The Dangers of Herd Thinking (And How to Avoid It)

May 5, 2016 Sarah Payne

As part of the WorkHuman movement, we often talk about the notion of authenticity—of creating a work environment where our teams and our employees feel comfortable bringing their whole, human selves to work every day. What does that mean in practice? And how can leaders make this a reality in their organizations?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with WorkHuman speaker Steve Pemberton, vice president, diversity and inclusion and global chief diversity officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance. One of America’s most inspiring executives, Steve was a ward of the state for much of his childhood and shared his story in his bestselling memoir, A Chance in the World.

In our Q&A below, Steve shares advice for leaders who want to focus on inclusion and how recognition creates a more diverse work culture.


Can you share a bit about your current role?

I am the global chief diversity officer for the Walgreens Boots Alliance, which is the world’s first pharmacy-led health and wellness enterprise. We are a 350,000-person company that operates in 25 countries. In my role as chief diversity officer, I oversee several areas including supplier diversity, responsibilities as a federal contractor, communications and networks, and all of our disability efforts.

What’s one fun fact most people don’t know about you?

My favorite band is Journey.

Do have any advice for leaders that want to focus more on diversity and inclusion in their organizations?

I would suggest that a leader’s ability to drive and implement diversity and inclusion practices is something that they themselves can do. Historically, diversity and inclusion has been seen as somebody else’s job. You don’t have to be of a particular background or experience to drive diversity and inclusion practices. If you understand fairness and equality, and access and opportunity, you have the ability to deliver diversity and inclusion.

On the Steve Harvey Show, you said: “You don’t really know somebody’s story. You might think you know, but we all have one, and you don’t know it just by looking at them.” How has your personal story of adversity shaped the way you approach your work?

Telling my story really awakened me to the commonality of the stories that we all have. None of us has the exact same story, but we do carry very similar chapters of the story. At my book signings, people would often bring three or four books at a time for me to sign. One was for them, then there would be three others. I would always ask, “Who is this for and why?” and the stories they would tell about who I was signing the book for were so amazing to me. And it taught me that, yes, there’s a story of somebody that I think when I first see them, but there’s much more below the surface.

What happens when companies neglect diversity? How do you think it impacts culture?

They often make uninformed decisions. Because when you don’t have diversity, you end up with herd thinking, usually directed by the one individual who’s a leader who says, “This is the way we’re going,” but isn’t open to different points of view.

Almost on a daily basis I ask my team to challenge me on the direction I want to go. I ask for feedback on what I don’t see so I can incorporate that into my ultimate decision.

What role do you see social recognition playing in creating a more inclusive environment at work?

All of the research out there has long indicated that recognition is above all other things what people value the most. When different perspectives are recognized and supported, advocated, and most importantly, expected, I think it creates a more inclusive environment.

My goal is to develop a culture on my team where I recognize opposing points of view. I’ve also found that it allows people to bring their best selves to work. When you are recognized for bringing a different perspective, it leads to higher degrees of engagement

If you are purposefully inclusive in the delivery of recognition, then you achieve diversity, not the other way around.

What does a more human workplace look like to you?

We’re in a time of great disconnect in our country and in the world. That fundamental element that we all have in common, the fact we are all human, has been eroding for quite some time. And it has been aided and assisted by the use of technology.

We are bombarded by cynicism and hopelessness daily. It’s an industry. How can we address that? It’s not happening in academia. It’s not happening in the world of entertainment. It’s not happening in church. I think, for the first time, it’s going to happen in the workplace.

The Dangers of Herd Thinking (And How to Avoid It) #workhuman @iStevePemberton
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