How To Build An Original Corporate Culture?

corporate culture

There is one phrase that used to drive me crazy during my corporate world days. That phrase was, "we have always done it this way." It was often a harbinger of a forthcoming battle to implement new ideas, especially when more than one person on a team shared that mindset. This is the epitome of groupthink.

Adam Grant examines groupthink in his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World and calls groupthink "the enemy of originality." Based on my research for a previous post, where I discussed why people choose to conform instead of pursuing original ideas, groupthink is one of the reasons people rely on default views. Groupthink triggers conformity instead of a diversity of thought. It prevents creativity, and as we know from research, organizations depend on creativity to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. Creativity, together with innovation, play a critical role in the company's profitability and influence its planning process, teamwork, and employees' job satisfaction.

One might assume that groupthink would create a strong corporate culture where people share similar values and norms. However, we have to be cautious about whose values and norms people share. Is diversity part of those core values? How about an open and transparent work environment that embraces people's authentic selves?

In many organizations, hiring people who fit the corporate culture only reinforces bad behavior.  In the worst case, Lauren Rivera, a sociologist from Northwestern University, finds that "cultural fit has become a new form of discrimination." It is a "catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not."

To build a culture of originality, Grant recommends hiring based on cultural contribution rather than cultural fit. Hiring on cultural fit increases the chances of bringing in people whose thinking is too similar. Grant suggests identifying which backgrounds, skillsets, and personality traits are currently missing in the organization and hiring people who can fill the gap.

Bridgewater Associates is an example of an organization that hires for cultural contribution to enrich its culture. They prefer new hires who think independently and are not afraid to express their views. In fact, the company promotes dissent and invites every employee to share their different opinions.

While some of these practices are based on Ray Dalio's philosophical beliefs, most of the ideas arose out of practical needs. In the financial and investment world, groupthink can be dangerous. As Grant observes, "you can only make money if you think different from everyone else." If all employees conform to one viewpoint, Bridgewater risks missing out on recognizing financial trends and investment opportunities of which no one else is aware in the marketplace.

Bridgewater's approach works. In 2019, they were the most profitable hedge fund in the world, delivering gains of $57.8 billion since its founding. They were also ranked #19 on the list of Best Companies to Work For in America and #1 in Best Finance Companies to Work For in America.

To prevent groupthink, the firm champions diversity and cultivates inclusion. By embracing inclusion, Bridgewater empowers its employees to be their authentic selves, which leads to better work outcomes. The firm emphasizes continuous learning and improvement, helping employees to fulfill their full potential as professionals and people.

It is not easy to avoid groupthink and conformity in a corporate environment. Organizations need rules and procedures to operate and prevent wrongdoings. While admittedly challenging, other companies can use Bridgewater, and a few organizations like it, as an example of how to develop a successful corporate culture. Other companies can also create a work environment where original ideas are genuinely encouraged, opposing views are not deterred, and employees are hired to enrich the company's culture rather than to simply fit in as if they were back in high school.

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