Ah yes, the joy of diversity and the role of alignment for our business. The former is too often viewed from a superficial perspective and the latter viewed as a structural perspective. Both are crucially important. We need the organization aligned to a common mission, yet allow a large amount of diversity to accomplish that mission.
Consider a special forces team. We have the mission they are on and the special skills that each member brings to the table (for the record, I have not served in the military and I may butcher the specifics, but stick with me for the ride). Bringing a special forces team with four snipers would be no good if you came across digital security that needed to be addressed. Likewise, four digital spies would be no good if the goal was to destroy an arms cache.
That team needs a mix of different skill sets in order to handle varying situations that may arise. Business is no different (other than the obvious differences in risk involved).
Alignment to a mission
Every single individual in an organization should believe in that organization’s mission. They all need to be going towards the same objective or else everything crumbles.
Simon Sinek, in his book Start With Why, makes the reasons for this clear. In a nutshell, when everyone is aligned to a singular mission, decisions are easier, can be made autonomously, and can be made quickly.
If you don’t feel like reading the book itself, I at least recommend watching the video below as it gives a brief introduction to the thesis of his book.
The longer an organization takes to make a decision or adapt its tactics, the more at-risk they are to fail. And if decisions need to go up three levels of superiors to be made, then decisions will be reached after the problem has already been exacerbated.
Alignment to the mission is the first step, but accomplishing that mission requires more than just a desire to reach it. It requires a diverse group of individuals.
Diversity of ideas to achieve the mission
As I described (poorly) in the special forces example, we need diversity in our work groups to achieve any mission worth pursuing.
One of the best explanations on the importance of diverse ideas is made by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds. Once again, I’ll be a nice guy and risk some of that sick affiliate money and share a video below that gives an overview.
The fact that multiple individuals have different experiences makes a group stronger. If we have a group of four doctors and one group of three doctors and an accountant, the group with the accountant has a more diverse set of knowledge and can bring more ideas to the table. This applies at every level of the organization.
From the C-suite executives down to the housekeeping staff, different experiences mean more perspectives and greater insight into the problem at hand.
There are serious costs associated with homogeneous groups. Consider medical device product development for an (admittedly anecdotal) example of this.
Calling you out - Medical Device Manufacturing
Medical device manufacturers are, based on my experience, an easy target to demonstrate the high costs of a work group that lacks diversity. For over a decade I worked in housekeeping in the healthcare field. It was clear to me that there are no housekeepers on the product design teams of many medical device companies. How can I say this?
Because some of the medical devices I’ve worked with are an absolute nightmare to clean and the issues could be seen from a mile away by anyone with housekeeping experience. They have indentations for the manufacture brand logo or product name which collect dirt, dust, and all the bodily fluids you can imagine. The devices could use a different method for identification, for example labels or dyes. And before we assume that it is due to infection control issues, there are labels and dyed materials elsewhere in the exact same product. Why is this an issue?
Because time is money. If I had to estimate, I would say that a particular medical device can take anywhere from 25-50% longer to clean due to the design choices of the manufacturer. Instead of two minutes, it may take three minutes. If we multiply that for each time it is cleaned, that small amount of time will eventually amount to another part-time employee or more.
To be fair, medical device companies and healthcare providers may have decided that the cost of changing the design would be higher than the additional time to clean. But from my perspective, it seems like an oversight that could be easily addressed.
There is no easy way to progress, but there are easy ways to regress-lack of adaptability. If we diligent in our pursuit of a goal and willing to embrace diversity of ideas, the sky is the limit and it will be hard to fail. There will be a plethora of skill sets and experiences that allow our organizations to adapt and succeed.
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