Friday, May 28, 2010

Diversity and good management

One of the reasons I've been a bit quiet lately is that I'm taking a talent management certification course at Cornell, which takes up some of the time I typically use for blogging.

One of the topics in this course was diversity, which inspired this post. It turns out that companies that tap into the power of diversity - i.e., not just tokenism, which can undermine company performance, but actively including members of a diverse workforce - perform better.

Naturally, race, gender, age and religion came up and were covered about as one might expect. We debated the value of quotas, sensitivity training and best practices for including people in the workplace. Good points were raised. Etc., etc., etc.

But what really captured my attention was an expanded definition of diversity, which includes people with different work styles, remote employees, etc. How can an organization best 'include' people who don't fit the standard mold, either because they have a different skin color or an accent or because they prefer to start work early and leave early?

When you get right down to it, it's all diversity and companies that embrace diversity are the most likely to be successful.

Not surprisingly, how well companies do this is largely dependent on the quality of their managers. In fact, one of the case studies we reviewed discussed a company that sent their managers to diversity and sensitivity training with no notable effect on performance or inclusion. However, when they sent their managers to effective management training, overall performance improved.

Why? Because it turns out that the secret to managing diversity well is also the secret of managing well. When you get right down to it, we're all pretty different and managers who play to people's strengths are are the ones people want to work for.

Maybe this is another way of saying that employees value autonomy. In other words, most people don't want to be dictated to when it comes to how they do their work. They want a manager that respects and values their unique work styles, independent of their gender, race, age or skin color.

But don't take my word for it. Check out this humorous HBR article about how just the thought of a controlling manager can make people unproductive.

2 comments:

  1. This is spot on - diversity is sometimes founded on different experiences that result from culture, race, etc. but it can also be independent of those explicit factors. And you're right - the prescription is management that isn't one size fits all. If you haven't had a chance yet, check out "The Power of Pull" by Hagel, Brown, and Davison for a great take on why the old "Push" approach of one size fits all won't survive.

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  2. That is a great tip, thank you!

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