Foster Innovation by Embracing Diversity

 In the Wall Street Journal on November 3, 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook writes that workplace equality is good for business. His argument is that discrimination hinders employees’ abilities to “be their best selves… undermine[s] people's potential and den[ies] ourselves and our society the full benefits of those individuals' talents.” This argument sings true when it comes to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act as well as any organization that wants greater innovation and employee and customer engagement. Any organization looking for growth today should have these key performance goals at the top of their strategies.

One of the reasons organizations adopt social collaboration tools within their organizations is to boost productivity. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) discusses the benefits of social business investment in its 2013 report The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies. MGI found that “social technologies, when used within and across enterprises, have the potential to raise the productivity of the high-skill knowledge workers that are critical to performance and growth in the 21st century by 20 to 25 percent.” Boosting productivity is top of mind for executives.

Social technologies are only tools, and - to realize the full potential that research is indicating - organizations need to take another step to make social technologies about people. As Lauren Klein, Social Business Strategist for Global Accounts Marketing at Hitachi Data Systems and author of the blog Community Quencher says, “People are the experience.”

Successful communities - those that create a cognitive surplus in organizations and boost creativity and innovation - are built around people. Communities that are a safe and welcoming environment where people can be fully recognized and embraced create a confident workplace where people can do their best work. A culture where people can be vulnerable leads to those crazy ideas that change the game for organizations, industries, and even societies.

There are some key tactics organizations can employ to make acceptance, understanding, and mutual respect core tenants of their communities to foster creative growth.

Engage executives who embrace open leadership and model respect of thought diversity in the community. Coach executives to curate ideas from the community to refine the organization’s strategic vision.

Reward champions who distinguish themselves as proactive, empathetic, and collaborative within the community. These are the people that are engaging voluntarily and integrate the community into the work and life. Work with these community members to establish a commitment of time and presence in the community and establish community guidelines that highlight respect, trust, and openness.

Thread the ideas and collaboration within the community into real-life moments in your organization. Respect and openness should not stop at either the door or your community’s sign in page. Team meetings should extend into the community and community threads should be agenda items in your huddles, scrums or daily face-to-face interactions. Bringing respect, innovation, and collaboration to the daily interactions we have both virtually and in real-life will help crystallize these tenants into your business culture.

Tim Cook sums up the need for communities and organizations that embrace social technologies: “[E]mbracing people's individuality is a matter of basic human dignity and civil rights. It also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business. We've found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives.”

Cultures that embrace respect, empathy, and diversity of thought and perspectives will evolve us. Will your organization be the next game changer?