November 03, 2021

Cultural outliers will be key to your innovation in the new world of work

In this moment, innovation is everything. Leaders are coming up against new and evolving challenges regarding the pandemic, working from home. The consequences of these challenges have dragged on for over 18 months. The Great Resignation is a real phenomenon affecting all industries right now, and if your organization hasn’t been consistently innovating, evolving, and taking in employees’ needs, it might be too late. But as employees are fleeing their current positions in the hope of greener pastures, we find ourselves with a massive opportunity for a significant culture shift. This fracture point is a fertile moment for real, lasting change toward a more human-centric, compassionate workplace. 

A “fracture point” is a moment when the status quo has been disrupted, and there is an opportunity to pivot to a new way of being. If ever there was a disruption to the status quo, March 2020 is a crystal clear example, and it’s given employees greater power and platform to speak up for what they need. 

We know that diverse teams propagate more innovation, creativity, and productivity, and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, many organizations have made pledges to do more to level the playing field for marginalized groups. Out of efforts toward racial and gender diversity can come unexpected and valuable diversity in personality types, modes of expression, and worldviews.

Culture Fits vs. Culture Adds

Companies have historically aimed to find new employees that will be, or can become, “culture fits.” Culture fits, who in turn become culture carriers, are employees who share common values with the organization and help to uphold those values. These people usually display an upbeat personality, are gregarious and charming, and are typically extroverts. The hiring process for most organizations favors extroverts by emphasizing a prospective employee’s social skillsThe focus on identifying and nurturing culture carriers has left out a vast swath of valuable employees: introverts and cultural outliers. 

Culture outliers aren’t precise culture fits but can be valuable culture adds. These outliers might be the people you overlook. They’re the employees who keep their heads down and get their work done, but avoid social gatherings or speaking up in large groups and have few “work friends.” Cultural outliers are often an untapped resource for new and innovative ideas.

If your organization is losing people right now, it’s not alone. While this mass exodus of unhappy workers feels inevitable, take note of who is leaving and make sure you understand why. Are the cultural outsiders the ones who are leaving first? The idea that an employee “was never a great fit in the first place” allows leaders to dodge accountability for the ways their culture upholds a stagnant, monolithic status quo. By seeking and listening to dissenting voices, leaders may hear new and innovative ideas that could ultimately be essential to the evolution of their organizations. 

Don’t overlook your current employees. 

Whether by choice or due to unwelcoming conditions (or a combination of the two), cultural outliers are on the outside for a reason. Ask these people if they’re comfortable (don’t assume they aren’t) and listen for their real, honest answers. What keeps them in the shadows? What are their connection needs? Are those needs currently being met, and what are the gaps?

Diverse groups are collectively more creative, productive, and innovative. Now is the time for innovation. Don’t overlook your quieter employees who hang back from the group simply because they don’t fit the cultural mold. Outsiders are seeing your company from a different angle. Their perspective could be exactly what your team needs, and you’ll never know until you ask.

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