War for Talent: Creating a Culture of Curiosity

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The old adage says that curiosity kills the cat, but luckily, it won’t kill your co-workers. Unfortunately, not all employees agree that curiosity is encouraged and rewarded on the job.

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review which surveyed more than 23,000 individuals – including 1,500 C-Suite leaders and 16,000 employees – there is a discrepancy about the frequency and perceived value of curiosity among C-level executives and lower-level employees.

The following chart represents the estimated percent of C-Level employees (red) and other employees (blue) who agreed with the following statements:

"No barriers exist to me being curious."
"Curiosity is encouraged a great deal."
"Being curious leads to earning more money."
"You don't get real answers when you ask questions."

According to the survey, C-level employees feel significantly more optimistic than lower-level employees that curiosity is welcomed and reinforced in the workplace. Even more startling is that 81% of individual contributors believe curiosity makes no difference in their compensation. While it makes sense that some folks in certain industries wouldn’t see the connection between curiosity and their pay checks, workplaces that actively reward curiosity will have an advantage in the war for talent.

Curiosity Drives Engagement

The Harvard Business Review study correctly observes that “curiosity” is a highly-coveted value among hiring managers. Job descriptions galore call for someone who is “passionate” and “curious" – values that will hopefully encourage an up-and-comer to bring a unique perspective to the table.

Likewise, job-seekers are attracted to open-minded work environments that encourage idea generation. According to the study, 73% of individual contributors said they “share ideas more” when they “feel curious”.

The math is true and tested: Curiosity actively leads to increased employee engagement, which decreases employee turnover.

Simple Solutions

C-level employees may genuinely believe they’ve cultivated a work environment that encourages curiosity, but not recognize factors that make lower-level employees feel less inclined to ask questions and challenge conventional wisdom.

The study suggests that identity can encourage an employee’s penchant for curiosity in two ways:

  1. Employers should welcome employees' interests outside of work. Employees in some roles – like computer programming – may not be encouraged by the nature of the job's functions to be curious or ask questions. But, that same computer programmer might enjoy surfing or playing trivia. Outside interests such as these can help inspire a more curious identity on the job.
  2. Employers should continuously reinforce curiosity in order to “authorize” it. Some of the most  revered professionals and academics in the world had mentors in their circle actively encouraging them to think outside the box. In this way, curiosity becomes part of an employee's identity, and they will be more apt to ask questions that might "upset the status quo."

Keeping Diversity in Mind

In more broad strokes, research shows that a lack of diversity in regards to age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation at the top levels of an organization can negatively impact idea generation and discourage employees from speaking up.

Curiosity is just the tip of iceberg when it comes to building an optimal work environment for years to come.

Looking for a work environment that rewards you from bringing unique ideas to the table? Find your worth.