Several years ago, we conducted an organizational assessment for the president of a mid-size company who wanted to build a more diverse workforce.
As a result of the assessment, we helped his executive team revamp their recruiting and hiring strategy to be more inclusive, and increase diversity amongst their new hires.
Although we suggested he build a long-term inclusion strategy, Carson decided that since he had met his hiring goals, he was done. We didn’t hear from him for two years, until last month.
In the Bruce Willis movie “Surrogates,” people in the future stay home and interact with the world through remote controlled “humanoid robots.” Willis is an FBI agent who sends his FBI surrogate to solve a murder, until he realizes that he needs to personally be involved. He leaves the house and takes his true self to work to find the killer.
I told Carson that his organization was suffering from “robot surrogate syndrome.” You see them at work but their minds are at home watching TV, at the gym or updating their LinkedIn profile. His mistake was in thinking that just having diversity in the workplace without doing any more work would automatically equal inclusion and innovation.
If you’ve ever experienced “robot surrogate syndrome” in your workplace or want to prevent it, read on,
In this post we address five of the reasons for “robot surrogate syndrome,” and provide possible solutions.
Solution: Create a diverse team to examine old cultural norms, and identify ways in which the culture needs to adapt, or adapt to be more inclusive. If most informal networking or client meetings were on the golf course, identify additional ways people can be involved. Offer free golf lessons to everyone who is able to play, and add other informal networking events that include more people. Ask people for suggestions. This alone will make people engage.
2- There is no formal strategy or process for making people feel welcome and included when they join your company. If new employees feel awkward and uncomfortable they will be hesitant to contribute and lose interest in the organization.
Solution: Create a process to integrate new employees into the organization. Train a group of employees to be “welcome ambassadors,” who take new people “under their wing,” introduce them to others, take them out to lunch and give new people what they need to be successful.
3- Employees feel pressure to conform and think like everyone else. All of their genius and creativity is wasted because they are not encouraged to “be different.” They shut down.
Solution: Be conscious of your behavior and the way you solicit ideas. Learn new ways to access and be open to diversity of thought and experiences. Acknowledge creative thinking and listen before you respond. You may hear an idea for breakthrough innovation that you would have rejected.
4- People feel stagnant and stuck. There is no encouragement to learn new skills or opportunities to interact with people from other functions. While their “humanoid robots” are going through the motions of working at your company, their true selves are looking for new jobs and going on interviews during their lunch hour.
Solution: Stop thinking of people in terms of their position or function. Think of the value they bring to the whole organization. Provide opportunities for them to move into other areas and sustain their interest in the company. Get people together from different functions to solve a problem or design and create a prototype for a new product.
5- You unconsciously give more weight to the ideas and recommendations of people who are most like you, so people “not from your group” think it’s a waste of time to participate. They hang back and take phone calls from your competitors who are scanning new profiles on LinkedIn.
Solution: Solicit input from people in different ways. Try asking for input in a way that hides the identity of participating employees. You might be surprised when names are revealed who suggested the product, service or process you favorite. Be ready to widen your perspective and let go of a bias.