Stop your organisation killing your talent

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There is a conflict at the heart of talent management.

On the one hand, we are told company culture is key. You should hire for cultural fit. You should define and promote your culture and internal brand.

On the other, diversity is the new Holy Grail. The wisdom of your crowd becomes its stupidity. Groupthink occurs when the whole group has a bias, not tempered by independent thinkers – just like a strong corporate culture that assimilates diversity instead of listening to it.

Confused? You are not alone. Here is Richard Branson on the same issue just last year:


Personality is the key…. The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture.

You can learn most jobs extremely quickly once you are thrown in the deep end. Within three months you can usually know the ins and outs of a role

Don’t be afraid of hiring mavericks. Somebody who thinks a little differently can help to see problems as opportunities and inspire creative energy within a group. Some of the best people we’ve ever hired didn’t seem to fit in at first, but proved to be indispensable over time.

Groupthink vs Wisdom of the Crowd. How to square that circle? According to a new study it is independent thinkers that make a crowd wise.

It turns out that if a crowd offers a wide range of independent estimates, then it is more likely to be wise. But if members of the crowd are influenced in the same way, for example by each other or by some external factor, then they tend to converge on a biased estimate. In this case, the crowd is likely to be stupid.

Take that idea and apply it to the organisation. You have a corporate culture and ‘cultural fit’. It means that the more you hire in your own image, the better ‘fit’ you get. You also get a higher and higher chance of a collective blind spot. Groupthink.

But temper that with independent thinkers – Branson’s ‘mavericks’ - and your culture becomes wise.

This is why diversity works.

The thing about diversity is that it is a very hard thing to pull off. An incumbent culture assimilates differences. People who are different either ‘get with the programme’ and make sure they are not different for very long, or they face a much harder time succeeding (see my blog ‘Diversity for business isn't about what people look like‘ for more on this).

Why should this be? What is it that makes adults merge their opinions into an unquestioning ‘hive mind’?

The answer is that work is experienced socially . The brain equates social needs with survival; for example, being hungry and being ostracized activate similar neural responses. The feeling of being excluded provokes the same sort of reaction in the brain that physical pain might cause. We ‘Groupthink’ because different is a threat.

This is pretty fundamental stuff. Stick close to Mama. Don’t leave the group, or the nasty thing over there with the big teeth is going to get you. Yike.

The message is clear. If you want diversity to succeed, you have to make it safe for difference to thrive. Talent development is not just about the individual. It is about the whole organisation.

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