Leveraging Cultural Diversity

Tuesday, October 1 2013

Cultural diversity is paramount to success. Although people usually think of diversity as ethnicity, race or gender, there are other factors that are also important.

Cultural diversity includes traditions, experiences, what people perceive as normal behaviour, and what they value. These can affect how people behave, think, communicate, coach, train, interact, interpret, judge and trust each other.

I am an immigrant from the UK, and although the Canadian and UK cultures are very similar, initially, I was surprised at the differences. I also had to adjust to a new working environment as I went from a multi-national organization to a university setting. The cultures were not the same, and my traditions were also different. I was lucky to have people around me who had experienced the transition to Canada and were able to guide and support me.

To successfully manage diversity and gain its full value in the workplace, consider these five areas:

1. Coaching

When people are on-boarded well and continue to receive good coaching, learning occurs easily and integration happens faster and more smoothly. Coaching is for everyone on the team, not just newcomers; it helps everyone to adjust and to value the skills and abilities of each member.

2. Communication

Ask questions to understand and listen to responses. Provide a safe environment for people to share. Be open minded to appreciate differences of opinion. Provide clear expectations and solid feedback both in celebration of successes and articulating how results could be enhanced.

3. Flexibility in style

Get to know each person, what motivates them, how they learn and how they would like to receive communication. Be willing to flex your style to adapt to the needs of your team.

4. Understand other’s concept of time

Time is one area cultures can have conflicting views. Individuals may have distinct beliefs about the balance between family and work, perceptions of overtime, or travelling on short notice. Appreciate what is the normal behaviour for a person and be willing to work with them so that integration is smooth. This may take some adaptation from both sides.

5. Develop a successful working team

Some cultures are used to working in teams; others are more individualistic. What does it mean to be part of a team? What does it mean in your organization? What are the expectations of a team? As a leader you must manage all the parameters, including roles and responsibilities, communication, goals, and how disagreements will be handled.

An organization that cultivates cultural diversity builds awareness of current beliefs, which determines attitudes that underpin behaviours. Interacting effectively with individuals from diverse cultures enables an organization to minimize behaviours that are not conducive to success in the global economy, and to reap the benefits of a broader set of skills and knowledge.