Do you bring a solid dose of healthy skepticism into the workplace each day? Or, do you avoid working with skeptical co-workers?

Skepticism – healthy or not – is about how organizations recognize and reward employees for their responses to Change.

Many boots-on-the-ground, HR managers are immersed in the daily task of getting all the children to play well together on the playground. As a result, a homogeneous workplace culture of cooperators and order-takers can be reinforced, instead of a culture of collaborative and skeptical innovators.

Are your hiring practices introducing unconscious bias towards healthy workplace skepticism?

There are legendary workplace skeptics in every organization.

These individuals are renowned for their ability to question just about any proposed new idea, value, process, or solution. Why? Because, through their skeptical lens, Anything New represents Change.

In some workplace environments, these workplace skeptics are marginalized by other co-workers. As a result of this unconscious workplace bias, learning, creativity and innovation can be stifled. Yet, in other workplaces, these healthy skeptics are Yodas®: highly sought-after, go-to resources for collaboration and innovation.

Then again, what happens when the biggest workplace skeptic also happens to be the CEO, who holds all the patents to the organization’s products and services? I can think of more than a few CEOs of organizations in the high-tech industry, for starters.

Taken within that context, does your perception of the human capital value of healthy skepticism change?

Within a workplace culture of healthy skepticism, differences become opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

After all, healthy skepticism encourages employees to question whether they could have done the job better and did they offer clients the best solution. In addition, teams continuously focus on discovering tomorrow’s options, rather than relying on yesterday’s solutions. When employees are encouraged to become collaborative and healthy skeptics, they suggest process revisions which continuously make client outcomes better and better, enhancing customer experience.

In the upcoming 2017 Gallup Report on the State of the Global Workforce (opt-in required), organizations which orient performance management around engagement, relationships, recognition, dialogue and opportunities for personal development, have more productive employees.

Consider the impact of more engaged and productive employees on executing a human capital development strategy emphasizing healthy skepticism for innovation.

Three personas tend to emerge in most workforces. Do any of these skeptical personas sound familiar? Do you marginalize or reinforce their workplace contributions?

First, general skeptics doubt or disbelieve anything that smacks of Change.

As a result, these skeptics second-guess transformational changes to company values, strategy or management involving systemic change, like those in the digital workplace. Alteration of workplace processes threatens their comfort levels.

Often, these employees are most comfortable performing rote tasks, with legacy tools and longtime co-workers. As a result, they grow complacent about the quality of output. Subsequently, they stall or derail perceived workplace change, including increasing their level of digital competence on behalf of the clients they serve.

Depending on the current composition of your workforce, these general skeptics can be entrenched in management positions. As a result, when they dig in their heels and refuse to learn new approaches and strategies, they impede workplace collaboration and innovation.

If your organization finds itself mired in the status quo, the root cause just may be that you maintain a workforce of general, and complacent, skeptics.

Then, scientific skeptics rely on critical thinking skills to solving problems for Change, even when the problem is not scientific.

They apply a system of suspended judgment and systematic doubt, or patterns of criticism, to every problem. In addition, they do not respond well to pressure to rush to judgment. The scientific method underpins their commitment to objectively assess observations, form conclusions based on existing information, and determine whether a conclusion can be supported.

These professionals drive their business colleagues crazy, especially when scientific skeptics will not gather data to support preconceived business conclusions. Not only that. Often, how scientific skeptics solve problems appears opposite to how business-focused co-workers manage change and meet deadlines and KPIs.

Alternatively, within innovative workplace cultures, cross-functional collaboration becomes the norm because Change is an anticipated outcome. Consider the impact of rewarding employees for cross-pollinating their brains: not only becoming more scientifically-skeptical but also increasing their business acumen.

In addition, healthy skeptics can become philosophical and comfortable about working in uncertain, changing workplace environments.

The central focus of philosophical skepticism is that true knowledge, or knowledge in a particular area, is uncertain because it is continuously changing, transient and elusive. As a result, they are the ideal, continuous learners. This trait makes them valuable in dynamic, digitally-connected IoT ecosystems. Technology advances which worked yesterday, potentially become transient today and tomorrow.

For example, IT folks in manufacturing and fintech, strive to stabilize dynamic manufacturing and consumer environments. In addition, they continuously monitor for external security threats and anomalies. Also, data sets, upon which machine-learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are built, are in a continuous state of flux and upgrade.

These professionals maintain a healthy skepticism about whether robust systems will be flexible enough to manage constant change. There is no room for complacency in these dynamic IoT environments.

How many of your current employees, both knowledge workers and non-, embrace working in potentially dynamic and changing environments, requiring continuous learning?

Do you value healthy skepticism in the creation of a more collaborative, change-oriented culture?

Alternatively, are you dismissing its importance?

A Top-10 trend in Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends Report (direct link, no opt-in) proposes the value of creating a change culture. This workplace culture leverages continuous learning for employee development and growth. Are innovation and collaboration part of the learning mix? Is there room for healthy skepticism, as well?

Consider the value of becoming a healthy HR skeptic when it comes to building a learning culture as part of your performance management initiative. Otherwise, information becomes rapidly outdated due to the pace of digital transformation and technology advances. Healthy HR skepticism keeps learning environments dynamic, rather than static.

Depending on where everyone sits around the table, you see the same things, differently. Now that you are more aware of the various species of workplace skeptics, take a walk around your organization. View employees and teams through a healthy, skeptical HR lens.

Are employees struggling with systemic workplace changes?

  1. How can making them more aware of the nature of their skepticism help them overcome reluctance to change?
  2. How can learning to collaborate increase the quality of team outcomes?
  3. How can leveraging the value of healthy skepticism enhance your human capital development strategy?

Babette Ten Haken is a corporate catalyst and innovative speaker. She serves organizations as a strategist, coach and storyteller. Babette’s One Millimeter Mindset™ Workshops and Speaking programs leverage collaboration to catalyze professional innovation, workforce engagement and customer success for customer retention. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.

Photo Credit: christianarnaud1 Flickr via Compfight cc

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