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Creating a Culture that Recognizes “Originals”

by Derek Irvine

Person wearing bear claw shoesRecognize This! — Recognizing cultural contribution instead of cultural fit is a valuable way to reinforce the contributions of “Originals.”

I recently caught a piece on the Marketplace Morning radio program, interviewing Adam Grant (one of our WorkHuman speakers from 2015!). He was sharing some of the interesting findings from his new book, Originals.

I think like most of us, Adam initially expected that the nonconformists at the center of the book- the ones driving innovation and upturning the status quo- would be passionate and risk-taking types. What he found instead was that these people were often quite cautious, hedging their bets and thoroughly thinking through alternatives before moving forward.

When asked what these findings mean more broadly for organizations, Adam said something that really stuck with me. He recommended that companies need to move away from hiring for “cultural fit” and towards hiring for “cultural contribution.”

This was almost as counter-intuitive as his previous findings, especially given how many companies emphasize the importance of fit when hiring. I am paraphrasing, but Adam’s argument is that fit can only give you more of the same without really adding anything new. There will be a temporary boost in motivation and solidarity when new workers join, but that boost quickly dissipates. In its place is the danger that the organization will be susceptible to groupthink and ill-equipped to adapt to future changes.

Cultural contribution, on the other hand, seeks to find those new hires that can add something to the culture that already exists- to find the gaps, identify what is missing, and strive to strengthen it. This is a key take-away for me: helping companies identify, hire, and support these original thinkers, particularly when they may not look like what we commonly expect but can contribute to the health of a company’s bottom-line.

Extending this thinking beyond hiring, there is ample opportunity for organizations to encourage “Originals” in the scope of everyday work.

Simply put: we start recognizing for cultural contribution instead of just for cultural fit.

This means that senior leadership, managers, and employees are not only invested in reinforcing their culture, but doing so through strengthening and improving it. It means giving everyone the ability to recognize employees who may express contributions to a company’s culture in new and different ways, expanding the definition of what it means to work according to core values. Given the potential diversity in ways that individual employees may successfully enact a given cultural value, recognition is particularly impactful in communicating the value of that diversity.

Recognition provides a pathway for organizations to apply Adam’s latest findings and actually encourage the contributions of “non-conformity” as a way to enhance a shared notion of culture.

How does your organization recognize cultural contribution?

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