The requirements of leaders in today’s economy are quickly shifting. With globalization in full force and an increasingly diverse range of voices, talents, backgrounds and experiences mingling at a local and an international level, how executives have managed workforces is not necessarily the leadership approach that will enable them to remain competitive.
Hiring talent from different racial, geographic, ethnic and religious backgrounds is becoming standard business practice. How do good leaders leverage these diverse perspectives in a way that is relevant and contemporary? How can organizations enable leaders and individual contributors across the organization to make a significant impact to the business’ bottom line?
Here are three emerging best practices that any company can implement to successfully manage – and capitalize on – a diverse workforce.
1. Set a Bold, Inclusive Vision
Re-evaluating the direction you want the company to take, and then communicating your vision to all, is crucial to aligning everyone and steering the ship. The key word here is inclusive. If people don’t feel included, they won’t help you get to your destination – and they may even hinder your progress.
Employees want to feel that their leaders value them as people, even if their ideas, perspectives and experiences vary from their own. They also want to feel supported in their efforts to make a difference at work. Cal Jackson, director of diversity and inclusion at Tech Data, told me, “It’s like everybody’s playing football but everybody has a different playbook.” He believes that the foundation for Tech Data’s growing success in this area is making sure that all colleagues feel appreciated for the great work they do.
The company recently went through a brand refresh and chose to make inclusion a core company value. Linda Rendleman, senior vice president of product marketing and endpoint solutions, said of the new philosophy, “If inclusivity is not part of your mindset, you are probably not a good fit for our company.“
2. Foster Courageous Conversations
One of the many advantages of having diverse talent within your organization is that they bring with them a rich array of experiences, ideas and perspectives with which to address problems. However, creating an environment where everyone feels heard, where people feel safe to speak up – without feeling shut down – is no easy task. Sometimes we get in our own way. We think we know the answer or that our way is the right way or the only way, instead of one way. Other times, we are impatient and want to reach a solution right away instead of allowing time for structured brainstorming, intentional listening and courageous conversations.
Create diverse teams, and carve out dedicated discussion time for product and process innovation, as well as the difficult conversations around topics such as race, ageism, gender and other power struggles. Without addressing these topics, your efforts to drive change will be short-lived.
3. Think “Glocally”
The one-size-fits-all approach no longer works. Growing businesses recognize the need to adapt their approach to various parts of the organization, to different geographies and to diverse socio-cultural contexts. For instance, when you expand into a new country, you’re faced with a new set of cultural habits, norms, business practices and systems. In some cultures, it is customary to spend time exchanging pleasantries before discussing business. In others, asking non-business related questions is regarded as being forward, and standard practice is to get straight to the negotiations.
I once made the mistake of accepting someone’s business card without more than glancing at it. Thankfully, the gentleman educated me on proper etiquette and all was forgiven, but it’s a mistake I’ve never made since. However, others have not been so fortunate. I’ve talked to senior executives who have ruined multi-million-dollar deals because they forgot to carry their cards with them in a part of the world that deems the exchange of business cards the beginning of a relationship.
The bottom line? Your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy must be tailored to maximize local impact. Think globally, and act locally – or glocally. For big businesses, your diversity and inclusion strategy must be both globally applicable and locally leverageable.