· 2 min read · Features

Nurturing the different for inside out change


Organisations are increasingly looking for people with fresh perspective, who are able to challenge the status quo and be ‘change agents’ the green apple in a bowl of red apples.

More often than not, however, we hire the 'square pegs in round holes' and the establishment kicks in; we start filing the edges, rounding the corners and molding them just enough so that they start fitting in. One of two undesirable things happens - we either clone one more of 'us' or the person leaves.

When managed appropriately the benefits of diverse, edgy talent can be immense - in addition to diverse input on important projects, the organisation creates an ongoing pool of fresh thinking and ideas.

This article examines the challenging but rewarding catalyst of inside out change - bringing in edgy people, have them settle in (but not fit too much!) so they can challenge, question and make change happen from within.

This starts with hiring and the importance of checking for mutual fit. Paradoxically, for inside out change, the need for a values fit is even more - it requires courage to sometimes say no to highly qualified candidates who may not reflect the company values.

The best way to attract bright creative stars is through a strong reputation. Your current employees are your most credible ambassadors for what the company offers, the sort of work it does and - most importantly - its unique culture and ethos. A company's culture is not experienced through the placards in reception or in meeting rooms - it lives and breathes by the water cooler, cafeteria and work stations.

A well articulated and lived vision - the opportunity to be part of building something, is a magnet for these people.

Once creative talent has been attracted through the door, the ensuing challenge is to retain it. Mutual on-boarding programmes focus on understanding who people are as much as relating who the organisation is.

This establishes a company as willing to be molded and defined by its people, as much as the other way around.

The particular traits of 'edgy' people, such as a tendency to challenge and push themselves and their colleagues, can enrich and benefit any company. Original thoughts and ideas evolve a business and while the impact on the bottom line is hard to measure, a 2009 study by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies predicts that 70-80% of business growth will be based on 'new knowledge'.

However, as 'newness junkies', 'edgy' types get bored easily, so employers need to offer constant learning and new challenges.

Creative people are expressive and questioning by nature - that's how they learn - so this should be taken in the right spirit.

Managers' role here is to manage potential conflicts that may arise. Again, shared values and vision can serve as a good starting point - 'what can we agree upon'? From there, it's easier to move to - 'so what do we disagree upon?' Resolution is easier when there is a shared purpose. If differences persist, it is for the managers to frame them as a good problem to have rather than forcing alignment to the least common denominator.

After all, that is why we brought in the questioners and challengers. Lastly, managers need to ensure that the conflict remains issue based rather than projected on individuals.

Fostering an organisational culture that entices 'different', cutting-edge thinkers is a challenge but a worthwhile one - having creative people on board opens up a world of possibilities and brings fresh perspectives in. Companies who have clearly articulated core values and reflect this through how they hire, train and reward allow for these values to extend into the organisation's spirit and culture.

Beyond this, however, a fluid approach that avoids a prescriptive organisational structure is crucial to nurture innovative people to drive positive change from the inside out.

Madhvi Pahwa, global talent director, Maxus