I know what you’re thinking: yet another post about how having diversity in the workplace through variety of gender, race, religion and other protected classes is not only the legal thing to do but good for your organization.  Well, no; I’m no legal expert.  What I do know after working with many organizations with progressive cultures is that they invest in talent diversity beyond the legal compliance requirements. Here are three ways these innovative companies use intentional diversity to create organizational strength and talent resiliency.

Set out to hire employees with diverse backgrounds

For a recent “60 Minutes” segment, Charlie Rose interviews David Kelly, founder of the Silicon Valley global design studio IDEO.  Kelly attributes the success of IDEO to one simple practice: Hire smart people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.  Long gone are the days where Qualifications was a list on a board with boxes next to each.  

For Kelly, the only way to come up with breakthrough ideas is to throw a bunch of people with different backgrounds into a room and give them enough time and the right tools to solve difficult problems.  Collaboration alone is not enough, though; diversity in talent is a must. In a typical IDEO team, you may find an anthropologist, a journalist, a software engineer and an aerospace engineer in additional to the usual designers and architects.  Why does it work?  Diversity in talent encourages innovative solutions by allowing individuals to contribute and become experts at expanding on one another’s ideas until a solution is found.

Another company that became a poster child of a diverse and caring company culture is Zappos.  Through a non-traditional interviewing process, it weeds out the cookie-cutter candidates so it can focus on potential employees who can add to its diverse culture. This company actually wants the unusual or unexpected candidate.  Zappos then gives new employees a “$2,000 quitting bonus” to leave the company at the end of their onboarding week.  How unusual is that?  These practices have helped Zappos focus on making the work environment interesting and exciting when other call centers have become boring and undifferentiated.  The result is an unprecedented focus on customer satisfaction that has led to their undeniable business success.

Enable an internal project economy

Technology and talent trends like globalization and the move to a knowledge-based economy have forced what is called a global project economy, where work is done by contractors, consultants and other associates on a part-time basis and on-demand.  The surge and success of web-based solutions and communities such as oDesk, TaskRabbit and ThumbTack have made it incredibly easy to access and hire crowd-sourced labor.

But what about the talent you already have?  How do you draw the best out of your existing workforce?  It is no secret that happy employees are more passionate and productive.  But the jury is out as to what HR can do to make people happy, and no, throwing money and perks at people is only temporary.  What if we created organizational cultures in which people could volunteer to work on any project for which they have passion and skills?   This is what I mean by an internal project economy. 

Companies like IBM, Intuit and Google have pioneered this concept, allowing people to volunteer ideas and sign up to help out with a project without worrying about the formal reporting structure.  In a typical organization, employees are segregated by division and tend to focus on tasks only within the confines of their defined expertise.  In an internal project economy, employees are free to roam the organization, explore other positions temporarily and leverage their skills in different projects and teams.  Diversity comes in the fluidity of team structures, adding excitement to the workday and igniting passion from existing employees who are eager to contribute to the overall success of the company.

Don’t lay off, redeploy

RiseSmart has made a name by disrupting the outplacement space and combining the latest cloud-based technology, social networking and proven methodologies to help laid-off employees to find jobs faster and get their careers back on track. The vast majority of the people we help are smart, skilled and accomplished individuals who found themselves in an unfortunate situation. Plenty of companies would be proud to have them in their employee ranks. The HR managers at their old companies likely would have preferred to keep them. HR usually works to keep talent in house. But with layoffs, talent (and organizational knowledge) go out the door.

Many organizations are realizing that employees with diverse backgrounds and experiences are more resilient because they can find other places in the organization to leverage their skills.  Redeployed employees will in turn grow their diverse backgrounds, making them even more resilient and translating into talent acquisition and outplacement savings.

Want to hear more?  Tune in today at 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET to listen to TalentCulture’s #Tchat radio show where we’ll be covering this interesting topic in even more detail.

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