John Wasson, President and CEO, ICF

What’s Good for Your People Is Good for Your Business

As a society, many of us live in silos of our own making. Very often, individuals self-select lives that limit their learning and growth. They surround themselves with people who think like they do, read or watch material that align with their opinions, or engage in conversations that reinforce what they already believe. This deliberate, but perhaps unconscious, narrowing extends to the schools they choose; the social media channels they follow; the news outlets they read or watch; and the religious and civic institutions they choose to attend. Despite having many more choices for engagement than ever before, and even the ability to talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time, they are most comfortable in self-erected siloes.  

A siloed life makes it difficult to grow as a person – and, hence, as a society. It sets a standard for complacency and comfort with a static mindset. All living beings, but especially humans, benefit from movement and growth, both mentally and physically. To quote the management guru Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.” To grow, you have to break down walls and seek out different sets of opinions from people with different points of view.  

Interestingly, the workplace is now one of the last places where you are compelled to not only be around people who think differently than you do, but also to engage with them in productive ways. And that applies to both your work as an internal team, and your management of client/customer interactions.  

In the past, other institutions have played this role for our society. Now, our work environments require us to engage with people that have a wide range of backgrounds, languages, races, ethnicities, genders, skills, capabilities, knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, points of view.  

That’s a very good thing—but it calls for organizational leaders to assess how well they foster a work environment that capitalizes on the power of diverse thinking.  

All of us are smarter and stronger than any one of us. That concept is core to our identity at ICF, a leading global consultancy and digital services provider. Diversity is fundamental to our values—and a key to our success. We purposefully build diverse teams to help our clients solve their most complex challenges. We work to get the right people in the room to offer new and different ways of thinking so we can devise the best solutions – not the easiest. Our business analysts, policy specialists, and digital strategists work together with data scientists, developers, and creatives to help our clients navigate change and shape their futures. Broad ranging thinking, stemming from experts with diverse points of view, has served ICF, and our clients, very well. But, like many companies, we have more work to do.

I believe it’s my responsibility, and the responsibility of other business leaders, to go beyond “sustaining” an open and inclusive workplace, to driving that concept as fundamental to our organizational culture. We want to be a place where our employees, and our clients, can shatter narrow thinking and celebrate the moments when winning ideas emerge as new voices are heard and heeded. Actively creating opportunities for open, honest discourse leads to an expansion of new ideas and their profusion into our organizations, and the organization of those we serve. Ultimately, this paves the way for growth and evolution.  

Maintaining a work culture of relentless curiosity, where employees are invited to challenge assumptions, question the accepted, and bring their passion to the office is both good for business and healthy for people. That’s why The Dialogue Project is so important, and why we at ICF are honored to sponsor it.