In “Recent Research on Team and Organizational Diversity: SWOT Analysis and Implications” (Journal of Management, December 2003), authors Susan E. Jackson, Aparna Joshi and Niclas L. Erhardt analyzed 63 diversity studies that had been conducted over a five-year period. Some of their thought-provoking statements dealt with diversity training:
- “Diversity training has mushroomed in the past decade.”
- “If more research is conducted to understand how the design and context of diversity training influences program effectiveness, diversity training will eventually be as useful as it is popular.”
- “Training teams to manage and leverage their own diversity may prove more effective than training individuals.”
- “Awareness training, for example, should provide insights about oneself, as well as about others.”
- “…it seems likely that active diversity management will be required in order for organizations to realize the potential benefits locked up within their diverse work forces.”
‘As Useful as It Is Popular’
What does diversity training strive to achieve? In most cases, it is a compound goal. If people are given the opportunity and the tools to understand one another, they will value and appreciate one another. People who value and appreciate one another work together more effectively.
Corporate initiatives must be directly or peripherally linked to financial performance. Twenty-five years ago, corporations launched quality programs that eventually proved to be critical to corporate success. A quality initiative was easy to justify because a few Japanese companies had demonstrated that quality translates into improved sales, profits and customer satisfaction. The benefits were dramatic and certifiable. Diversity programs have not yet achieved the same level of certifiable financial impact, but they will.
As the report stated, “Training teams to manage and leverage their own diversity may prove more effective than training individuals.” However, the question remains: What do corporations train diverse teams to do? The answer can be found by transposing the previous statement to read: People who work together effectively will value and appreciate one another.
What the team would do is exactly what the corporation already expects them to do: Make good decisions and solve important problems. It is in the decision-making and problem-solving capability of the workgroup that diversity will be “as useful as it is popular.”
Leverage Their Own Diversity
Objective-focused workgroups that focus on ideas and opinions often underachieve in performance and innovation. Not only is decision-making a divergent process, it diminishes rather than facilitates the asset contribution of diverse team members. A workgroup that is idea-centric is usually energized, but it also is inefficient. The contribution of diversity is an “illusion of inclusion.”
To create an objective-driven workgroup environment that cuts out opinions and brings results, learning should be focused on insights, not ideas.
Insights About Oneself
Insights allow us to discern the true nature of a situation. We acquire insights from the moment we are born, and we accumulate them until our last moment. Who we are and how we interact with the world makes our insights as unique as our individuality. Each of us experiences life differently. Even if many people experience the same event, under the same conditions, at the same time, each will come away with insights that are as unique as snowflakes. Ironically, we can share and transfer our insights almost as easily as we exchange currency. Insights have tangibility and a transferability that ideas do not.
Ideas are thoughts or conceptions that potentially or actually exist in the mind as a product of mental activity. Think about the difference between ideas and insights, and you will realize how easy it is to communicate an insight. You can explain to someone when you developed a particular insight and where the insight came from. Insights are not only transferable, but also explainable. Initially, an insight may seem to be synonymous with an idea, but insights have greater value in a workgroup. Insights are personal, but we can decouple our feelings from them. On the other hand, people tend to cherish their ideas and opinions. We are attached to them in such a way that if you attack someone’s ideas and opinions, you attack that person.
If diversity is to be recognized and managed as an asset, it must be utilized for maximum contribution. It is not diversity that is managed—it is diversity’s asset potential and impact that are managed. The methods for “active diversity management” already exist under the name “Diversity Asset Management.”
Utilizing diversity asset management workgroups can have dramatic and measurable impact, but the group must have a clearly stated objective. It will then be the group’s responsibility to utilize decision-making methods that will achieve the desired result. Utilizing insights instead of ideas makes the communication, collaboration and decision-making process convergent by design. Instead of generating ideas to determine what the solution is, the group utilizes its unlimited cognitive bandwidth to first determine where the solution is. Subsequently, the group determines the best solution. Every member contributes the full spectrum of his or her insights that were germane to the assignment.
If you feel that your corporate diversity training is slipping into “déjà versity,” you must be vigilant. You have the ability to advance your company’s diversity training. If you focus on insights and collaborative decision-making, you can “realize the potential benefits locked up within (your) diverse workforce.”
Vincent M. Cramer is the author of “Cramer’s Cube,” and is the founder of Winchester Consulting Group, an organizational development and training company.