25 Sep 2017 18:42 IST

Watch out: you might be hiring too many people like you

Diversity is imperative to avoid the “groupthink” process taking over

Most people probably don’t know who Reginald Jones is. He is former GE Chairman Jack Welch’s legendary predecessor. When Welch succeeded Jones, many in the industry opined that Welch had big shoes to fill. But it wasn’t long before Welch not only lived up to expectations but became a legend himself, taking GE to much greater heights.

GE, like every other talent academy, prepares a successor slate for three candidates — all of them very accomplished. When Jones was asked why he chose Welch, one of the reasons he cited was “because Welch is very different from him and also a bit of rebel.” Welch could hardly tolerate bureaucracy and insisted on meritocracy over mediocrity.

Unfortunately the wisdom to select people who are very different from us is rare in business today, let alone hiring people who make one squirm. Make no mistake,we are talking about hiring people who are different, not jerks or rude, insulting, and incompetent people. Research findings are more likely to support“birds of a feather flock together” than “opposites attract.”

At the other extreme are leaders who look for people who sing the rhyme “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.” And it is the same leaders who wonder why there are no new ideas or innovations happening in their organisation!

True diversity

Even organisations that are conscious about diversity often observe a narrow definition of ‘diversity’; to them, gender and differently-abled are the only dimensions of diversity. A few enlightened organisations also pay attention to religion and race. The true definition of diversity should ideally include people with different thought processes and styles.

Almost two decades ago at a former place of work, which was a subsidiary of a mammoth European multinational, the expatriate CEO had the vision and wisdom to do two things: (a) existing management team members were required to take an MBTI assessment to understand individual psychological types; this was followed by a day-long programme to create awareness on relating to and working effectively with colleagues who had different psychological preferences. And (b) he encouraged the leadership team to hire people who were distinct in their preferences. This organisation turned out to be one of the best in the world, and accomplished many firsts — a CMMi certification and the first company, globally, to reach a certain level of proficiency in European Quality Award (EFQM framework), to mention a few.

Check yourself

So we know it pays to hire people who think different and still do not consciously pay attention to this. The convenient excuse offered is: “We are hiring people for a culture fit.” Seldom do leaders realise that ‘culture fit’ and ‘thinking different’ are not enemies and they can co-exist. Too much “likeness” can lead to “in-breeding” which eventually shows up in quality of decisions through the “groupthink” process taking over.

An HBR article published by John Badoni in 2009 recommends what to look for while hiring people for difference. The recommendations include looking:

~ for character

~ for strength of ideas

~ for ambition

~ at their track records

These are the things that will make a significant difference in performance. So, next time you hire people to work with you, do a serious mirror-check and see if you are hiring people for difference!