Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Design Thinking: What is it?

Design thinking has recently become a hot topic in HR circles with the increasing attention given to employee experience design.

If design thinking interests you and you'd like to add a bit of design thinking to your HR practice, or are simply wondering what all the fuss is about, check out my Hacking Design series from an innovation workshop I led recently at the Technical University of Munich.

Hacking Design Series:
Part I: Design Thinking for Leaders and Innovators
Part II: Tips, Techniques and Best Practices

Related posts you may also enjoy:
Work Hard, Wear Jeans, Have Fun

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Best of #UNLEASH2018: Hottest tech and predictions for 2019

Last week I attended UNLEASH2018 in Amsterdam and enjoyed catching up with former colleagues who have helped shape the HR tech industry as we know it today.  I was deeply impressed by the quality of the keynotes, the level of engagement and the technology innovation on display in the start-up area.

The keynotes, leading tech trends and vendors have already been well canvassed by others, but I think it’s worth calling out a few new players that are reimagining how companies identify, assess, nurture, acquire and engage talent.  

Despite the hype about AI and other cutting-edge technologies, most aren’t yet advanced to a point where they can – or should - replace humans or complex decisions about people.  That’s OK because they’re pushing the envelope on what is possible to solve old problems in new ways.  What’s exciting is the out of the box thinking inspired by the potential of these technologies. 

IMAGINE: What if we could eliminate workplace bias?  Help people develop better work habits and soft skills within the flow of work?  Accurately assess body language and facial expressions in candidate interviews to avoid hiring mistakes and improve retention?  Predict when a passive candidate is ready to make a change?  Nudge managers to behave more like leaders?  Give candidates engaging tools to help them find the right role in your company as easily as possible?

Although the exhibition hall was full of solutions that offer interesting options for HR folks, I’ve spotlighted a handful because they help nudge HR toward design thinking, tools that serve employees, and martech (that’s marketing tech for non-marketers : ).

HR, Meet Marketing

I’m especially excited about how a few forward-thinking vendors have brought marketing best practices to the forefront of talent management solutions.  As a marketer who’s been advising HR to take a page out of the marketing handbook for several years, it was fun to walk around the start-up area and see so many examples of talent marketing tech.

TalentBrew, for example, brings marketing to the employer branding and candidate experience.  They offer a template-based approach to building out your online employer brand, supported by the creative types you’d find in a real live marketing agency, powered by analytics so you can measure and improve the effectiveness of your acquisition strategies.  It’s basically marketing tech for HR.

Phenom people offers your candidates a personalized ‘buyer journey’ with a spiffy Talent Relationship and Career Management solution that also ticks all the boxes on leading edge technology with AI, chatbots, mobile, and analytics.  With built-in ATS integration, it puts candidate nurture into the flow of work and helps companies identify and build up relationships with passive candidates over time, thus paving the way for people to leave their bad managers to come work for your bad managers.  It also offers a talent mobility solution, helping your employees identify and skill up for promising career moves within the company. 

Candidate.ID with its distinctive superfluous period won the start-up competition at UNLEASH2018 for its talent pipeline automation solution.  They also get a high five from me for best use of marketing terms in an HR solution, like ‘talent pipeline’ and ‘hiring funnel.’  It’s basically martech for HR but instead of reading what I have to say about it, watch their winning pitch here.  You can do that because, being marketers who happen to build HR solutions, they recorded, posted, and digital campaigned the heck out of it about 90 seconds after it happened.  That’s how it’s DONE, people!!! 

Watch the eyebrows… but, y'know, not in a creepy way
Now we get into the interesting and slightly disconcerting arena of AI-assisted recruiting.  While I’m personally interested in proper sourcing tools for hiring managers that don’t recommend people like me for Spanish speaking sales executive jobs (yes, I’m talking to you LinkedIn), the most prevalent type of AI solution I saw at UNLEASH2018 was related to video interviews. 

For example, Cammio takes video interviews to hip new heights, combining an engaging candidate experience with AI screening of the videos to weed out non-starter candidates.   To a hiring manager with limited recruiter support who has to make small talk with someone they know after 5 minutes they aren’t going to hire, AI-assisted pre-screening will be quite appealing.  And for HR partners who have no time for – or interest in - screening applicants for hiring managers, it’s also win-win.  It’s also fun for the candidate, supporting creativity and individuality as part of the application process.

Yobs takes AI assessment even further with in depth soft skills analysis by analysing word choice, facial expressions, tone of voice to make the recruiting process less biased and more efficient.  They’ve joined leading AI, psychiatric, and behavioural research with data science and cutting-edge technology to measure things like assertiveness, stress level, persuasiveness and engagement.  They take a big picture approach to talent placement, not only identifying the best candidates for specific roles, but also where other candidates or other employee groups might fit across the company. 

Seedlink is another solution to watch that merges disciplines, including organizational psychology and computational linguistics, to remove the bias and bottlenecks from interview assessments and make smart hiring recommendations.  Part of their value proposition – backed up by customer research - is that if you hire people for fit, they’ll be more successful and stick around longer.

Nudge, Nudge, Engage

Stroofy uses data science and gamification to help people improve their focus and productivity.  The solution monitors people’s most productive work cycles and gently nudges them when they get distracted or start multi-tasking.  Over time, with a combination of pattern analysis and continuous but non-intrusive feedback integrated into the flow of work, people are encouraged to build up more productive work habits and achieve more deep work cycles. 

Effectory at first glance is a simple solution that manages employee feedback and measures engagement, either across the business or by employee group.  However, ease of use, configurable templates and built in analytics and content put a neat bow around the ongoing challenge of getting actionable employee feedback and measuring engagement. 

Finally (in my list, not at the event), I have a soft spot for Osaamisbotti, on on-demand ‘coachbot’ designed in Finland.  The name caught my eye as I walked past but I’m fairly confident we’ll be seeing more coaching bots to close the gap between what companies need from leaders and what they are able to deliver.

Looking Ahead: Two Opportunity Areas in 2019
I’m excited to see what happens with these and other vendors at UNLEASH 2018 but see two huge opportunity areas for HR tech in 2019 and beyond:

 Master Controller: Innovative niche solutions may solve important problems, but they make for complex ecosystems and interrupted process flows, which means we’ll start to see either market or technical consolidation.  Will leading ERP solutions continue to reign supreme, buying up and integrating niche solutions, or will someone else step up?

Contingent Workers: As I wrote in my blog post HR and the Gig Economy, if your employee data only describes part of your actual workforce you have a blind spot. Most companies continue to manage employees and contingent workers separately, resulting in opportunity costs that are awaiting a well-thought-out solution.  Will we see such a solution in 2019?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Ageism: Is it True or is it You? Part II

Guest post by Lexy Martin, Principal Research and Customer Value, Visier.  You can find Part I of this article, which includes statistics on ageism and debunks several myths, here.

The Value of Including Older Tech Workers

As the Tech Sage Age finding shows, companies are missing out if they don’t consider the age composition of specific teams, departments, and business units and how managers can build diversity and take advantage of the maturity and experience of older workers.

Legal issues aside, designing a recruitment strategy around younger generations can be shortsighted from a business perspective. Older workers tend to be more loyal, and an over-representation of millennials in the workforce can impact retention. A 2016 Gallup report reveals that “21% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same.” [1]

A workforce of job-hoppers can have a big impact on the bottom line. As HR expert Josh Bersin writes in this post[2], “The total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5 – 2 X annual salary.”

Studies have also found that diverse teams are more innovative, which is critical in an era when competitive threats loom large. Hiring people “who do not look, talk, or think like you, can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking,” write the experts in this HBR post[3].

What Businesses Can Do?

There are some important activities you can do to root out the risk of ageism in your workforce and ensure you acquire, develop, and retain the best and brightest talent available, regardless of age:

       Review your workforce data to understand the current state of age equity within your organization to find any signs of potential bias in hiring, promotions, salary levels, turnover, and performance ratings. If you work in People Analytics, you can play a role in warning of incipient ageism in your organization and support your own organization to outperform your competition. You can uncover and root out intentional and unintentional bias in your hiring practices that might be limiting the Gen X and older workers or potential hires.
       Set objectives and develop a plan with manageable steps (and a way to monitor your progress) that helps your organization achieve an inclusive work environment.
       Keep in mind that, as with ethnic and gender equity, age equity is a cultural issue — if pockets of ageism exist within your organization, you will need to devise plans to address them not only via better HR practice and policy rollouts, but through culture change.
       Consider implementing a version of the Rooney Rule[4] for age, specifically for teams or roles where the workforce is less diverse in age: for every position you have open to fill, consider one or more older candidates (or candidates that will help create a more diverse team, in general).
       Develop hiring practices that reduce the potential for intentional or unintentional bias in the screening out of older applicants.
       Develop hiring practices that specifically do not screen out candidates based on the length of their unemployment — while this report focused on systemic ageism, many individual stories suggest older unemployed workers struggle to get hired, and studies indicate recruiters screen out candidates that have been unemployed for longer periods of time.

The Bottom Line – Attitude, Passion, and People Analytics Successfully Combat Ageism

What can you do? For individuals, it’s about maintaining self-confidence in your competence and passion for your activities. If you don’t love your job, perhaps you should consider another. But if you do, show it, and, if I’m any indication, you can continue to work for as long as you want.

For organizations, if you have not already deployed people analytics, the capabilities will help you identify if ageism exists today or will in the future. And you can assess where in your hiring, developing, and retention of your talent you need to improve to maintain your competitive advantages into the future.

What one organization is doing about ageism

SAP is employing all five generations in its workforce – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials) and now Gen Z. While ageism, unconscious bias and pre-conceived expectations can often deter individuals and companies from seeing the value add of a single generation, companies also underestimate the benefit of generations working together to achieve common goals. 

To address bias, SAP advocates for inclusion for all and actively seeks to bring people together to support different life stages while improving cross-generational collaboration. We encourage learning between generations by raising awareness about unique working styles, strengths, and attributes of employees across generations through our Focus on Insight training, as well as virtual and face to face training sessions. We also offer a popular cross-generational mentoring program which allows employees to learn from one another and reduce bias.

In addition, SAP supports education from the top down by teaching senior leaders to celebrate multiple generations. We encourage our leaders to help new employees integrate with other members of the team – for example, by conducting open and appreciative communication within teams, aligning on goals and reserving time for knowledge transfer. By addressing challenges, surfacing unconscious bias, seeking communication and awareness and creating a community of trust and respect – leaders can play a large part in cultivating an inclusive culture. 

The beauty of cross generational intelligence is understanding what is most appealing to the other generation; the way we communicate and respect each other for our uniqueness and differences. Embracing commonalities and similarities to build camaraderie while respecting generational differences creates an inclusive environment that fosters innovation and creativity in the workplace to continue building a culture of inclusivity, teamwork and respect.

Lexy Martin is a respected thought leader and researcher on HR technology adoption and their value to organizations and workers alike. Known as the originator of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, she now works at Visier continuing her research efforts, now on people analytics, and working closely with customers to support them in their HR transformation to become data-driven organizations. Lexy is Principal, Research and Customer Value at Visier. Connect with Lexy at or personally at

[2] Employee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why the Tide has Turned, Josh Bersin, August, 2013, LinkedIn
[3] Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter, David Rock and Heidi Grant, Harvard Business Review, November, 2016.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Ageism: Is it True or is it You? Part I

Source: ASA
Guest post by Lexy Martin, Principal Research and Customer Value, Visier 

If you want or need to work, no matter your age, you should be able to. It’s up to you. 

Organizations also have a responsibility to do something about ageism, which is blamed as the culprit for older workers not finding jobs -- I’ll cover what organizations need to do later.  It’s my point of view, though, that it’s up to you to go after the job you want and get it! 

It’s about having an attitude that you are damn good, a passion for your field or the field you want to break into, constantly learning, and applying new skills. Getting and keeping a job, whether you are 40, 70, or even 25, is about manifesting those four aspects.

I’m 73 and still working because I want to. I’ve not had trouble getting or keeping a job – oh maybe a few times when I was younger before I developed and manifested attitude, passion, and perseverance. If you are blaming your age, the company, the industry, or the younger recruiter that isn’t hiring you, you may be a bit of the problem.

OK. I admit it’s not always easy to be the oldest worker in an organization peopled by workers a third my age. I have to combat my own fears of mental and physical decline more than I like, especially after breaking my ankle a few months ago. I feel I have to spend extra time learning new skills – maybe a new area in my field or a new program. I have to force myself to set goals and meet them. 

I can be my own worst enemy, especially when I let fear that I’m not good enough get in the way of being positive, learning, and performing. For that, I exercise, practice meditation, and have my own personal affirmations. And sometimes, even those don’t help and so I crab to my husband.   But I persevere and maybe that’s my one big piece of advice – keep on being the best you can be despite all that “stuff.''

Now let me cover the reality that ageism does exist, particularly in the Tech industry based on research. At Visier, a people analytics product company, delivered as a cloud solution, we have the opportunity to analyze people data from most of our 100+ customers who represent multiple industries[1]

Over the past few years we’ve seen numerous articles about ageism in the Tech industry, and so mined this data and uncovered some truths and also some myths about ageism. Not only is there anecdotal evidence of ageism but also data-based evidence of systemic ageism. But still – don’t let that get you down. Go for the job you want, because you are great!
Many Tech professionals over age 50 (and even a number over age 40)[2] believe ageism exists because of their own personal difficulties finding work later in their careers. Certainly, there have been numerous class-action lawsuits about ageism against Silicon Valley giants, even more than about racial or gender bias.

Situational ageism–prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age–is an important issue organizations across industries should be aware of and take steps to monitor and improve. Not just because of fairness or to reduce the risk of age discrimination litigation, but also because of upcoming retirements and the resulting skills shortages. In the past 50 years, the size of the US workforce has grown an average of 1.7% annually. In the next 50 years, the US workforce size will grow by only 0.3% annually[3].

Does Ageism Exist in Tech?

In short, yes. A Visier Insights Report on ageism in the Tech industry [4] found that Tech does hire a higher proportion of younger workers and a smaller proportion of older workers than in other industries.

Is this disparity in hiring due to systemic ageism in Tech? To investigate this, we first strove to determine if the disparity is related to the availability of talent versus an intentional bias towards hiring younger workers. We found that hiring decisions in Tech do indeed favor younger candidates, hiring Millennials over Gen X candidates at a higher rate than in non-Tech industries.

This answer has traditionally been difficult to get: While leading Tech companies publicize their organizational ethnic and gender composition data, little data has been shared about the age makeup of the Tech workforce5.

We began our research into ageism by looking at the breakdown of the workforce by age, comparing the Tech industry to non-Tech industries. Using the Visier Insights database—an aggregation of anonymized and standardized workforce databases that for this report included 330,000 employees from 43 large US enterprises (those with at least two years of verified and validated high-quality data)—we were able to examine the role of age in the workforce like never before.

Debunking Myths about Ageism

Our research showed that the average Tech worker is 38 years old, compared to 43 years old for non-Tech workers. The average manager in the Tech industry is 42 years old, compared to 47 for non-Tech industries.

It comes as no surprise that Tech workers are younger on average, but our research clarified some key misconceptions related to the salary lifecycle, resignation rates, and perceived value of older workers. 

Here are four common ageism myths we debunked with the data:

Myth #1: Older Tech workers are less valued

While the average Tech worker is five years younger than the average worker, it is a misconception that older workers are less valued in Tech. From age 40 onwards, non-manager workers in Tech enter the “Tech Sage Age” and are increasingly likely to receive a top performer rating as they age, mature, and gain experience. Conversely, the proportion of top performers decreases with age in non-Tech industries. This finding suggests that maturity and experience are more important drivers of high performance in Tech than in Non-Tech industries.

Myth #2: Older Tech workers experience a drop in salary

Older Tech workers as a group do not experience a reduction in average salary that is any different from non-Tech industries. Rather, workers in Tech experience the same salary lifecycle as their counterparts in non-Tech.

Myth #3: Newly hired older Tech workers are not paid equitably

Older Tech workers that are newly hired do not — on average — experience a lower wage. Rather, newly hired workers are paid the same average salary as more tenured workers, across all age groups.

Myth #4: Older workers in Tech resign at higher rates

The average resignation rates by age for Tech and non-Tech workforces show that older Tech workers — from age 40 onwards — have the same first-year resignation rate as their non-Tech age counterparts: approximately 10%.

This concludes Part I of Ageism: Is it True or is it You?  Stay tuned for Part II, which will take a closer look at what organizations can do to combat ageism.

Lexy Martin is a respected thought leader and researcher on HR technology adoption and their value to organizations and workers alike. Known as the originator of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, she now works at Visier continuing her research efforts, now on people analytics, and working closely with customers to support them in their HR transformation to become data-driven organizations. Lexy is Principal, Research and Customer Value at Visier. Connect with Lexy at or personally at

[1] The Tech companies included in our research represent the diverse fields within the Tech industry from Software Development, Hosting, Data Processing, Telecommunications, Computer Systems Design and Scientific Services.
[2] It’s Tough Being Over 40 in Silicon Valley, Carol Hymowitz and Robert Burnson, September 8, 2016, Bloomberg Businessweek.
[4] Visier Insights Report: The Truth About Ageism in the Tech Industry, September, 2017.
5 Hacking the Diversity Problem with Big Data Analytics, John Schwartz, Data Informed, February, 2015.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Work Hard, Wear Jeans, Have Fun

Could it be we are overthinking employer brand?

I mean, my husband's an IT architect.  He helped design the technical foundation for the world's most successful SaaS-based HCM solution.  He's the guy who can talk to busy executives, inflexible power users, nerdy propeller heads and uptight clipboard carriers.  IT companies want to hire more people like him.

None of which is my point.  My point is, how does someone like that decide where to work?

While companies compete with one another to have the most complicated answer to that question, for him it's always been really simple.  Back when he had just graduated from college and was avoiding 9-5 jobs like the plague while helping a friend build software in a garage, this job advertisement caught his eye:

Work Hard.  Wear Jeans.  Have Fun.

That's it.  He applied, got the job, and the rest is history.  

What does this tell us?  It tells us that people who know what they want are really good at self-selecting the work culture that will work for them.  

The other thing worth noting is that this advertisement wouldn't work on him today, because he's at a different phase in his career.  Today he wants to work in service to ideas that create positive social and economic impact so, 'Help us save the world,' might be a better lure.

To continue on this, 'It's really simple,' theme: The best way to attract great talent is to be the kind of place to work great talent wants to work for.  The catch is this means different things to different people, with creative freedom, interesting projects, work life balance, money, increased responsibility and finding your purpose of more or less importance depending on where you are in your career.  

That noisy foozball table in the break room may be a big hit with twenty-somethings who hang out in the office late, but highly annoying to your Sr Digital Marketing Manager who has a campaign to get out the door, and of no interest whatsoever to the working mom who has to leave on time to pick up her kids.

So here's a crazy idea: Identify the kinds of employees you'd like to attract more of and talk to them about what they like - or don't like - about working for your company.  Then do more - or less - of that.  

Don't guess or copy what other companies do.  Ask.  Try.  Iterate.  (It's called #designthinking.)

You may also enjoy:

Here's a handy #designthinkingforhr infographic:

Friday, October 5, 2018

Work Experience Design: Interview with Karen Jaw-Madson

Soon after writing The HR Journey from Productivity to Purpose, I came across an article written by work experience design expert Karen Jaw-Madson and realized I'd discovered a kindred spirit.  Several emails and high energy conversations later, I'm very excited to publish a guest post with Karen.

With a fresh perspective on the hot topics of company culture and employee engagement, Karen combines deep insight with a pragmatic approach to creating meaningful work experiences.  Somewhat atypically within a corporate landscape that tends to view culture as something top down, she uses design thinking principles to ensure that employees play a key role in co-creating their own work culture.  

Read what she has to say in this exclusive interview.

1. Why does work experience design matter for HR?

We know from the study of the human mind that people’s memories are coded by way of experiences. It’s how we frame our thinking and remember things. Whether or not it is consciously acknowledged, experience design matters to HR because it matters to people.  Experience must be a cornerstone if we are to ensure the “human” in HR. Those that understand the importance of employee experience have an opportunity to differentiate themselves above others in the war for talent. That’s because intentionally designing experience aligned with company values and culture increases the chances of intended, positive outcomes. Check out an article I recently published in HR Professional magazine, “What HR Should Know About Employee Experience.”

2. Who owns / should own work experience design, if not HR? 

I’m chuckling because of how much we think alike. Over the summer I wrote an article for People + Strategy Journal, “It’s More Than a Job Title: The Role of HR When It Comes to Organizational Culture.” It won’t be released until November, but let me summarize and note that the same goes for work experience design: because culture and the outcomes of work experience design are shared, no one can realistically “own” them—they are communal. That being said, HR has several roles to play, as educator, evangelist, sponsor, and connector. Advisor is not on the list because that would support the misperception of ownership and creates an emotional distance from being an equal partner within the culture.  

3. Can you briefly explain your methodology and how you developed it?

Design of Work Experience (DOWE) percolated for years, but was catalyzed with the introduction of design and design thinking into its development. The other big influences on this work are appreciative inquiry, positive psychology, and values-based leadership. A concept, methodology, and framework rolled into one, DOWE “partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” The model is comprised of four main components: the combination of DESIGN and CHANGE processes enabled by leveraging and building CAPABILITY and ENGAGEMENT throughout.

The process is segmented into 5 phases: UNDERSTAND, CREATE & LEARN, DECIDE, PLAN, and IMPLEMENT. These in turn are organized as a series of iterative learning loops, each with its own specific set of activities that break down complex culture work into digestible, focused, exploration spaces.

Ultimately, the practice of DOWE yields an in-depth understanding of the current state, a design for the future state, and a roadmap with action plans for how to get there. This can be applied to a variety of opportunity spaces in organizations, from business strategy to the employment life cycle, to interactions, and capability development.

4. How did you end up writing and publishing a book on this topic?

The book was written as a humble contribution to the study of company culture, but born out of a frustration with how often culture is blamed for failures in companies after the fact. We know that many corporate scandals blamed on culture are quite preventable. There’s a lot of content out there around “best practices” and “how we did it,” but I wanted to offer a step-by-step “how to” for intentionally creating culture on the front end that is specific to the intended context—your organization.

5. Do you have any advice for people who want to develop expertise in this area?

In a word, learn. Learning is demonstrated by changed behavior and because of that, it is transformative. You should learn in all 3 ways: experientially, inwardly, and externally—continually and simultaneously. Building culture--particularly with Design of Work Experience (DOWE)--is best learned by doing. The first phase of the process, UNDERSTAND, will identify your organization’s highest priorities, develops an unprecedented level of organizational self-awareness, and requires practitioners to do a lot of self-learning and examination. The CREATE & LEARN phase has a learning loop dedicated to building knowledge and inspiration by hunting and gathering anything that could inform perspective. By seeking external stimulus, we are able to build our “knowledge banks” and incorporate them as new learning. Expertise isn’t built over night, but with persistence and an open mind.

6. What is next for you?

I try to follow the same I advice offer to those I coach. Rather than chasing plans (which sometimes adds rigidity, blinds us to other opportunities, and doesn’t always go our way) I’m aiming for aspirational outcomes: meaningfulness in work, a positive impact, a well-balanced life. If design thinking has taught me anything, it’s that one can always iterate and allow the possibilities to reveal themselves. I have a lot of different projects on the plate, potential partnerships with others, and am always seeking to learn new things. I look forward to discovering where all this leads me. 

Organizational expert Karen Jaw-Madson enjoyed success as a corporate executive before pursuing a ‘portfolio career’ comprised of research, writing, consulting, teaching/speaking, and creative pursuits. As a versatile leader across multiple industries, Karen developed, led, and implemented numerous organizational initiatives around the globe. Today, this East Coast transplant to Silicon Valley (via Ireland and the Midwest) is principal of Co.-Design of Work Experience, where she enables organizations with innovative approaches and customized solutions for intimidating challenges. Focus areas include culture, organizational change, and people strategies. Her book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work (Emerald Group Publishing) was released in June, 2018. She has a BA in Ethnic and Cultural Studies from Bryn Mawr College and a MA in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website at

Monday, September 3, 2018

Diversity's the Secret Sauce of a Great Culture

My first boss Herman was a 2nd generation Mexican American.  He ran a tight Jewish bakery counter and his brother Alex managed the kosher deli across the way.

My best boss ever – and I’ve only had a few over a long career I consider truly great – was French and female.  

(My worst boss was also female so please don’t take this as a general endorsement for female leadership, let’s just get better leaders, OK?)

I’ve had bosses from the US, France, India, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Mexico, and Germany.  They all had very different management styles.

One boss called me a ‘penetrante Kuh’ - which means annoying cow - but he was German, so I didn’t take it personally.  In fact, I considered printing it on my business card.

I’ve hired and managed people from Canada, South Africa, Japan, Poland, Singapore, Russia, Finland, Spain, Mexico, Ireland, France, and the US.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Russians, Finns, Japanese, Italians, Canadians, Dutch, French, Irish, British, Spanish, Australians, Iranians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Belgians, Indians, Romanians, Swiss, Scandinavians, and 2nd generation Americans from pretty much every part of the world.

Some were younger, some were older, some were male, some were female, some were fantastic to work with while others were difficult, but they all offered something unique to the mix.

It was the best part about working, to be honest. 

I didn’t like everybody, nor did everyone like me.  That’s not the point.  The point is that they all added colour and flavour to my work experience, as I hope working with me did for them.

Interacting with so many cultures and personalities upped my game and having such a rich mix of colleagues and experiences kept me longer in each role than I might have stayed otherwise.

Diversity matters in ways we can’t measure.  It makes us more resilient, curious, compassionate, and open to new cultures, ideas and experiences.  It tests us and forces us to adapt, compromise and question our assumptions.

If your customer base is diverse, it stands to reason your workforce – in particular, the people who design your solutions or interact with your customers - should be, too.  Also, just to be clear, hiring locals in your non-HQ subsideriaries isn't true diversity.

I don’t think too many people reading this are likely to disagree, since diversity is now accepted as part of a successful business strategy, but I leave you with this food for thought:

A few years back I blogged about a Cornell University study that found once diversity reaches a critical mass of 20-25% at the leadership level the company realizes higher performance.  However, below that level diversity has a negative impact, possibly because everyone regards it as a necessary evil rather than a driver of innovation and business performance.

With that in mind, maybe diversity should be part of your company DNA, rather than an isolated and/or HR-led initiative.  

Just sayin.

*Picture courtesy of Managing Your Elders.

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