Does your company employ clones?
An interesting article by Liane Davey in the Harvard Business Review entitled ‘If Your Team Agrees on Everything, Working Together Is Pointless’ suggests that:
‘Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time.’
Is this the case with companies who employ clones?
Recruitment and even vocational advice to students has often been focussed on where the individual may best fit a vocation, organisation or job. This is based on 1950s psychological analysis done by JL Holland who was Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. In essence, he suggested that ‘congruent’ individuals will be reinforced, satisfied, and less likely to change environments than will incongruent persons. These Holland Codes are still used today to classify individuals into: Realistic (Doers), Investigative (Thinkers), Artistic (Creators), Social (Helpers), Enterprising (Persuaders), and Conventional (Organizers); and match them to vocations that are congruent to their profiles.
Significant academic analysis has reinforced both the positive effects of this congruence or supplementary fit in terms of reduced turnover and increased employee satisfaction to name but two; as well as the negative ‘homogeneity hypothesis’ mooted by Schneider who proposed in his Attract-Select-Attrit model that similarity limits the actions of the organisation and can cause organisational dysfunction since all of the employees are like-minded and resistant to change. Alternatively, a complementary fit may exist, whereby additional to the values or skillsets are added those that already exist. These concepts will operate differently dependent on the level of fit within your organisation, for example: a supplementary fit to your organisation’s ethos (person-organisation fit), with a complementary fit to a sub-group of the organisation or job (person-group to person-job fit) may work well, but not vice-a-versa.
In a military context, this is a theory that has been around for centuries! Congruence is sought in all recruits since those who are incongruent to the military environment are more likely to face disciplinary issues in peacetime and difficulties in war. This is achieved through the initial attraction of the individual then the selection and screening out of those who are unlikely to fit. This is followed by initial training, which socialises the recruit to the military and strives to ensure congruence. These initial processes are then followed by a reporting regime which will at worst attrit any soldier who does not fit. Thankfully we have moved far from the days of press-ganging individuals and forcing them to take the King’s Shilling, where those who did not fit soon learnt to be congruent!
Davey highlights three ways by which leaders can defeat this ‘group-think’. I shall consider them with a military spin:
Firstly, know your people! Do not wait until individuals are well-established before finding out what makes them tick. Psychometric tests are readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to finding out an individual is not suited to a post after you have employed them. If it is not offered by your recruitment agency or HR department, then ask why not. For example, you would not want a finance manager who does not score highly on conscientiousness, or an air traffic controller who displays neuroticism! There is an old military adage – time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted…
‘An idea that can change the course of the company can come from anywhere.’
Secondly, encourage ‘Chatham House Rules’ and constructive dissent round the table – good ideas are not the prerogative of the Boss and everyone will have a different perspective to bring to the table. This is especially true in the manufacturing world where ‘kaizen’ is still practiced, or within Twitter as Jack Dorsey its CEO believes. However, while dissent within the four walls of a boardroom may be fine in openly and frankly discussing a problem; outside, consensus and unity in action is critical. As a leader, make it clear what the final decision is and ensure that everyone understands (if not agrees with) the rationale.
Finally, if you have the time and resources to consider a course of action, identify individuals who can ‘red team’ your actions. This is used in a long-established military process of ‘war-gaming’ or a ‘review of concept’ drill, whereby your entire plan is worked through in terms of your action, the action of the ‘red enemy team’, followed by your reaction. Alternatively, and favoured by the likes of Jack Welch of GE, a number of companies, such as Hewlett Packard, Ogilvy and Mather, Cisco and Hartford Financial Services have set up such teams or use a ‘reverse mentor’ as a sounding board for ideas.
1.People at all levels of an organisation can participate in kaizen – the suggesting of improvements in process, from the CEO down to the most junior staff. It is traditionally associated with manufacturing operations, such as at Toyota, but is also used in non-manufacturing environments, such as Twitter.
2.“Does reverse mentoring really work, in the workplace?” CEO World Magazine, accessed 1 Feb 2017.