What are we wanting to accomplish with our diversity programs? Do we want to simply reflect the proportion of races in our organization to match those in our culture? Do we want to avoid discrimination law suits? Are we wanting to generate innovative thought? Do we expect improved productivity? According to Harvard Business Review, most diversity programs fail to accomplish their stated objectives of increasing diversity. (Kalev, 2016)
Biodiversity boosts natural sustainability for all life forms. Each species, no matter how small, plays an important role in this goal. The greater the number of plant species means a greater variety of crops leading to robust sustainable survival of all. Isn’t this the main reason we want to have diversity in our organizations as well? We want sustainable survival in a high change environment.
How can an organization optimize sustainable productivity improvement and continuous innovation? One factor must be its ability to attract and retain employees with diverse skills, ideas, and methods of improvement. But diversity programs are often seen as a strategy avoid the appearance of bias and racism. In my opinion this seems unfortunate and unproductive. Is it fair to say all African American’s do not think alike? How about Caucasians? They don’t all think alike either, correct? For me this is what diversity programs can go too far astray and miss opportunities to contribute to sustainable healthy growth in profitability, revenue, and customer experience.
To avoid letting your diversity selection programs go too far, three key criteria should be keep in mind and implemented to create a culture which will contribute to healthy sustainability. First, clarify how everyone must behave to always be respectful. One pitfall with diversity is the danger of disrespect. A good example in nature is the destruction of many native species of plants caused by feral pigs in Hawaii. European domestic pigs bred with the smaller Polynesian pigs. The feral pigs today damage many indigenous plant life and require hunters to control the population. The pigs are a good example of diversity gone too far.
People from different backgrounds can have different definitions (demonstrations of respect) of respect and therefore different expectations. By clarifying how to achieve respect in every interaction and providing everyone with the right and obligation to give feedback, leaders can manage the variation in respectful behavior. This avoids unnecessary damage to the working environment in the form of negative emotional conflicts.
A second pitfall is a lack of appreciation of different communication styles. By adopting insights from a style instrument like DiSC and/or Meyers Briggs, showing how different styles can complement each other and showing how everyone can demonstrate an appreciation for different styles, employees can avoid interpreting differences in styles from demonstrations of disrespect.
A third pitfall is a lack of appreciation for why the organization exists. When the purpose of the organization (mission and/or vision) is clearly stated and reinforced, employees are willing to more easily work through differences in opinion and align on what is best for the organization. This is another reason to avoid rewards for individual performance and to instead reward team or total organization performance. When employees can see how everyone will benefit from cooperative effort (avoiding competitive behaviors) they are more willing to compromise and implement others’ ideas because they know rewards will be coming when the entire organization wins.
The embrace of the typical performance appraisal is a barrier to cooperation because it often rewards individual performance above organizational performance.
We all want sustainable performance, profitability and customer experience. Having diverse ideas, methods, and styles can help achieve a culture which can adapt quickly to change. However, managing the variation in respect, an understanding of why the organization exists, and rewarding team effort will help prevent a diversity program from getting of track.