From the Branson Blog:
The diversity bias
It's a common misconception that the success of a business is down to
the work of its leader alone. More likely, you'll find that a successful
company values diversity and empowers its staff to make suggestions and
innovations, says Richard Branson.
"Most people presume that if a company is beating out the
competition, it's because of the leader at the helm," the Virgin founder
says in a recent blog post.
Branson in Mumbai 2012 (vyapaari.in)
"If you dig a bit deeper at any successful company, you'll find a
large group of leaders working behind the scenes who deserve a great
deal of credit for the business' achievements."
At Virgin, there are numerous alpha leaders throughout the companies.
Branson says that they've learned it by encouraging employees to be
leaders, they share more ideas that make the businesses more successful.
He says that this is why it's essential to employ a diverse staff - to
ensure that new ideas appeal to the broadest range of people.
"This is one of the reasons that leaders at our Virgin Management
offices are offered 'unconscious bias training' - we encourage everyone
to think outside the box," he says. "People tend to hire those who are
most like themselves, and we don't want to have a company in which
everyone looks and thinks alike."
This dedication to working together so that the best ideas shine
through no matter who came up with them is the secret to the success of
Virgin companies, he says adding, "After all, a company is a kind of
family - a group of people who laugh, grow and achieve great things
together. A system like ours then, requires that each staff member must
have the freedom to act on her own ideas, so that she can be a leader
who inspires others. And our system works well!"
For example, at Virgin Trains, employees who interact with customers
are empowered to implement changes and see them through. One member of
the retail team rearranged how the Virgin ticket office at Manchester
Piccadilly station was laid out to make it more accessible, which
Richard says was a "terrific improvement." One of their train managers
re-imagined how the ticketing download system worked, which saw download
success rate climb to 90 percent from 72 percent.
"You can't wait for the executive team to come up with innovations
like these," Branson says.
This freedom to use leadership skills also allows employees to shape
their careers according to their abilities, not just their luck at
finding openings on the corporate ladder.
Take Virgin Active Australia's Managing Director, Scott Hood for
example. He started out at the UK's second Virgin Active health club as
a receptionist, then took a personal trainer job, then was promoted to
operations manager. Next, he served in three general manager positions
before he was named regional manager of 12 health clubs in the UK. In
2006, he was appointed national operations manager.
From there, he gained some experience as head of fitness, decided
that he wanted to see more of the world became project director in South
Africa, and then chief operations officer. Next, Scott moved again to
become Australia's operations director.
"An ascent like Scott's would never have happened if he didn't work
with managers who were eager to hear fresh perspectives like his,"
"They encouraged open discussion from everyone in the team, and he
had some terrific ideas to share."
But how does Virgin keep that innovation alive? "Whenever I meet an
employee who just joined a Virgin company, I encourage that person to
start thinking about how he would do things different, and I urge his
manager to put those fresh ideas into practice.
"And as that employee and his managers and the rest of the team make
small improvements every day, they gradually build a great business."