November 13, 2017

Need to Innovate? Diversify.

It’s one thing to claim a diverse workforce or patient population. It’s another thing to nurture a genuine culture of inclusion — one in which everyone feels welcomed and valued, one in which everyone can contribute to his or her fullest potential to achieve organizational objectives. This is where the rubber meets the road. Organizations that understand and address the unique perspectives held by their entire patient and employee population can gain significant ground.

Of course, everyone likes to do the right thing, and we all know including people and fostering diversity is the right thing to do. But organizations don’t make decisions based on “feelings.” They look at the bottom line. In 2000 a midsize healthcare services company asked Gallup to design a survey to measure inclusiveness (Ludwig and Talluri 2001). The results showed that attitudes about inclusiveness varied across the organization, and that workgroups with the lower inclusiveness scores had lower productivity and retention scores than those with higher levels of inclusiveness. Studying the measurable links between inclusiveness and positive business outcomes (retention, profitability, and productivity) reveals the business value of workforce diversity.

Are you struggling to understand how this can affect your organization? Healthcare is notoriously conservative, and diversity may not be a priority during this time of ACOs and physician shortages. But it should be. The Gallup Workplace Study showed that a culture of diversity and inclusion provided a 39 percent increase in patient satisfaction, a 22 percent increase in productivity, a 22 percent decrease in employee turnover, and ultimately a 27 percent increase in profitability. Your organization can’t afford to disregard these numbers.

Changing the Culture

So how does one employee go about changing an organizational culture? It starts with understanding and learning. Each of us needs to realize that even though we feel most comfortable being around people similar to ourselves, it’s not always best for our team, department, or organization. We’ve all heard the expression that if we all looked the same, the world would be a very boring place. Well, if we all took the same direction when trying to solve challenges, some challenges would never get solved. The second thing we need to do is care. We need to go beyond understanding the importance of diversity and an environment that promotes inclusion and genuinely care enough to make it happen. We need to realize that if we don’t start the process internally, it will never get started externally.

Finally, and most important, we need to act. It’s not enough to understand and care if we are not willing to put that understanding and caring into action. When you’re putting together a team to solve a problem, take a little more time in selecting its members. Make sure to add different age groups, people with different backgrounds, men and women. Make sure to instruct them to solve the problem as a team and to start off with a brainstorming session in which everyone’s opinion and ideas are welcome. No wrong ideas, only great input.

We’re all looking for people who can do great things—but do they all have to achieve them the same way you did, or can their diverse backgrounds and unique challenges and victories benefit your department and organization in ways you never could have seen?

In short, innovation happens when you combine ideas from intersecting fields of study, disciplines, and cultures. Breakthroughs occur when different people from different fields come together to find “a place for their ideas to meet, collide and build on each other” (Johansson 2004).

Innovation can be elusive, but it’s the lifeblood of successful organizations. Are you simply falling in line and wondering why the direction never changes? Then maybe it’s time to review your attitudes and policies about diversity.

References 

Johansson, F. 2004. The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts & Cultures. Boston: Harvard Business Press. 

Ludwig, J., and Talluri, V.S. 2001. “To Leverage Diversity, Think Inclusively.”
http://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/778/leverage-diversity-think-inclusively.aspx

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