The advantages of recruiting new employees are praised over and over again and have become a commonplace in Management. Recruiting external professionals shall increase the team’s diversity and stimulate changes and innovation. However, do organizations really profit from the ideas new employees bring into the company?
Unfortunately not. Several organizations are not able to benefit from the vast knowledge which new employees bring along. We all agree: as time goes by, groups and departments become a victim of groupthink, which results in a loss of creativity and biased decision making processes. However, is a new hire really able to influence this process? This question can be illustrated with the following anecdote:
A particular manufacturing company has filled a vacancy with a new hired, experienced engineer. The new engineer has worked in the past with a highly effective tracking process, which is faster and more economical than the current method. The recently hired engineer is very engaged at work and after noticing room for improvement he will suggest his superiors and colleagues to consider a change in the process and educate them about this method.
Which is the most likely outcome of this episode? [Let’s get interactive? Share your opinion in the comments section].
Usually, the answers lay inside the spectrum between “the new method will be adopted” and “managers will look for alternatives”. However, even if most people believe that the behavior of the new engineer will trigger several changes in the organization, they rarely remember about witnessing similar effects. Consequently, the most likely outcome of our anecdote is: nothing will happen.
Conformity, the highest obstacle for innovation
The chances that a well established process be altered because of a ‘new guy’ are very low. This inertia toward changes has its roots on the social Psychology and is known as Majority Influence.
An organization can be seen, from a social-psychological point of view, as a social group, with members which share similar characteristics. As a result of continuous inter- and intragroup interactions, the group develop a shared system of values and beliefs, for example, the conviction that the current tracking process is the most efficient one. The shared values must not necessary has always been voiced or written down, usually group members are not even conscious of it. And of course, the longer people have been working together, the stronger the shared system of beliefs will be.
Consequently, when single individuals or small groups interact with a larger group, they are most likely to change their behavior due to the influence of others, resulting in conformity. Accordingly, it is improbable that the majority will change its behavior, complying with the minority.
Asch conformity experiments
The most renowned paradigm about conformity was a series of experiments conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s. Eight persons were placed together in one room; one of them was a real participant, the other 7 were “confederates”, which were given specific instruction about what to answer in each trial. It could also be compared with a small team in a company. Participants were shown two cards, one with a line on it, the other with three lines named as “A”,”B” and “C”. The participants were asked which line of the second card has the same length than the line showed at the first card.
At the first two trials, the confederate would give the right answer, on the third trial, all the confederates would give the same, but wrong answer.
Even if the right answer is quite obvious and, apparently, one should have no reason to doubt his own judgment, Salomon Asch has found that 75% of the participants gave at least one incorrect answer, conforming to the other confederates.
Asch’s experiment proves that the effects of social influence can be stronger than what we perceive as objective evidence. If 75% of the participants in such experiment agreed with the majority in such an obvious and easy task, then you can imagine which is the most likely outcome of our anecdote in the manufacturing industry.
As a company, you must actively support innovation if you want to take advantage of the experience of your employees. Do not expect it to happen naturally, it won’t.
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