Is it possible to have a unique, clear culture within a company that people are happy to conform with even though they are from completely different backgrounds, genders, faiths, politics and abilities? Founder and MD of HR180, Claire Morley-Jones believes we can, that difference should be celebrated, particularly as there are so many hidden benefits to diversity in the workplace!
By Claire Morley-Jones
Schools, religions, companies and governments rely on many things to keep ‘us’ under control. One of the greatest tactics in their arsenal is ‘peer pressure’. When we take this down to its simplest form, peer pressure is plainly a result of humans being social creatures who prefer to conform.
Conformity brings comfort, a sense of belonging and a belief that we are ‘liked’. However, in a multicultural society or company, what is conformity? The very idea of culture means that people think, feel and act similarly, otherwise they have nothing in common to conform with.
When employees have the widest ‘difference’ employees are happier, the community is better served and the company demonstrates that they value triple crown leadership (Excellent, Ethical, Enduring) as well as the triple bottom line (Social, Environmental, Financial).
It’s important to remember that the diversity in life is not just through human cultures and languages, religions and sexual orientation but also plants, animals, habitats and ecosystems. The foundations of a strong, resilient company – and indeed the world – is built upon a thriving and diverse mix of biological, cultural and linguistic difference.
So how can all companies make changes to embrace ‘diversity’?
Having cognitive diversity in the workplace means that you get to harness the power of inclusivity, collaboration and empowerment to create and implement new ideas. By hiring and promoting the same kinds of thinkers we set a standard for how the company ‘thinks’ and this limits the company’s potential. Over time, everyone begins to conform with the standard, leading to a loss in innovation, or becomes disillusioned and leaves, sick of fighting an uphill battle!
For example, a production plant needs to amend a machine to manufacture a slightly different variety of widget. The production team knows the equipment really well, is highly focussed on quality, time and getting the processes right. They are ‘heads-down, don’t bother me’ types who make the necessary adjustments t0 their processes quickly, produce widgets at super speed and get them out of the door efficiently.
However, the R&D team believes they have a completely new machine that will manufacture a state of the art new widget. The production team don’t understand why this is necessary – only 2% of the market require this ‘new’ widget and it will take a lot of work and effort to change production. The production team is made up of structural & analytical thinkers whilst the R&D team is made up of creative thinkers, and never the twain shall meet!
However, given that differences become strengths in a collaborative effort – and collaboration is the path peace – the more adaptable, multifaceted and layered your company is the more successful it will be.
You can encourage Cognitive Diversity throughout the organisation and through your company structure. For example, even a smaller organisation can ensure that they have non-executive Directors or external mentors who have a different perspectives, different experiences and diverse ways of dealing with things. The company can support a diverse range of community activities and charitable events so that all employees are continuously introduced to new shared experiences that challenge the norm and company conformity.
Leading in this way from the top and explaining why such diversity is important will mean that the message, and more importantly the subsequent actions, cascade through the organisation to every level. Diversity will then be sought out deliberately in project groups, recruitment and promotion because of the recognition and acceptance that this leads to success.
It is reported that for every 1% change in diversity there is a 3% increase in financial improvement which can mainly be attributed to innovation, relationship building and the generation of new commercial opportunities – all qualities that come about as a by-product of cognitive difference.
A full understanding (by everyone!) of your internal culture is therefore imperative – for more on the subject of culture read my previous Huffington Post blog.
In summary, your culture and values need to resonate with everyone in the business – whether its principled, passionate, genuinely friendly or ‘lead by example’ – they need to be something that everyone can be proud to reflect and be part of.
When your company culture runs through everything that you do, candidates self-select, recruitment decisions are easier, engagement is quicker and an employee’s connection to a company runs deeper.
This ensures that, despite having employees with different personalities, languages, cultures, backgrounds, skills, experience and thinking, you will all be creating success for the business because at your very core the things the company believes in and stands up for are matched with what the individual believes and stands up for.
So in case you missed it the title of this blog does include the word celebrate! Celebrations and ‘traditions’ are the glue that bind people together, but normally when I say the word tradition, people get fidgety. They think of Christmas, April Fools’ Day, Guy Fawkes Night or Trooping the Colour – all time-honoured, quintessentially English traditions. People worry that these cannot translate to a ‘diverse’ workforce – because you are enforcing your traditions on others.
Yet, you can make your own traditions that everyone in your company can relate to. Whether that is someone on their birthday breaking their way through a doorway covered entirely in tissue paper to thunderous applause or having an annual family fun day every year, these are the things that help us to come closer together, enjoy one another’s company and celebrate our diversity!
Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.