Birds of a Feather Work Together

Discussion
Oct 17, 2006

By George Anderson


Forget about opposites attracting. When it comes to the workplace and the social aspects of our daily lives, we seek out others who share similar views and/or status to our own.


The phenomenon of “like attracting like” in sociological terms is referred to as homophily. Wikipedia defines it as “(love of the same) the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others.”


Sociologists, such as David Knoke at the University of Minnesota, Lynn Smith-Lovin at Duke University, and Mario Luis Small of the University of Chicago, say the evidence of homophily is all around us in social and professional organizations, schools, workplaces, churches and neighborhoods.


Organizations play a powerful role in bringing together people who share similar views.


Prof. Smith-Lovin told the Washington Post that an example could be seen with university professors. Because professionals in this area are strong proponents of education, they are likely to share similar views on areas that are directly related, such as financial aid and research. This set of beliefs, she said, often extends to similar views on other topics, such as government and activism.


Discussion Questions: Do you see the conscious or subconscious “love of same” as being an impediment or impetus to retail performance? In what ways does
homophily positively or negatively affect the running of a retail business?

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10 Comments on "Birds of a Feather Work Together"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It’s most easy to see homophily in retail recruiting. Many interviewers want more people like themselves, so diversity (in thought as well as demographics) suffers. Instead of looking for people with great motivation for success, work ethic, and learning ability, many interviewers look for a list of previous retail positions held and a group of already-learned technical skills. It’s very hard to teach self-motivation. It’s not hard to teach most retail skills.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 6 months ago

This can be a serious detriment.

When you have people of similar attitudes banding together, there is little room for another opinion — the dissenter who is often held at arm’s length in many corporations.

For all the talk about the need for creative thinking and looking outside the box, too many senior executives don’t embrace that thinking and even punish it. Simply put, we fear change and those who promote it are often suspect.

Bill Bishop
Guest
Bill Bishop
15 years 6 months ago

This is an interesting and new topic with direct application to building a retail business, particularly one with a sharply defined value proposition. The idea is that the value proposition appeals most strongly to people with similar needs, i.e., those that are the same in an important respect.

A very focused retailer with great customer data can apply this principle to drive up the quality of the shopping experience they deliver for core customers and build a strong and perhaps impenetrable business around this concept.

Karen McNeely
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Obviously, it would be counter-productive for co-workers to have such diverse opinions and values that they are incapable of working together. However, most mature individuals can work together within a diverse group and, if there are not too many big egos involved, often get new ideas out of it. I know some of my past assistants have helped me think of things from a different vantage point at times. They didn’t match what worked for me, but they did open up my view to what did work for a different demographic.

Ken Wagar
Guest
Ken Wagar
15 years 6 months ago
A terrific question and one that has had too little discussion. Teams built around shared beliefs and communication styles tend to be comfortable and friendly workplaces but not necessarily productive ones or best in class. Diversity in beliefs and styles often produce better performing companies if the diversity is managed and blended and the organization is respectful of the differentiation. Studies by social scientists and psychologists show that many classically dysfunctional organizations have been built in a way that all members are like minded and no one brings different thoughts to the table. The choice is often comfort or the quality of the product and way too often comfort wins out. Adherence to a set of business values and culture are not the same as building a team of like-minded people but often they are seen as the same. Those with a different point of view and a different approach are rarely highly valued in an organization but may in fact be necessary for the organization to be the best it can be. I believe… Read more »
Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
15 years 6 months ago
On the whole, I believe that any organization, including retailers, will benefit from a workforce made up of a diversity of backgrounds in ethnicity, education and opinion. Some of the benefits to such a non homophilic organization would be adaptability (diverse backgrounds provide diverse experiences and therefore potential solutions), tectonic collaboration (multiple views hitting head on which in turn creates a forged view) and speed (diverse experiences eliminate need for trial and error helping to create ideas, solutions faster). Some of the detriments of an organization that embraces diversity are inaction and delay (cross functional collaboration results in slow decision making, delays or no decision-lock), morale decline (unresolved conflict leads to declining morale) and polarity (camps within camps of opinions). The key to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the potential negative affects lay in the organizations senior level managements ability to balance and support such an organization. If it is to be successful it is incumbent upon the leadership to recognize the inherent dangers and to minimize these while shepherding the positive potential. This will… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

In a CPG context, you have to balance 2 opposing forces. The desire for things the same leads us to want to have shoppers “identify” with our products. It’s why we do packaging tests before changing a package – to make sure we are not alienating our current consumer. This is opposed by a “natural” desire for variety – we don’t always want the same thing. A successful retailer will provide variety that it is not too far away from the “normal” products they sell – and leave extreme variations to a specialty retailer.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 6 months ago
Our data shows that homophily is a result, not a cause — people of like minds and backgrounds and values band together because they create a common Master System, which then holds them together and controls their behaviors and attitudes. This is what causes groups of all sizes and types (families, churches, schools, teams, businesses, and nations) to have a “culture” — a way of doing things and seeing things, a set of unspoken and spoken rules, values and taboos, approaches to problems, and all the rest. I don’t believe the question is whether this is a good thing or not, because it is absolutely impossible to stop this from happening. The question is how to have a Master System that delivers the outcomes you want and not the reverse, as is the problem in 100% (literally) of cases. Part of every Master System’s function is to obscure its existence and operation; all groups of people (again, literally) believe that they are completely free to control the behavior of their own group and their own… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 6 months ago

The effect of shared values on retail totally depends on the values that are shared. Success depends on whether the shared values appeal to the majority of the shopping public or, if appealing to a small public, is that public large enough to support the enterprise? The odds are in favor of the retailer whose values insist that products and services delivered meet the expectations of the majority of the public.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I disagree with my fellow BrainTrust panelists. We need a high level of conformity and similar thinking in order for organizations to perform. This includes agreement on what high performing organizations in retail do to better manage change and its impact on their systems, processes and people (resources). Similar thinking is necessary when developing teamwork, and this is critical to excellent performing organizations. In striving for excellence, retailers need common agreement on how to work with customers, how to solve problems, and how to best support the organizations in similar ways. Not doing this creates unnecessary friction, and performance. This is a recipe for disaster since teams cannot work together without a common ground and agreement on their objectives.

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