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Five steps to harnessing the power of diversity

In many organizations, diversity has become something of a dirty word. For years, even decades, managers have dutifully assembled diverse teams, and employees have attended training sessions on cultural sensitivity.

Yet even as diversity has become common in workplaces, many are left to wonder about the point of it all, writes David Livermore in Driven by Difference. All too often, managers who doggedly pursue diversity are left with no measurable gains.

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Building a diverse organization is just part of a manager’s task, Livermore argues. The trickier bit is figuring out how to turn diverse teams into high-performing ones. Assembling a diverse team without a broader plan is a recipe for bitterness and bottlenecks. Diverse teams also mean a diversity of expectations about everything from communication styles to deadlines.

“Innovation begins by looking at a problem from as many perspectives as possible. And diversity is the best way to do that.”

Disappointments aside, Livermore is no opponent of diversity. Match an elite team of diverse workers against a topnotch team with homogeneous members, and the diverse team usually wins, he argues.

To harness the power of diversity, Livermore suggests a“5D Process”:

1. “Define” Too many competing ideas can create chaos. So distill myriad suggestions into a common goal that incorporates a wide array of perspectives. Pharmaceutical company Genentech conducts “pre-mortem reviews” that imagine a variety of outcomes for products, ranging from blockbuster success to abject flop.

2. “Dream” – Diverse teams generate more and better ideas than individuals working in isolation. However, people working in diverse teams can exhibit a reluctance to speak freely. Organizations that successfully manage diversity work hard to coax feedback from shy employees. Google, for one, organizes weekly “TGIF meetings” for employee questions and suggestions. Google also provides suggestion boxes – traditional or online – to collect ideas.

3. “Decide” – When promoting the ideas and products created by your diverse teams, consider what’s most important to each customer segment and adapt your message accordingly.

4. “Design” – Seek out diverse viewpoints when designing products. In one example of diverse design, Lego dispatched workers across the globe to observe how children play. The research project led to a top-selling line of toys for girls.

5. “Deliver” –Innovative teams are excellent at creating new products. They’re not so great at following through. Make sure to provide guidance through the implementation process and help team members embrace the mundane but necessary work of implementing new ideas.

Understand diversity helps your employees work well together and create a safe, positive and nurturing environment. Check out our Diversity Channel to learn more.

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