Diversity Alone Is Not Enough – The 5 Initial Conditions to Optimize Performance

Diversity Alone Is Not Enough – The 5 Initial Conditions to Optimize Performance 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

Many consultants and consulting companies tout the benefits of diversity and make amazing claims about the results of having a diverse organization.  Diversity is perceived as a competitive advantage and as a progressive necessity if an organization is going to be able to claim a modern reputation.  I am unconvinced.  Just like anything else in life, too much of a good thing can become a negative.

There is an impressive list of benefits that experts claim diversity generates.  These include improved innovation and creativity, reduced turnover, improved ability to recruit, improved productivity, excellent company image.  Not so fast.  When we read these claims, there is little mention of the complexity of factors that contribute to these desirable results.  Any consultant who claims to be able to achieve these goals with diversity alone is at best unsophisticated and at worst misleading.

Making the claim that diversity alone is responsible for these outcomes, is like saying a certain brand of gasoline is responsible for lower maintenance costs on your car.  There are too many other factors which are contributing to the outcome.

There are five initial conditions a leader needs to manage prior to reaching to achieve diversity goals.  These conditions will have a much greater impact on these desirable results and will help support a diverse workforce.

A Compelling Vision

A vision is an ideal picture of a future state of the organization.  Pete Senge explains, in his book The Fifth Discipline, that a compelling vision is like stretching a strong rubber band. It pulls people toward the ideal picture and so it helps them to be motivated to achieve the description of the future organization.  A clear and compelling vision that is communicated consistently will improve motivation and align people who are diverse in background. A common vision naturally draws a diverse workforce together into an effective team.

A Compelling Mission

A mission is the reason why an organization exists.  Viktor Frankl, author or Man’s Search for Meaning’ once said, “Those who have a ‘why” to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”  Millennials are famous for needing to know why they are being asked to do something. If we are able to explain “why” something is needed, it naturally creates intrinsic motivation and high-quality work.

On a recent trip to a client I encountered a sign in the rest room.  It read; “Did you know that 40% of people who go to the bathroom fail to wash their hands?  Did you know that not washing your hands properly can encourage the spread of germs that cause diarrhea, the flu, and even hand-foot-mouth disease, and even death?  Washing your hands can protect you from these diseases and others.”

I immediately washed my hands and I do it every time.  No one must remind me because I know why it is so important. A well communicated mission will bring a diverse group of people together to achieve a vision.

A Clear Set of Values

Values describe how we want to behave while working toward the vision and mission. When people know how they are supposed to behave with each other and they can agree on that behaviors, it makes the environment safe for communication.  Diversity consultants claim that communication is improved because of the diversity. I disagree. It improves when people share the same values.

It is because of an aligned set of values that make it safe for people to converse even when they are diverse in background. Again, an aligned set of values enables diversity to work as an advantage.  Values comes first, diversity next.

An Aligned Strategy

A strategy explains the priorities of an organization. People who join an organization often have their own ideas about what the priorities must or should be.  Individuals in an organization are not authorized to decide priorities for the organization.  Effective leaders clarify and communicate the priorities of objectives people need to accomplish.

Without an aligned strategy, people can have competing priorities.  When there is competition of priorities there is waste and increased costs.  An aligned strategy will save the organization money.  It will also compel those with diverse backgrounds to work toward the same goals.

The Most Effective Leadership Philosophy

For 20 years I have asked senior teams this question, “What is your leadership philosophy?”  Rarely can I get an articulate answer to this question.  This is because we have been taught an outdated leadership model which is holding us back from optimizing employee engagement.  Frederick Taylor was an engineer who formulated a specific leadership model in the early 1900’s which requires employees to follow a specific set of actions to meet performance standards.  The outdated policy of the typical performance appraisal is consistent with Taylor Philosophy.

We need to evolve our leadership model. We need a leadership model which provides greater opportunity for higher trust, more cooperation, productive conflict, effective leadership and self-management.  We can have a diverse workforce but we also need an aligned leadership philosophy which brings us together as a team.

Diversity is a factor in a high-performance organization. It is not THE factor.