If we stop to think about it, there are many everyday situations, besides pills of popular wisdom that allude to the effect called the familiarity principle. Perhaps we have never thought about it, or maybe we have, but how many times have we heard or cited the saying: “You are the company you keep” or better yet “run with the pack”. The fact is, coexistence of two or more people begins with an initial bonding that makes it feasible to start up any kind of relationship. What’s more, during the relationship itself, there is a symbiosis between the parties involved that favours an exchange of attitudes, behaviours, and even spurs identical responses to similar stimuli.
The familiarity principle refers to that phenomenon by which we apparently like people similar to us and that once we interact with these people, that similarity grows Whatever is different, we don’t usually understand, and what we don’t understand leads us to reject it.
Of course, the familiarity principle is applicable to all environments in which we interact, including our own companies.
It is fundamental that our company has a solid corporate culture in which clear values and behaviours are defined to bring employees together and make them work jointly in pursuit of a common strategy and goals. This corporate culture has many implications throughout all levels of the company: it is undoubtedly the company’s lead-in introduction to society; it sets clear boundaries on how employees and managers behave; it drives employees and makes them feel part of a common good above their own interests, but it can also be a straight-jacket restricting progress and innovation. Why? Precisely because of the familiarity principle discussed in this article.
Often companies seek employees who fit into their corporate culture and ultimately resemble them, just as human beings usually connect better with people like us. That’s why highly restrictive corporate cultures may set up recruitment processes that are way too targeted, at times killing diversity and subsequently, the opportunities for innovation and progress. This problem grows if we also realize that we don’t just attract similar people, but also convert them into almost identical replicas of ourselves. This makes a mockery of yet another expression that is touted as the key to overcoming competition, “make a difference”.
On the basis that corporate culture is essential in the business environment, given its invaluable worth as an internal and external marketing tool and for taking the organization to a greater level of excellence when shaping its strategies and achieving goals, what can we do to avoid nullifying diversity and setting limits on familiarity?
Many companies set diversity as a basic tenet of their corporate culture, but it is futile if the differences that enrich us are lost in the employee assimilation process. A creative mind can be instantly limited and stifled by rigid rules and intrusive procedures. It is pointless to hire dissimilar people to help us achieve different things if we use all our heavy artillery to get them to be like us.
The search for diversity begins in the definition of the corporate culture; it emerges in the recruitment processes and firms up in the onboarding processes and in how managers handle the workforce.
It is fantastic to have an open, inclusive culture and that our recruiters can recognize talent without being conditioned by aspects, such as qualifications or the candidate’s culture. However, this should not be the ultimate aim of diversity, just simply the onset of a journey together marked by enrichment, exchange, and respect. That is why, the HR department, always backed by the business strategy, must implement policies that enables our enriching differences to thrive. Diversity must be reflected right from when employees join in the onboarding process.
It is true that there are unavoidable principles that must be respected by all employees, however, depending on people’s mindsets, their needs will be different. Creativity is often accompanied by chaos and self-learning, while more orderly minds expect are not so creative and expect regulated content. Both profiles are necessary in organizations. They are neither better nor worse, just different. However, creativity is often left out to favour order and harmony. Let’s create onboarding processes steered towards our employees’ needs, train our managers up in diversity, so they know how to manage very different profiles and not just the ones exactly like them, and thus prevail over the familiarity principle. Let’s give the difference the value it deserves, and we will get much more out of ourselves. Let’s finally make diversity not just another word, but a way to grow.