for cultural fit does not mean taking on clones who will simply copy and echo the thoughts of the leadership team. Rather, cultural fit seeks to bring people into the organisation who share the aims and values of the business but who will bring something more to the mix. Thought of in that light, any move to increase diversity, to bring people on board who have a range of backgrounds and experiences but who also share the beliefs and values of the organisation can only enrich it in so many ways.

Five years ago in the UK a task force was set up to increase female representation in the boardrooms of the country’s largest companies. The program has been hailed as a success, with women now occupying over a quarter of board directorships within FTSE 100 companies. On the UK government website which reported on the programme the Vice Chairman of KPMG, Melanie Richards said: “Identifying and promoting diversity will deliver real benefits for business, both financial and non financial. By tackling homogeneity, boards should make more robust, balanced decisions and no longer run the risk of echoing the voices of the few.”

Collaborating for greatness

Don’t just take the market, shape the market or create entirely new markets.

So hiring for cultural fit and promoting diversity together can strengthen business prospects. If that’s the case, why did I title this article diversity and innovation rather than diversity and cultural fit? Quite simply, because taken together diversity and innovation are not only good for business, they will drive game-changing results. Let’s think for a moment about one of the key elements of a culture of innovation, namely collaboration.

Collaboration doesn’t mean you do this and I do that and together we create a finished product. True collaboration is a meeting of minds, a sparking of thoughts, a synergy and a solution which can only happen when experiences are shared. If a couple of people within a department try to collaborate they may get somewhere but if you then bring in people from other departments and customers and suppliers and interested third parties you start to open up the debate and see possibilities that you never thought of before. If those people also have a diverse range of backgrounds, outlooks and perspective then you have the chance to create real solutions which will not only take the market but shape the market or create entirely new markets.

Creating agile solutions

Or what about agility, another of the key elements of a culture of innovation. If you take as long to get products to market as you did five or ten years ago then by the time you’ve gone through all of your iterative development cycles a disruptor will have created the product, taken the market share and moved on to the next development.

If all of your people have identical backgrounds and levels of training then you are hampering your ability to create differentiated solutions and to optimise product delivery times. Bring in diversity, bring in left brain and right brain thinkers, bring in people who perhaps even from birth have been taught to approach problems in different ways and product development and delivery becomes something very different.

Admittedly, that something could be chaos! And this is where hiring for cultural fit weaves back into the equation. Because if you have taken the time to select people based on shared values and what they can bring to the organisation rather than simply what their qualifications are then they are far more likely to work together towards a shared goal.

Developing understanding

The third key ingredient for Next Generation Organisations, those businesses which are looking to build a culture of innovation not just for now but for a secure future, is the development of a deep understanding of their current and future customers. I’m not just talking here about knowing that someone always buys a newspaper on a Tuesday or that they prefer coffee to tea. I’m talking about developing a genuine insight into their lives, their thoughts, their motivations and their drivers.

When I join with others then our diverse thoughts and background and experiences can act as the catalyst for greatness.

Here again, the more diverse the organisational mix, the better able it will be to not only understand its customers, but to create solutions which genuinely meet customer needs whether articulated or not. And when a business is in tune with its customers, amazing things can happen.

There are many business theories out there but the best weave together to create a glorious fabric which strengthens and enhances and drives the business strategy. When I stand alone then my thoughts and my ideas are circumscribed by my experiences. When I join with others then our diverse thoughts and background and experiences can act as the catalyst for greatness.

By Cris Beswick

About the author

Originally trained as a product & industrial designer, Cris Beswick spent over a decade as a successful entrepreneur & CEO building an award-winning design group. After structuring a full exit in 2008 he founded The Future Shapers, a boutique innovation consultancy specialising in working with CEOs and senior teams on the strategy, leadership and culture required for innovation. As such Cris has coached, advised and delivered keynotes to some of the worlds most successful companies on how to become exceptional by building game-changing innovation capability and embedding it into organisational culture.

Cris has also delivered executive education programmes on innovation for leading UK business schools such as Henley Business School, Southampton Business School and Cranfield University’s Centre for Competitive Creative Design as well as international business schools such as Synergy Business School in Dubai and Icesi University in Columbia.

Cris is also the author of the book ‘The Road to Innovation’ and his next book ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ is now available for pre-order with a publish date of 3rd December 2015. As well as authoring numerous white papers Cris has also contributed to articles for The Times, Financial Times and The Sunday Telegraph to name but a few.

Photo: Close-up Photo of Business People by