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Using Cultural Intelligence (CQ) to Compete with Robots

davidlivermore | March 22nd, 2021 No Comments

Listen to many futurists, and you would think that robotic engineers and therapists will be the only jobs left in ten years. There’s plenty of reason to pay attention to the massive disruption from the automation of work. But if you’ve ever attempted to do a virtual chat session with a customer service robot or talked to a voice-activated receptionist, you know there’s still plenty of work left for humans.

CNN medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta says the human brain can perform in a way that no computer ever will. In his new book Keep Sharp, he writes, “No matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence becomes, there will always be some things the human brain can do that no computer can.” 

But just having a brain isn’t enough. It’s using the power of this small, mighty organ to do what technology can’t do nearly as well—adapt and create. 

Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University, says students need to be prepared to work alongside smart machines. Rather than taking a dystopian view of a world overrun by robots, Aoun argues that humans should focus on what we alone can do—exercise our cognitive abilities to invest, discover, and create something valuable to society. And in his view, this comes down to developing human literacy—flexible thinking, creativity, and cultural agility. In other words, cultural intelligence.

AI is notoriously bad at adapting to change.  Cheaper processing and the availability of data have certainly improved technology’s flexibility to address myriad problems that arise. But AI lacks the human agility to address unforeseen contexts and circumstances. A culturally intelligent individual, however, can take what’s learned from one context and apply it to another. We have the ability to build relationships, work together, create artistic masterpieces, and come up with cures for devastating diseases. Cultural intelligence allows us to leverage the superpowers of the human brain. There will be plenty of work left for us to do in the world of automation. But it’s going to require unlearning how we work and relearning new ways.

Here are a few examples of how CQ allows us to compete with robots:

Reading People

One of the critical skills needed in a world characterized by robots and increased diversity is the ability to accurately read people. If you can read people, you have a secret power that will not only mean great things for your career but broaden your friendships and networks. Pretty much any job involves reading peoples’ cues and figuring out how to respond. Teachers’ ability to understand a student, graphic designers’ grasp of a client’s wishes and nurses’ conversations with patients are all affected by how accurately they read people.

This is the kind of skill that Qatar Airways has prioritized in training their cabin crew. They recognize that luxury equipment and products don’t set them apart from Emirates or Singapore Airlines. It’s the ability to provide five-star service from a crew who can read their customers and serve them with a personal touch that will truly set them apart. 

Understanding cultural values is one of the best ways to get better at reading people. It’s less important to memorize which groups have which cultural value preferences. Someone’s behavior, particularly in the work environment, maybe more strongly shaped by their organizational culture or role than their ethnic or national identity. Instead, look for cues that indicate their value preferences and respond accordingly. 

Presenting Yourself

People are reading you just as much as you’re reading them. First impressions emerge within the first seven seconds of meeting. In fact, one study found that we only have a millisecond before people size up whether we’re trustworthy.

Articles across the web repeatedly tell us the behaviors we need to make a good first impression, including how to dress, the kind of handshake to use, and what kind of informal conversation is appropriate. But these tips are biased toward certain contexts. The first time I showed up at Google with a tie on, my host said, “You need to take that off unless you want it to be cut off and added to our wall of shame.” But when I walked into Qatar Airways on a Saturday afternoon to set up for an upcoming training, I quickly observed that I was the only one in the building not wearing a suit, including others who were carrying boxes and moving tables with me. Far too much advice about professional etiquette assumes one-size-fits-all. 

Or what about small talk? One of the most significant ways we create the first impression is the communication that occurs informally when we meet someone. International students tell me that the most intimidating part of a job interview is the unscripted portion. What do you say when you’re sitting at the table waiting for the interview to start? What about when your host walks you to the elevator or has lunch with you? They’re right to be concerned. A job candidate’s likability and trustworthiness may be judged far more based on how they behave informally than during the formal interview. It’s not fair. Robots aren’t judged for their likability and trustworthiness, but we are. CQ will help you present the best version of yourself for a diversity of audiences.

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Problem-Finding

One more example of how CQ helps us compete with robots is problem-solving. I’ve always been relentless with my teams about never presenting a problem without also suggesting a solution. But problem-solving might be over-rated. Algorithms and sophisticated technology have become very good at analyzing problems and creating solutions more efficiently and accurately than humans do. And even if you don’t have a robot at your disposal, the Internet is full of information about how to solve everything from using Excel to having a difficult conversation with your boss. But where CQ is needed is in finding what the problem is in the first place, particularly if it’s a problem that hasn’t happened before and can’t be identified by running an automated diagnostic. 

We don’t have to look far to find corporate examples of failed problem-finding. Best Buy and Walmart’s failures in Western Europe stemmed from an assumption that the market wanted big box stores. Kodak, Blockbuster, Blackberry, and Nokia misread technological trends and needs. 

Unclear solutions begin as unclear problems. The ability to identify problems and come up with innovative solutions is the secret to any good business. And it’s at the core of good medicine, education, engineering, and more. The 21st Century workforce needs culturally intelligent humans who are adept at problem-finding for a diversity of people and contexts. The skills we develop to read people are the same ones we exercise to find problems—slowing down, using perspective-taking, questioning assumptions, and understanding the invisible values that shape behavior.

Always Adapting

Darwin’s 19th Century words are relevant for how we compete with robots: “It’s not the strongest that survives, not the most intelligent. It’s the one that is most adaptable to change.” If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that adaptability is critical. CQ not only makes you more competitive in the job market, but it also gives you the skills to adjust to the constantly shifting world surrounding us. Employers and universities know it. Robots know it. But do your priorities show that you know it?

[Adapted excerpt from David Livermore’s next book, due to release in 2022].

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Is CQ Enough?

davidlivermore | October 19th, 2020 No Comments

“We’re dealing with really serious issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I’m not convinced cultural intelligence is enough.” 

We’ve heard this more than once from DEI and HR leaders. And it’s a fair concern. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the capability to function effectively in any multicultural situation. The definition is broad, and our research-based philosophy and approach are straightforward. We help businesses, institutions, schools, and governmental agencies worldwide develop the cultural intelligence of their teams, employees, students, etc. But how does this support DEI work? In more ways than you might assume. In fact, CQ is the strategic link to creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environments

Here’s a brief breakdown of how CQ can be used as a strategy to support your DEI work:  

CQ AND DIVERSITY

When most organizations say they want diversity, they are talking about representation — attracting and hiring people from different cultural backgrounds and identities. This is good. But whether you are trying to recruit diverse talent or ensure the hiring process is unbiased, it requires cultural intelligence to do it effectively. Some organizations have made more progress increasing diversity than others have. But even those who have done well may not be fully reaping the benefits. Research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams with low CQ are outperformed by homogenous teams. You can have employees from a wide range of diverse cultures and backgrounds, including different gender-identities, races, nationalities, generations, differently-abled people, etc. and still not understand how to leverage those differences. Why? Because working with people who are different creates misaligned expectations and conflict, and apart from CQ, increased diversity creates gridlock and reduced productivity. However, the research demonstrates that when diverse teams have high CQ, they outperform homogeneous teams in every area, including innovation, decision-making, building trust, and leadership effectiveness. 

PRO TIP: Are you new to Cultural Intelligence? If so, watch this short video explaining how Cultural Intelligence and Diversity work together to create better solutions.

So what’s the bottom line? Diversity is important, but by itself, it has limited benefits. CQ is the multiplying factor. Facilitate CQ and unconscious bias trainings with your teams. Challenge them to demonstrate how they will leverage the diversity of their colleagues and peers to come up with innovative solutions to challenging problems. In classrooms, have students map out the cultural values of their classmates and require them to show how they will use the differences to work on team projects. In workplaces, facilitate perspective-taking to enhance dialogue and collaboration. Equip people to move beyond political correctness while using language that is respectful for everyone. These cultural intelligence strategies position you to make diversity so much more than just a beautiful mosaic of people from different backgrounds. CQ ensures everyone has the skills to work together effectively. 

CQ AND INCLUSION

While Diversity is about representation, Inclusion is the process of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where everyone thrives. We recently participated in a webinar with Above Difference, our strategic partner in London. It was a fascinating discussion with businesses and health care leaders across the UK, and it shed light on some of the challenges around creating inclusive organizations, particularly in the era of Covid-19. One of the things discussed was how the global pandemic and economic recession is highlighting how quickly many organizations abandon their DEI commitments. In times of crisis, there’s a tendency to retreat to what’s safe, which often means retaining and promoting the people you know you can trust and excluding those you aren’t sure “get it,” which is often code language for people who are different. Virtual meetings begin to occur that inadvertently resort back to the safety of homogeneous groups. It doesn’t take long to lose whatever strides have been made in recruiting and including diverse people. Inclusion is not only welcoming everyone, but it’s having a culture and a set of organizational routines that are explicitly inclusive. What does that look like? 

Last year, the Academy of Management reported the top three factors that influence whether diverse staff feel included: participation in decision-making, information sharing, and informal networking. It’s easier and more efficient to make decisions with a group of like-minded people, but you lack the diversity of insights that come from involving diverse perspectives. CQ allows you to develop a decision-making process that manages bias, enables a variety of ways for a diversity of individuals to share their point of view, and ultimately reach a decision. The same is true for information sharing. Cultural intelligence ensures that knowledge sharing is inclusive and multi-directional. And while not everyone is looking to be best friends with their colleagues, we all want to feel like we belong. There are important links between CQ and diverse groups building collaborative, trusting relationships that go beyond simply accomplishing work tasks. “Inclusion” has been the buzzword in DEI for more than a decade, and in recent years, “belonging” has been added to the mix. In addition to helping people feel they can be authentic at work, CQ provides a proven, research-based strategy for including people in the areas where they most want to be included so that they’re set up to succeed.

CQ AND EQUITY

Last week, Starbucks announced they are tying diversity targets to executive pay. Whether you agree with their approach or not, it highlights their commitment to measuring what they espouse to value. While the primary objective is to increase representation (diversity), a secondary benefit is how this decision influences equity. When reviewing employee demographics, they determined more was needed to help employees from culturally diverse backgrounds develop and advance into leadership roles. This culturally intelligent decision moved them one step closer to creating an organization committed to creating equitable experiences and opportunities for all employees.

For the last two years, we’ve partnered with Dallas Independent School District, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the US. With over 150,000 students and 22,000 employees, the entire focus on our work has been to use CQ as a strategy to address racial equity. Part of the strategy includes requiring all staff, teachers, and administrators to participate in CQ and unconscious bias trainings. Each employee is accountable for creating and implement individual development plans. To measure progress, everyone will complete a post CQ Assessment. We are also reviewing systems, policies, and practices that may be contributing to inequities among students, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

This is what it looks like to measure what you espouse to value. Both Starbuck and Dallas ISD are identifying inequities and implementing culturally intelligent action steps to mitigate them.

In sum, DEI without CQ has limited effectiveness. When we build in CQ solutions, the outcomes are significant and sustainable.

We agree that CQ is not the only strategy for supporting DEI work. There are several critical components. However, cultural intelligence is foundational, and it’s a critical part of any process designed to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment.

We hope you find these ideas useful. But don’t just take our word for it. Join us on Thursday, October 29, at 11:00 AM EDT / 3:00 PM GMT and hear firsthand how our partners and clients from around the globe are integrating CQ into their DEI efforts. You can register for this free webinar below. Seats are limited, so sign up today!

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When Is It Appropriate To Yell At Someone? Depends On Where You’re From!

davidlivermore | December 17th, 2019 No Comments

By David Livermore, PhD

Someone cuts ahead of you in the security line at the airport. It’s the same woman who cut in front of people at the check-in counter a few minutes ago. Do you say anything, shake your head in disgust, or take a deep breath and ignore it? Some of us would be quick to let her know that we’re all in a rush, and she needs to step back and wait her turn. Others of us would bite our tongue and say nothing. 

Do you scold her loudly on behalf of everyone else in line? Or do you quietly confront her in a more measured way?

What’s the right way to respond to this kind of situation? It depends!

First, there are different cultural norms surrounding queuing. And we need more information about why she’s doing this before we jump to conclusions. But the issue I’m most interested in considering is the wide variance in what we deem as “appropriate” ways to express frustration. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks. Many of the workplace challenges I observe are related to the cultural value difference we describe as Neutral versus Affective. Neutral cultures believe that minimizing emotional expressiveness is a sign of dignity and respect, whereas Affective cultures value expressing feelings. 

Go through a security line in a Japanese airport, and the staff says virtually nothing, other than “Kindly place your jacket in the bin” or “I’m sorry, but you’ve been selected for a random screening.” Go through the same kind of line at a New York airport and TSA agents start yelling at you as soon as you get in line: “Laptops out. Empty your pockets. No water bottles… Some of you aren’t paying attention! Laptops out…” And on it goes. Most Japanese are Neutral communicators. Most New Yorkers are Affective communicators. 

Neutral communicators might view New Yorkers as rude and mean and Japanese as kind and hospitable. Affective communicators might view the New Yorkers as efficient and clear, and the Japanese staff as shy and lacking confidence.

Okay, so some cultures yell at you more than others. It can be irritating, but it’s not a big deal. However, there are some situations where this difference can be a big deal.

Many of the hospitals we work with have safety policies where medical staff is instructed to note their concern if they believe a patient may be violent. Many of the patients who are labeled as “violent” come from different cultural backgrounds than the hospital staff. If nurses come from a Neutral orientation, they believe disappointment and anxiety should be discussed in calm, measured ways. Tears are understandable, but losing your cool isn’t. Many of the patients who are labeled “violent” are Affective communicators. Their response to bad news often results in yelling, crying uncontrollably, and what some might describe as wailing. Are these patients really more violent, or are they just openly expressing their emotions? Once you’re labeled as violent, there’s an implicit reluctance by staff to provide the same level of care. 

A psychologist working with one of the largest police departments in the US describes a similar situation. His chief responsibility is focused on assessing and mitigating threats across a diverse population of over 10 million people. He says, “I believe 75 percent of what we deal with requires high levels of cultural intelligence. Our officers have not been trained to know whether someone from a different cultural background is exhibiting a behavior that should be considered a potential threat, mental illness, a culturally derived emotional response to a crisis, or some combination thereof.” A great deal of what he describes comes back to the difficulty of discerning Neutral versus Affective behavior.

To avoid misjudging someone’s character or behavior, here are some ways to think more specifically about these differences:

Affective: Emphasis on expressive communication and sharing feelings

People with an Affective orientation use a wider range of facial expressions and physical gestures during everyday conversation.

Neutral: Emphasis on non-emotional communication and controlling emotions

People with a Neutral orientation strive to control their emotions. Reason may influence their behavior more than feelings.

  • They talk loudly when excited, and enjoy animated arguments and debate
  • They’re more enthusiastic and spontaneous
  • They consider emotions and intuitions in the decision-making process
  • Statements are often emotional and dramatic and may often be exaggerated simply to make a point. “This is a complete train wreck.”
  • They are more likely to disguise what they’re thinking or feeling
  • Being cool and in control is admired, although sometimes this leads to unexpected outbursts which become all the more jarring
  • Speaking is usually done in a more monotonic manner and lacks an emotional tone
  • Expect others to “stick to the point” and keep to specific, predetermined topics

Examples: African American, Italian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Working Class, Marketing

Examples: Chinese, Ethiopian, German, Japanese, Native American, Upper Class, Engineering

The Canadian home where I grew up was a Neutral environment. We used formal manners at the dinner table, fine china was on the table for Sunday dinner, and there was a very strong rule that you should never interrupt someone. This rule about not interrupting guided our family protocol, and it informed the way we evaluated other people’s behavior. To this day, I become anxious when someone starts interrupting because that was such a taboo in my family. In Neutral cultures, interruptions are rude unless an emergency really calls for it. Whereas in Affective cultures, interruptions are okay, but silence is awkward.

In many Neutral cultures, particularly throughout Asia, silence is not only okay, it’s welcomed. Silence is a sign of respect, and it allows both parties to reflect and take in what has been said. In many Affective cultures, the “silent treatment” is viewed as punitive.

Nurses and police officers may wrongfully label someone as violent based on an Affective response, and overlook someone who is violent because of a Neutral response. Some terrorists never scream and shout. And there are people who scream and shout who aren’t violent. 

Managers may assume a Neutral staff member is disengaged when, in fact, they may have a different way of expressing their enthusiasm. And team members may assume a teammate has a temper when, in fact, they may simply have a different value for how openly and passionately to voice their opinions.

What should we do?

The first step for addressing this communication difference is emotional intelligence. You have to understand your own emotional state and gain the ability to regulate emotions in yourself and others. But emotional intelligence isn’t enough. You may wrongfully identify others’ emotions based on your cultural interpretations of those emotions. 

Cultural intelligence (CQ®) is the only way to effectively understand someone from a different cultural background. With CQ, you have a growing repertoire of tools and strategies for reading a situation, discerning if and how culture may be influencing the situation, and then determining the best strategy for responding respectfully and effectively. 

In the meantime, watch how this cultural value plays out over the holidays. Different family members have different orientations on Neutral vs. Affective communication styles as well as people from different parts of the country. And if you’re traveling, keep yourself occupied in the security line by identifying whose Neutral and whose Affective. And if someone cuts ahead of you, it’s usually better to start with a more Neutral response and regulate your expressiveness accordingly. 

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When “Culture Fit” is Code Word for Affinity Bias

davidlivermore | August 17th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Dr. Sandra Upton

A few months back my colleague and friend, Dave Livermore, wrote an excellent article on cultural fit, which is the likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization. He provided some great insights on identifying culturally intelligent ways to balance adapting to the organizational culture and being yourself. I’d like to further explore this conversation from a slightly different perspective.

So here’s the question: what if “culture fit” really is code for “if you want to join or be successful in our organization, you need to think and act just like us (the dominant cultural group)”? This what is called Affinity Bias—the tendency to give preference to people like ourselves.

Every organization has a core set of values that guide how they operate and employees should be expected to share those values. But what are the consequences when those values leave no room for the values, identities, and perspectives of those outside of the dominant culture?

Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, has done fascinating research and work on the benefits of helping employees become rebels (in a good way!) inside their organizations. In her study of more than 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries, nearly half the respondents reported working in organizations where they regularly feel the need to conform. These organizations unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. When this happens both the employee and organization pay a price—which is manifested through decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation. To the contrary, employees who said they could express their authentic selves at work were more committed to their organizations, thus demonstrating higher levels of engagement, productivity, and innovation.

How To Tell The Difference

How do we know when our judgments and decisions genuinely support organizational values that benefit everyone versus those decisions and actions (conscious or unconscious) that favor the dominant culture? In most organizations, Affinity Bias shows up in one of three places in the organization: hiring, promoting, or day-to-day interactions. The consequences can include missing out on hiring a diverse and highly qualified candidate, promoting the most qualified person into a leadership position, or missing out on difference perspectives and innovative ideas in team meeting or on key projects.

Examples of what someone might think, hear, or say…

Hiring: “That first interviewee did a fantastic job! He reminds me so much of myself when I was younger. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Promotion/Development: “I’m not sure she’s ready for a leadership position, she just doesn’t quite have the executive presence that I’m looking for and I’m not sure she’ll fit in with the other leaders.”

Day-To-Day: “We think so much alike, I want you working on this big project with me.”

If it is Affinity Bias, what can you do about it? Here are five specific ways to think about how to manage its effect in your organization. By the way, these strategies can also apply to many other forms of bias that show up in our organizations.

How Do We Manage Affinity Bias? 

  • Get out of denial. In a powerful TedTalk, Verna Meyers, a lawyer, activist, and diversity advisor, told the standing room only crowd that one of the first steps to managing our biases is admitting out loud that we have them and that they may be impacting our decisions and actions. It’s not rocket science, but it is truth—and it’s harder to do than most of us think. If our organizational culture is one where we aren’t even willing to create space for the discussion and admit that Affinity Bias may be influencing some of our decisions and actions, we just may be in denial.
  • Start at the top. If leadership isn’t committed to addressing bias in the work environment, your efforts quickly become an uphill battle. In addition, to manage unconscious bias at the organizational level there must be “demonstrated” leadership commitment. This means that leadership must not just say they are committed through verbal expressions and written diversity statements. They must take measurable steps towards the elimination of bias in the work environment. As a leader, you need to create a workplace culture that promotes employee well-being, creates opportunities for positive cross-cultural interactions, and develop policies, practices, and norms that serve as a benefit and not a barrier to embracing all cultural groups.
  • Manage Affinity Bias at all stages of the employee life cycle. This can feel like an overwhelming task and you may not even know where to start. Break down the process and consider it in the three phases highlighted in this article—hiring, promotion/development, and day-to-day. Ask yourself questions such as: Are our hiring policies and practices objective and consistent with all candidates? When promoting people is our criteria for “success” objective, or do certain cultural groups tend to benefit most from promotional opportunities? In day-to-day interactions, do we see certain cultural groups covering up parts of their identity in meetings, on projects, or just in conversations or cross-cultural engagements throughout the day.
  • Track and assess the data. The saying, “we measure what we value” is still true. Because unconscious bias can be so subtle and, well, unconscious, it can sometimes be difficult to quantify its effects. When accessing your efforts to manage bias, look at the hard facts. How diverse is your talent pool? Whose getting promoted? What cultural groups are absent? Why? If the data is revealing tendencies to hire and promote people who primarily reflect the dominant group or certain cultural groups, biases may be at play.
  • Solicit Feedback. Conduct an anonymous company-wide employee survey to understand what specific issues of hidden bias, microaggressions, and inequities might exist in your organization or institution. If you are a leader, solicit direct feedback from your team or colleagues.

Ultimately and most importantly, you must go beyond the unconscious bias conversation. Addressing it is important. In fact, understanding our biases and enhancing our cultural awareness are the critical first steps in the process of learning how to work effectively across cultures. However, awareness alone is no guarantee of success in our intercultural interactions. Not only do we need to go beyond awareness and build habits and behaviors that will help mitigate the impact of unconscious biases, we need to develop our cultural intelligence (CQ). When awareness of these biases and behaviors is coupled with CQ, new habits and behaviors predict intercultural performance.

Culture Fit vs. Authenticity: When Being Yourself Collides with Organizational Values

davidlivermore | June 14th, 2018 No Comments

Last year I had the opportunity to speak to the 75 most senior women from one of the Fortune 100s we work with. This is the kind of opportunity I love. Women with passports from all over the world dealing with all the issues that come with leading across borders for one of the most global brands in the world.

The women took our Cultural Values Profile—an inventory that reveals your individual preferences on ten cultural values, including differences like direct vs. indirect communication or top down versus flat leadership styles. Typically, when we use this tool, even seemingly homogenous teams are surprised at the diversity of their cultural values. But this international group of women were remarkably similar in their cultural value ratings. I actually asked our team to double check the group profile because it seemed impossible that a group of 75 women from all over the world were scoring almost identical on nearly all of the dimensions. But indeed, it was accurate.

When I shared these results with the women, they weren’t the least bit surprised. They said, “How do you think we ended up in these positions? We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think and work like our male counterparts do.”

Were they selling out? Or were they adapting to survive?

This is one of the issues that perplexes me most. Authenticity is the holy grail of diversity efforts: “Bring your whole self to work.” Yet adaptation to the preferences and norms of others is at the core of cultural intelligence. How do we give people the safety to be themselves while also expecting flexibility as a “team player”? And when are an organization’s values unifying and when do they squelch diversity and innovation?

First, consider the upside and downside of “Authenticity” and “Culture Fit”.

AUTHENTICITY: Being true to one’s self and maintaining coherence between one’s values and how one behaves at work or school. An authentic workplace is an environment where you’re safe to be yourself.

  • The Upside
    When people feel psychologically safe to reveal their identities and values at work, they are more engaged and effective. In contrast, covering one’s identify and values results in a high level of physical and emotional stress and the loss of diverse perspectives.
  • The Downside
    Authenticity can become an excuse for inflexibility. The more you work with people who don’t share your values, norms, and expectations, the more you’re going to have to choose between what is effective and what feels authentic. And what’s “authentic” for me may be “offensive” for you.

CULTURAL FIT: The likelihood that a job candidate will be able to conform and adapt to the core values and collective behaviors that make up an organization.

  • The Upside
    A number of studies demonstrate that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor have greater job satisfaction are more likely to remain with their organization, and show superior job performance.
  • The Downside
    “Culture fit” can easily perpetuate the ills of unconscious bias where managers hire people like themselves and discount those who are different. This type of thinking hinders diversity and leads to homogenous cultures.

Here’s one way this dilemma plays out for me personally. My “authentic” style is to lead with transparency. So, whether it’s with my kids, our staff, or with a client, my default is to share whatever information I have because that’s who I am. And I want our organization to be characterized by transparency. But sometimes transparency is ineffective or unwelcomed. I’ve made staff anxious by sharing my uncertainty about an upcoming change, and disclosing feelings of inadequacy to a new client can create questions of credibility and confidence. And some of our other leaders prefer to keep information much more private. But going against my natural style can make me feel like I’m an imposter.

My need to adapt is minimal compared to many other people. Adaptation is implicitly expected of women more than men, gay more than straight, black more than white, etc. But when should any of us be expected to give up our authentic preferences for the sake of an organizational purpose (culture fit)?

A couple shifts in how we think about this may be one way to get started:

FROM AUTHENTICITY TO CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE

Authenticity is a noble goal but we need to rethink what we mean by it. In reality, we all adapt and filter based on the audience. How I relate to my kids is different from how I relate to my work colleagues. And I relate to each family member and colleague differently based upon their preferences and values. So we have to transcend a rigid notion of authenticity and instead, figure out what it means to be true to ourselves while knowing we always need to filter and re-appropriate how we express ourselves based on the context.

The struggle comes when a core value is challenged. If my “authentic” approach is last minute and yours is planning ahead, then what? If you view shaking the opposite sex’s hand as offensive and I see it as a respectful, professional greeting, which of us get to be ourselves?

This is the same process we go through as we travel and interact with people and cultures in different places. My daughter talks about how she grapples with this as a vegetarian who finds herself traveling and interacting with many individuals and cultures that don’t share her value for avoiding meat. At its core, cultural intelligence is about finding the equilibrium between adapting to the norms and preferences of others without losing ourselves in the process.

FROM CULTURE FIT TO CULTURE ADD

I’m always impressed when I visit a business like Trader Joe’s, the U.S. supermarket known for friendly and helpful cashiers who consistently go the extra mile to provide good service. It doesn’t matter which one of their hundreds of stores you visit, the customer experience is the same. Trader Joe’s has every right to hire people who share their value for greeting people with a smile and a willingness to help.

Organizations, like individuals, need to be true to themselves. So hiring people who are willing to sign on to your core values is essential. But hiring first and foremost based on “cultural fit” quickly leads to group think. How one individual expresses warmth and helpfulness may look very different from another person. So instead of looking for people who fit the organizational culture, ask what’s missing from it, and bring in people who will enrich and stretch it. Hire based on what one can contribute to your culture and take it further rather than one who simply fits who you already are.

BE YOURSELF, BUT EVOLVE

I’m the same person I was twenty years ago, however my style, perspective, and views have evolved significantly. My story has changed based upon what I’ve learned from trying on different styles and behaviors from working and relating with so many diverse groups. Some of those don’t fit me at all, but as I try out new approaches, I keep editing who I am. That’s not being fake. It’s simply learning to adapt based on the role and the preferences needed along the way.

It’s not unlike our evolving palettes. In her wildly popular TED talk, Jennifer 8. Lee, says that what we eat is an accumulation of our life experiences, including where you grew up, the people you’ve dated, and the places you’ve visited. We often pick up favorite foods from various places we’ve lived or encountered along the way but we continue to come back to foods that mean something to us. For most of us, our comfort foods stem from our upbringing but the more you travel, the broader the menu of options for food that bring you comfort.

The same applies to “being yourself”. A culturally intelligent approach to life and work gives us the opportunity to try other perspectives, values, and norms without needing to leave our original perspectives and values fully behind. As we broaden our scope by seeing through the eyes of others, we rarely abandon everything we thought and did before, but we evolve to take on other perspectives and values that fit us well. Transcend and include.

So did the women from the Fortune 100 company sell out? It depends. Each individual has to regulate how much of themselves to reveal and uncover based on the context and the objective. Many of these women sacrificed the freedom to lead with complete authenticity. But by being willing to adapt to the dominant culture, they created room for other women to lead and brought about incremental change to the organization at large. Their willingness to adapt to the dominant norms may have given them some new perspectives and values they wouldn’t have gained if they had insisted on doing things their way. Any individual or organization can adapt too far and lose themselves in the process. But some adaptation is almost always necessary.

Each individual needs to clearly identify:

  • What are my objectives personally and professionally? What are our organizational objectives?
  • Will adapting strengthen or weaken reaching these objectives?
  • Will adapting compromise the core of who I am or expand who I am?

The only way we grow is to stretch ourselves beyond the limits of who we are and to take a more culturally intelligent approach to authenticity and fit. But organizations have to keep strategizing ways to allow people to express their diverse values in ways that move everyone further ahead. And together, we become a fuller, more authentic version of ourselves.

Is 2017 Done Yet? Brace yourself…there’s more to come!

davidlivermore | December 14th, 2017 No Comments

What a year! From Brexit battles and alt right groups to countless women (and men!) saying #MeToo, not to mention an alarming number of terrorist attacks in mosques, churches, cafes and rock concerts…it’s been quite a year. Even for an eternal optimist like me, there are days when it’s hard to remain hopeful. Even so, our team at the Cultural Intelligence Center has never been more committed to our work of building bridges across cultural divides than we are now.

I believe we’re in the midst of a massive global disruption. More people than ever before are working, studying, and living next to people who come from vastly different backgrounds than they do. This is true across the U.S., Canada, and Europe—but it’s also occurring throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and almost everywhere else. I’m confident that the extremists, haters, and abusers are not the majority. But the fear people feel about seeing their communities, work places, and worship gatherings change so dramatically creates a lot of anxiety. A few trite clichés about everyone getting along and celebrating diversity are not going to solve this. But, I’d like to suggest that those of us working together to develop cultural intelligence are uniquely positioned to help others navigate the complexities of today’s world.

Our team at the Cultural Intelligence Center recently pushed “pause” and looked back at some of the highlights from this past year. Here are just a few:

  • Figuring out how to implement unconscious bias and CQ solutions in large multinationals like StarbucksGoldman SachsiRobotAmway, and Fiat Chrysler, to working alongside county governments, small consulting firms, and charitable organizations in a variety of places across the globe. We’ve delivered over 100 workshops on cultural intelligence and unconscious bias.
  • Supporting hundreds of universities and high schools across the globe in assessing and equipping their students to develop the skills to live and work in today’s diverse, multicultural world. In some cases, that means working with an individual class or study abroad group; in other cases, it means working with the administration to conduct a complete audit of their strategy for building CQ and creating an inclusive environment. In cases like the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan, it means every incoming student was introduced to CQ as a part of the school’s commitment to “cultural intelligence” as one of its core values. More than 83,000 individuals from 164 countries have taken the CQ Assessment.
  • We’ve had the delight to work with pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, and hospitals like Spectrum Health in Michigan and Sidra Medicine in Qatar to integrate cultural intelligence as a critical part of providing world class care to families and patients from a diversity of backgrounds.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense made it possible for us to launch a military-specific version of the CQ assessment. And we’ve been privileged to work with special operation groups and military leaders in a variety of contexts across the world.
  • 243 people went through our public certification programs so that they can build cultural intelligence and unconscious bias training and coaching into their work. Additionally, 11 organizations sponsored in-house certifications to equip an internal cadre of facilitators to integrate CQ.
  • Meanwhile, we opened a new office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, added 10 new staff and 14 new associate trainers.

We have big dreams for the next year and even bigger dreams for the next 5 years. This isn’t about us. It’s about partnering with likeminded researchers, practitioners, and organizations to respond to the tribalism or our age and to navigate through the social disruption going on domestically and internationally.

Thank you to the thousands of individuals and organizations that are committed to this work with us. We look forward to introducing you to a number of new products and services in the new year but for now, we wish you the happiest of new year’s! There are more challenges on the horizon but together, we can do this!

What’s the #1 Conflict on Diverse Teams?

davidlivermore | November 16th, 2017 No Comments

Eighty percent of team conflicts can be attributed to unclear goals (Tichy). That’s true across any team but the potential for misalignment goes up exponentially on diverse teams. In fact, most intercultural challenges begin with clashing expectations. What one group views as honest and straightforward, another views as disingenuous and myopic. What an individual from one culture sees as “efficient,” another sees as “shortsighted.” The same can be said about clashing expectations around appropriate ways to express respect, sincerity, responsibility, and more.

Consider how these clashing expectations influence your diverse team:

Who’s in Charge?

Who calls the shots, and where does the responsibility ultimately lie? Clashing expectations around how a leader should lead and what leadership entails is often the first point of confusion. The operating assumption across most Western leadership models is “leaders are made, not born.” Leadership is not inherited by simply putting in your time or receiving a title—you become a leader because you’ve produced results and taken responsibility.

Take Facebook for example, arguably the poster child of Western, Millennial-led corporate culture. Facebook describes itself as anti-hierarchical and title-agnostic. Becoming a manager at Facebook is a lateral move because Zuckerberg wants leaders who are driven by the mission of the company, not power or title.

For most of the world, leadership takes a far more command and control approach. There are clear lines between leaders and followers and the most senior leader in the room should have the final say.

Dr. Becky Heino, one of our certified facilitators at Columbia University, tells the story of being asked by a group of Chinese executives why President Obama wasn’t sitting at the head of the table during a pinnacle moment of his presidency—the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

In a hierarchical culture, the leader should be at the head of the table, even if others have more expertise on the situation at hand. This isn’t necessarily an ego trip on the part of the senior leader. The respect offered a leader sends a message about the values and respect of everyone on the team.

What’s the Purpose of a Meeting?

Or, how about all the time teams spend in meetings, virtual and face-to-face. What’s the purpose of a meeting? Is it to share updates and exchange information, make a decision, develop trust? Even homogeneous teams may have clashing expectations surrounding the purpose of a meeting. But culture socializes us to have some default expectations for why and how to conduct a meeting.

Last week, an African American leader told me his black staff members recently asked him whether an upcoming meeting was a place where they were going to “go there”. He instantly knew what they were asking. Was this a meeting to directly address some underlying conflict on the team, or would it simply be a diplomatic discussion that ignored the friction and just moved forward with the task at hand?

In Japan, a meeting is usually meant to publicly confirm decisions made in smaller groups. The participants explore alternatives privately before the meeting to save face by avoiding conflict publicly.

Meetings in many Mexican organizations are as much meant to build relationships and trust as they are to cover an agenda. Once you trust someone, decision-making is relatively easy and fast.

In most U.S. contexts, a meeting is meant to gather information and input from the participants. Individuals are expected to come prepared to compare and constructively analyze the alternatives.

If you’re participating in a meeting in a Dutch organization, be prepared for the possibility of harsh critique. From the Dutch way of thinking, there’s little need to spend time talking about what’s good. A meeting is meant to identify all the weaknesses and criticisms of a particular approach or plan.

These are generalizations, but the point is—something as simple as “why meet” has a whole set of expectations attached to it, most of which are usually unspoken and quite possibly unconscious.

Who Makes the Decision?

Team conflicts often come to a height in the midst of decision-making. The cultural norms associated with many groups’ decision-making styles are often counter-intuitive.

An outsider may come into the flat, egalitarian culture at Facebook and assume that decision-making will be highly collaborative and consensual. But that’s not the case at all. Decision-making in egalitarian contexts is usually vested in the individual closest to the situation at hand to allow for quick, flexible decisions. In fact, despite an inordinate emphasis on teamwork and collaboration across organizations like Facebook, “consensus” is usually avoided at all costs, lest it lead to “paralysis by analysis”. A team leader in this kind of organization confers with the team before making the decision but then makes the final determination independently, with people knowing not everyone will get their way.

In contrast, the norm for teams in hierarchical cultures is that a lot of people are involved in the decision-making process. One might expect that hierarchical cultures would be places where the senior leader just makes the decision. But that’s not usually the case. Reaching agreement usually takes a long time and involves many individuals; even once the decision is made, it often continues to evolve as new information comes into view.

Other clashing expectations I consistently observe include different assumptions about whether small talk and informal conversation are a waste of time or an important part of building trust. Or, what about the level of details and analysis that are needed? Does presenting a highly detailed analysis demonstrate that you can’t see the big picture, or prove that you’ve done the necessary due diligence to get to the big picture?

Aligning Expectations

Culturally intelligent leadership is so much more than being cultural sensitive or knowing the do’s and don’ts of specific cultures. At the crux of culturally intelligent leadership is aligning team members’ expectations so that the diverse perspectives can be used to develop more innovative solutions.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Have an explicit discussion about expectations

Any team would be well served by taking time to clarify objectives upfront but this is all the more important on diverse teams. Stating an outcome like, “to reach a decision on which vendor to use” is probably adequate on a homogeneous team but much more deliberation is needed for an outcome like that on a diverse team (e.g. what critieria are being used to reach a decision, how will the decision be made, by whom, how binding is the decision, etc.)

  • Test understanding

Check in with each team member to get their understanding of the stated outcome and expectations. Many personalities and face-saving cultures are not going to say, “I don’t get it.” They may even nod that they understand or are in agreement. But you need to ask each individual to paraphrase their understanding of the intended outcome or expectation. Or, ask how they might communicate the outcome to others on their teams—not as a way to put them on the spot, but instead to learn from the different perspectives surrounding the same outcome.

  • Debate Expectations

In order to benefit from the diverse insights and expectations on your team, don’t move too quickly to a “shared” expectation. Encourage debate and deliberation about the ideal outcome and the most effective way to get there. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business says, “Argue as if you’re right. Listen as if you’re wrong.” I love that. Encourage each team member to confidently share their perspective with conviction. And then promote active listening to each other.

  • Practice perspective-taking

A diverse team creates a built-in opportunity for perspective-taking, one of the critical characteristics of culturally intelligent teams. I’ve written previously about how diverse teams can use Jeff Bezos’ practice of using an empty chair at meetings to visually remind the team to take on the perspective of diverse customers or constituents. Use your debate about expectations to help you see how others see this rather than just waiting to defend your position.

  • Remember that in stress, people will resort to default expectations.

Stress and time pressure are when we’re most susceptible to unconscious bias and frustration. The reason clashing expectations create so much conflict on a team is because it requires more time and effort to get something done and most teams are already stretched for time. So be particularly on guard for how you and others on a team are functioning under high-stress.

As I reflect on my own life and work, I think clashing expectations are the driving source of conflict in most any relationship—business partnerships, friendship, family, and marriage. Some deliberate conversation, reflection, and effort to address our otherwise unspoken expectations goes a long way toward gaining the benefits that come from working and living with people who see the world differently from how we do.

Building a Culturally Intelligent Organization: Starting a Movement

davidlivermore | September 14th, 2017 No Comments

Guest Post By Kristin Ekkens, MA

Developing a diverse, inclusive, and culturally intelligent organization is not easy – and the work is never done. It takes time, tenacity, courageous leadership, risk-taking, positivity, and resilience. It’s a team effort from across the organization involving HR, legal, finance, marketing, communications, and community relations (and more). Every department, as well as each employee, has a stake in the game.

How do you create enough momentum that it becomes a “pull” rather than a “push” system?

START A MOVEMENT

In the beginning of August, I had the privilege of facilitating a session with a group of sales executives from a multi-billion dollar furniture company. Together we examined how unconscious bias shows up on the sales floor, in the hiring process, and in everyday decision-making. After recognizing that bias exists everywhere, and that each of us in the room has the ability and responsibility to manage bias, one participant asked: “Kristin, how do we get more people in our organization engaged in this conversation? How do we change behaviors not just in our sales organization but throughout the entire company?” My answer was simple to say, yet complex to carry out. “Start a movement!”

What does it take to start a movement?

  • Determine your and your senior leadership’s motivation. Do you have the drive and confidence to do what needs to be done? Is this an authentic effort or a check-the-box requirement? What will it cost the company if it doesn’t do anything?
  • Understand the culture and climate of the organization. Is now the right timing? Would a pilot with a few target audiences work best to start or do you need to bring everyone together for an “all hands meeting” so everyone can hear the same message? Is there budget for the work this year? If not, is the company committed to providing resources?
  • Identify the key influencers – many times not distinguished by title – to develop a stakeholder map and strategy for engaging
  • Take action by defining and communicating the business case, key drivers, project scope, and projected impact. And lastly, begin to build your network of champions.

Simply put, to start a movement you need to infuse cultural intelligence (CQ Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action) into your process from the start.

THE WHY

When you begin to involve other stakeholders, they will want to know, “What’s in it for me” and, “Why should I care about this movement?”  Whether you are a consultant, a D&I leader, or manager in your organization, the organizational needs stay consistent. This is what I consistently hear:

  • We need to scale these efforts across 4 regions, 3 shifts, and with large numbers of employees
  • We need to be able to measure progress over time and show the impact of our efforts
  • We need a way for leaders to hold people accountable to using CQ in the hiring process, succession planning, performance management, etc.
  • We need to help diverse teams work more effectively together

HOW? 

I recommend a few key steps for starting a movement to develop a culturally intelligent organization:

  • Make the business case. Explain “the why” in various ways to various audiences. Just stating it once or posting it on your intranet is not enough.
  • Obtain executive sponsorship and engagement.
  • Create a systemic approach, rallying the troops and weaving cultural intelligence into the DNA of your organization.
  • Share success stories. Celebrate the wins.
  • Establish accountability.

Again, easier said than done. Let’s break this down and focus on Step #3: Create a systemic approach. In our Building a Culturally Intelligence Organization chart from Level 2 CQ Certificationyou see five phases described:

Each phase builds on the next. It’s critical to help your organization or client move along the maturity model – not skipping over phases. To make efforts scalable, you may be tempted to jump to Phase 4: Training 2.0 – Everyone. However, without leadership commitment and engagement, you soon find yourself back at square one wondering what went wrong. Some clients choose to engage everyone from the beginning to set the tone for the movement through a motivational kick-off keynote.

WHAT NOW?

The first step toward building a culturally intelligent organization is sitting down to develop your own systematic approach. Use the steps recommended above and customize them based on the needs of your organization. Create tangible goals based on your available budget. Set project deadlines and assign the responsible person. That way, the large task at hand becomes manageable.  Connect with a mentor or partner that will hold you accountable, keep you motivated, and will inspire you throughout the journey!

My interview with Lynnette Collins, Diversity Leader at Amway

davidlivermore | March 16th, 2017 No Comments

Long before Uber or AirBnB, Amway was creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to build their own businesses by selling nutritional and home care products. Amway Business Owners (ABOs) and the staff that support them are an incredibly diverse group scattered across the globe. We’ve had the privilege of partnering with Amway to ensure their diversity and global presence is a driver of success. I recently sat down with Lynnette Collins, Amway’s key leader on all things related to diversity, to talk about how Amway uses cultural intelligence (CQ) and unconscious bias as part of their strategy for growth.


What’s your role at Amway?

I lead the team responsible for developing practices that enable high performance teams that are diverse, inclusive and focused on ABO success. That includes things like Amway University, Inclusive Leadership programs, Inclusion Networks, Gender Partnership Series, Diversity & Inclusion Champions and much more. It’s a dream job for me.


You joined Amway 20 years ago. How has the company changed since then?

From a vision and values standpoint, we have remained the same.  We have an unrelenting belief in people and we want to help others fulfill their potential.

From a strategy standpoint, we continue to quickly evolve and change to meet the needs of our ABOs, their customers and the communities we serve.  We are also much more global in the way we work today than when I started. Back then, each affiliate did what was best for their own market. Today, each market has to consider the impact of decisions on not only its own market, but on the entire enterprise across the world. This means we have to have to think, behave and work very differently than we did 20 years ago.


How does Amway approach diversity and inclusion (D&I) and how is it tied to your strategic vision and mission?

There are two overarching reasons for D&I at Amway – one is long term, the other is shorter term.

The long-term focus is weaving diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our entire Amway culture. Every one of our values has a connection to diversity, inclusion, or both. We can’t help people fulfill their potential unless we address their diverse needs. And the more they are included in the Amway family, the more that drives the potential for all of us. So, it’s really important that we think about diversity and inclusion as a lever to help us drive the culture we aspire to at Amway.

The shorter-term focus is considering the D&I implications for any strategy we pursue. It starts with hiring, developing, and promoting a rich, diverse pipeline of talent. We especially care about having diversity in key decision making roles, because we believe diverse perspectives bring more innovative solutions to support ABO success. And the more our leadership reflects the diversity of our ABOs, the more likely we will be a fast, agile organization to meet the needs of them and their customers.


What forms of diversity are you addressing most across Amway?

All dimensions of diversity are important to us, but we are currently focused on four that are most directly relevant to ABOs and our customer base: gender; race and ethnicity, generations, and workstyle.

Over 70% of our ABO businesses are run solely by or in partnership with women.  We operate in over 80 countries and territories around the world. The millennial population will quickly become the largest population in the workforce.  And as a sales organization, we are drawn to extroverts – but know we may be missing out on talent who would describe themselves as being more introverted. This is why we prioritized these four dimensions of diversity.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that some groups can feel left out if our application of D&I doesn’t directly affect them. So we also discuss the concept of cultural identity, recognizing that we all have different elements that make up who we are. This has helped everyone become more eager to get engaged in the dialogue and actions to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.


You’re based in a small Midwest city in the U.S. yet 90% of your business is global. How does that influence the way you approach D&I?

When we first started, my global colleagues would say, “Diversity is important for you in the U.S., but it doesn’t apply to us”.  I believe this was because people were defining diversity as simply race or ethnicity.

Many of our markets don’t experience racial or ethnic differences in the way we do. The experience of under-represented ethnicities in Brazil or China is very different from here in the U.S.  As we started to define diversity more broadly, it became more apparent to my colleagues that diversity was relevant to everyone. And it really resonated globally when we began to define inclusive leadership and talk about specific ways to address the blind spots that come from unconscious bias and using CQ to work more effectively in any cultural context.

As you know, last year, we certified 29 facilitators (21 outside of the US) to implement our Foundations of Inclusive Leadership workshop, an interactive session for leaders that addresses unconscious bias and building cultural intelligence.  Our colleagues from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia embraced it. Our goal was to have every leader of people in the U.S. complete the inclusive leadership program the first year and leaders globally to do so in years two and three. Within weeks of being certified, teams across the world were holding sessions with top executive leadership teams and making plans to roll out more broadly in 2017. It’s been very exciting to be a part of the momentum and we are thankful for the partnership with the Cultural Intelligence Center.  We couldn’t have done it without you!


“Cultural Intelligence” was an optional workshop at Amway for quite a while. But then you decided it needed to become a non-negotiable, leadership program. How and why?

We’re incredibly diverse across Amway. But we believe diversity without inclusion doesn’t work.  To be an effective leader at Amway, you must be able to work across any cultural context to enable employees to perform at their highest potential. And, you don’t have to work across geographies to work across different cultural contexts!  Finance has a different culture than HR, who has a different culture than Marketing, who has a different culture than R&D or Manufacturing – yet, we all need to work together to achieve business results.  That’s where CQ comes in. It allows our leaders to work effectively, whatever the “cultural” difference. So this had to be more than an optional offering.

As a result, we knew that we had to start with our leaders. They had to understand the realities of unconscious bias, know how to interrupt and manage their biases, and develop the skills (CQ) in themselves and others to work across the never-ending differences we encounter all day long at Amway. And if we want to be innovative and move quickly to find the best solutions for our ABOs and customers, we need diverse talent that feels valued for their uniqueness as well as a sense of belonging within the team and organization. That will only happen when we ensure that all of our leaders are equipped to lead with cultural intelligence.


What’s a misperception people consistently make of you?

I can’t escape being on the receiving end of unconscious biases people may have about me.

Personal – I have two bi-racial children and when people see me alone with them they assume either they are adopted or that they have different fathers or that I wasn’t married to their father.  All untrue.

Professional – I am an introvert and someone who is very attuned to others’ feelings and emotions. Because of this, it doesn’t take much for me to cry. Because I’m very expressive, sometimes people interpret that as weakness.  Also untrue.  For people who know me, they know I’m one tough lady – not afraid to take on a challenge, not afraid to have an unpopular opinion, not afraid to take risk.


I agree Lynnette. You’re one tough leader who cares ferociously for people, no matter what their background and story. Is there anything else you would like to share before we wrap this up?

We want to take full advantage of the various perspectives that come from having such a rich network across the Amway family. Developing inclusive leadership goes beyond a workshop.  We have incorporated tools to help interrupt unconscious bias in recruiting, talent identification performance evaluation and how rewards are determined.  This is one way to ensure the conversation is continuous and practices are implemented.

In just over a year, we have seen the shift in conversation amongst our leaders where they are calling out bias with respect and confidence, and its positively impacting the decisions made around talent. Our senior executives have taken a prominent and visible role in these discussions and have been willing to be vulnerable, share where they are developing and ask other leaders to join them on this journey as we take bold action for change.  We are getting into some tough conversations around gender, race and ethnicity, and we are all better for it.

For 2017, we are continuing to build on inclusive leader capabilities, but are also bringing employees into the conversation to focus on inclusive culture.  We are excited about the progress we have made and recognize we have a way to go to fully arrive to our aspiration, but we are confident we will get there!

 

Lynnette Collins
Director, Talent Development Enablers,
Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity Fatigue

davidlivermore | September 13th, 2016 No Comments

pexels-photo-30342

The other day I was working out at the gym and I overheard a guy say to his buddy, “So tomorrow I have to go to diversity training.” “Oh God!” the other guy said. “That’s right up there with getting a root canal!” to which his friend responded, “I don’t mind diverse people as long as they agree with me!”

Tech companies are investing billions of dollars in diversity programs. Universities are requiring faculty to attend workshops to prevent having the next televised protest on their campus. And political parties are scrambling to attract diverse voters.

This ought to be good news for all of us. Diversity is rich with creative opportunities for everyone—personally and at work. But that upbeat sentiment seems a world apart from the dread many employees feel when they think about attending the next workplace diversity program. And it’s not just white guys experiencing diversity fatigue. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.

Shame on You!
To start, far too much of the diversity conversation is permeated with a “shame on you” approach. Workers voluntarily sign up for a workshop only to be accosted all day long about how racist or sexist they are. One time I listened to a presenter spend an entire session with real estate agents berating them for the mistakes they were making. He bellowed, “Some of you are still talking about walk-in-closets! How do you think that feels to someone who can’t walk?” Is that really the most worthwhile use of a half-day with people who signed up for a workshop to learn how to more effectively sell homes to people from different cultural backgrounds?

Diversity Bingo and Millennials
In addition, far too many diversity programs are irrelevant to the everyday demands of the workplace. Workshops are often facilitated by consultants who are personally fascinated by the cultural complexities of concepts like feng shui or the emic versus etic perspectives of a culture; but those theoretical notions are obtuse to nearly everyone else. And most diversity initiatives place an over-emphasis on cultural awareness and an under-emphasis on building skills for working effectively with diverse colleagues. A potluck featuring different ethnic dishes, a round of diversity bingo, and a workshop about Millennials is probably a waste of time and money if nothing more is done.

I Get it! I’m Biased. Now What?
The latest boom for promoting awareness is unconscious bias training, a critical step in the process of equipping a workforce to become more aware of their hidden biases as they interact with different generations, ethnicities, sexualities, and more. But this kind of awareness accomplishes very little by itself. A group of researchers supported by the National Science Foundation tested nine implicit bias interventions, all of which worked immediately, none of which stuck beyond a day. Billions of dollars are being spent on cultural awareness programs yet discrimination cases are on the rise and staff are exhausted by the failed attempts.

A MORE STRATEGIC WAY…
Diversity fatigue will continue to grow unless companies take a more strategic approach. Organizations need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability.

From Diversity Fairs to Metrics
If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. Practices and policies have to be developed to reduce discrimination in hiring and promotion, and leaders and teams need to be equipped to communicate, solve problems, and innovate effectively as part of a diverse team. Metrics need to be used that go beyond counting the number of diversity events to establishing targets and measuring the correlation between diversity initiatives and other strategic measurements (P&L, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, innovation, etc.). As workplaces take a more strategic approach to managing an increasingly diverse workforce, diversity programs will move from being a cost center to being a highly profitable investment to drive innovation while simultaneously lessening the fatigue factor and promoting inclusion.

From Awareness to Skills
Diversity training must also move toward an emphasis on building skills. Awareness is the first step, but then training and mentoring needs to quickly move to relevant workplace issues, such as: How do you facilitate a brainstorming session that effectively includes the perspectives of individuals who are reticent to speak up in a group? What’s the most effective way to incorporate an African American’s perspective on a new initiative without asking her to speak on behalf of the entire African American market? And how do you minimize the interpersonal conflict that often ensues on a multicultural team and maximize the diversity of perspectives offered? Diversity training that focuses on these kinds of practical solutions is not only better appreciated, it’s even sought out by workers who very much want to get better at doing their jobs and learn from their teammates. Then organizations need to use a valid assessment to measure whether skills were actually enhanced.

From Punitive to Potential
The whole topic of diversity needs to be approached based on the opportunities it offers, rather than primarily coming at it from a negative standpoint. Any serious attempt to discuss cultural differences has to address difficult subjects like privilege, inequity, and discrimination so I’m certainly not averse to making people uncomfortable, particularly those from the dominant culture (i.e., me!). But shame has never proven to be a very lasting form of motivation in the workplace. Even those who are easily riddled with guilt, feel bad for a while and then move on because they don’t know what they can really do about it.

In contrast, I recently observed a diversity trainer who began her workshop by saying, “I’m going to work from the assumption that you each want to be kind, respectful, and inclusive, regardless of people’s cultural backgrounds.” Was she giving the participants too much credit? Maybe, but you could visibly watch the defenses go down all across the room. Diversity initiatives need to move away from a punitive, shame on you posture to emphasizing what we all gain from more diverse and inclusive workplaces and communities. We all miss out when the Oscars only feature white nominees. And we all benefit when the organizations we work for have people from C-level suites to the most junior levels reflecting a diversity of cultural backgrounds who know how to effectively use and learn from their differences.

Working with diverse colleagues is hard work but it need not be exhausting. Just as the richest marriages and friendships are often energized by the healthy tension created from the differences involved, the same can happen in the workplace. As all of us insist on a more strategic, hope-filled approach to diversity, everybody wins. It allows each of us to broaden, enrich, and deepen our perspectives—about ourselves, a project at work, and about life together in our increasingly diverse, globalized world.

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