(a discussion from March 2010)
Recent news events, such as the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court justice and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, have emphasized that people have different experiences due to race and gender (as well as class, physical appearance, etc.) When it comes to getting “the right people on the bus,” how can leaders ensure that a wide variety of experience is represented in an organization and still be conscious of selecting people who are a “good fit” for the culture of an organization–or does diversity of experience inevitably disrupt organizational culture?
I think any decision that brings some new element, idea, or person into an organization disrupts its culture at least a little. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Now and then we need some disruption, something or someone to make waves to challenge us to grow. A friend of mine has been a student of Aikido for several years now. One of the teachings of its founder, Morihei Ueshiba, that he quotes and that has stuck with me is this “Life is growth.” Growth requires something to change, something to be disrupted. For a tall tree to grow, soil has to be disrupted as seeds are planted and take root. Every stage and incarnation of that plant has to be disrupted to move forward to the next. So I think disruption can be a very healthy and necessary thing for organizational culture. It seems that it’s then a matter of choosing the right disruption. Taking a note from Collins, look for the “who” that can help the group “more easily adapt to a changing world” so that “if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction” it’s something you are able to do. (Collins, 2001, p. 42) Diversity can play into that because a variety of perspectives provides us different frames to look through and assess our organizations, the environments they operate in, and ourselves individually and collectively. I consider myself to have many positive attributes. I also appreciate being around people with whom I share similarites, common interests, and narratives. At the same time, I know that to be in an organization of too many people too similar to me would be detrimental to my own growth and the growth of that organization and the others in it. Then organizational culture would stagnate. So, I think to get the right people on the bus, a leader has to ask how each candidate can and is likely to help the organization grow. Here are a few quotes that I think are helpful to leaders faced with these decisions:
“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.” – Frank A. Clark
“People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.” -Plato
“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.” -Audre Lorde
Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. New York: Harper Business.