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Reaping the Benefits of Diversity for Modern Business Innovation
Posted on January 30th 2014
Diversity is critical for organization’s ability to innovate and adapt in a fast-changing environment. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs and most admired leaders will tell you the same thing. Diversity is essential to growth and prosperity of any company: diversity of perspectives, experiences, cultures, genders, and age. Why? Because diversity breeds innovation. And innovation breeds business success. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
- Forbes study has identified workforce diversity and inclusion as a key driver of internal innovation and business growth.
- Lu Hong and Scott Page showed that groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers.
- According to McKinsey, companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity.
- According to Harvard Business School, multicultural networks promote creativity.
Successful companies are not the ones that build a business, then look at diversity as a nice-to-have attribute. Truly successful and innovative companies are those that build diverse teams when they are just starting out in their own apartment or their folks’ garage. Diversity is a mentality, not just strategic imperative.
One of the companies that does an amazing job at inviting and fostering diversity is Progressive Insurance. I wanted to peak behind the curtain, so I spoke to Neil Lenane, Business Leader of Talent Management and 23-year veteran at Progressive who is an avid advocate of diversity as a business imperative. Below is the transcript of our conversation about diversity and leadership. One thing though that Lenane kept repeating time and time again that struck and inspired me was this:
“If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude. “
Progressive has diversity built into its core values. Why is diversity so important?
Since we rely on our diversity of thought to find innovative solutions to new business challenges as well as provide products and services that exceed our customers’ expectations, we find the key is respecting all people (our own, customers, vendors, etc.) and valuing the differences among all of them. By always putting these values into action, we overcome personal inhibitions and apprehensions. And, as a result, we can more openly share our ideas and help Progressive grow as a company.
Everybody is talking about diversity, but very few companies actually function in a way that truly welcomes diversity. What does it take to make diversity thrive within the corporate environment?
We view diversity not as a program but a cultural movement. While gains can be slow moving and measurement less clear than other business metrics, we find the key is keeping the momentum going every single day. Ultimately it ends up as not something we check off a list but a cultural attribute we use to help us achieve our operational goals.
If you ask executives at Progressive, what three benefits of diversity would they highlight?
Being more diverse and inclusive helps us the most with being more innovative, being positioned to better understand our customer’s needs, and empower us to cast wider nets for the best talent.
Can you share your own personal experience with diversity and how it contributed to the innovation and creativity within the company?
Katrina 2005: a third of our claims staff impacted in New Orleans while the immediate need of serving thousands of customers in need. How we brought many perspectives from both employees (field and corporate) and vendors, to life in a very short time to work collaboratively which led to stabilizing our people’s housing and family needs while coming together to bring best in class service to impacted customers. It tested our ability to manage our biases when time was of the essence to many.
In your opinion, what makes a great leader?
- Leader has great vision and can align and communicate that vision across the organization
- Leader invests in people, particularly in their development
- Leader builds and manages relationships. (S)he holds people accountable, empowers them to do great things, and is proactive in removing the barriers they face
- Leader knows his/her business and can accurately assess risk and make the right decisions
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs?
Due to the constant pace of change, increase your desire and ability to be agile. This will help in not only weathering change but proactively adapting to it. And, obviously, look at diversity as a business success imperative.
This quote by James Surowiecki says it all:
“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” ~ James Surowiecki
Originally posted in Forbes