Lets define ……’DIVERSITY’

– Dib Mossavi

If we aren’t Tom, Dick, Harry or plain Jane, then we can call ourselves a diverse company, right? Having employees who don’t all look the same, talk the same, and possess the same backgrounds is good enough, I presume. But it shouldn’t be. (Betul tak RT? Betul tak?)

It’s great if our workforce doesn’t include hundreds or thousands of walking, talking, interchangeable cogs, but it isn’t enough if we want real diversity. Along with varying races, genders, and ethnic groups, think about varying opinion and professional perspective. Sometimes “minority” can be used to refer to those sad individuals in a Six Sigma organization who prefer a more free-form approach to management, or those who believe another strategy, in addition to the all-virtual one you may have launched, needs to be augmented to include just as much in-person time. Whatever the majority opinion, there’s a good chance dissenting voices—another form of diversity—have either been silenced or let go.

One view of management is to tell the workforce what the future approach of the organization will be while telling employees in advance that any disagreement will not be tolerated. It’s the “if you don’t like it, then leave” approach by Mr Toolman. We’ve heard of that one, and don’t think it’s the smartest way to go. (In the case of my company, I know many will agree with me). Frightening dissenters into silence or departure is good because it keeps management comfortable, but not so good because it blinds those same managers to potential weaknesses of the plan. As ingenious and all-knowing as we’d like to consider our managers and executives, there’s always a (good) chance they’ve failed to consider at least a few angles of any strategy they’re about to implement. Before we roll out said strategy, wouldn’t it be nice to get a heads-up about potential problems from our ground or floor employees, before our customers or competitors have a chance to point it out to us?

Perhaps introducing diversity of opinion isn’t one of those feel good-humanistic approaches traditional business management loathes. But on the contrary, it’s probably an intelligent option to formulate a company’s future direction.

There’s a thin line between constructively pointing out potential flaws of a new business strategy and complaining, and I’m sure all of us wouldn’t be afraid to cross it. Complaining, even when it crosses the threshold into whining, isn’t a bad thing in business. It’s horrible to listen to Mr Toolman ALL of the time, (coz most of us have enough of it at home and from our inner selves), but when it comes from colleagues and employees, we’d better take notice. The cumbersome new work routines may reap big rewards for customers and our bottom line won’t go far if it isn’t livable. It may be a terrific idea in theory, but if the human beings aren’t able to tolerate it, they won’t remain a part of us, and we’ll have that same retention problem with whomever we hire in the future—unless we opt for the half robot/half monkey/half toolman approach to staffing (half of us in that “human” resources stratagem would be robotic, the other half, well-trained simians).

Set aside ample time and venues for complaining, and be sure to aid cowardly complaining. Many insightful complaints—also known as diversity of opinion—are held back out of fear. Who says we have to own our complaint? If management is frighteningly gung-ho about a new system of operations, and we think it’s the closest thing we’ve heard of to purgatory since our mother tried to scare us into doing our homework as a child, why would we want to have a complaint about it attached to us? I’m sure we are smart enough to have a sense of self-preservation, so lets not force ourselves to choose between the Toolman’s corporate executioner’s chair, and the horror of watching our company face a slow dwindling of profits—or even marketplace death—from a strategy they were savvy enough to notice at the outset wouldn’t work.

The best thing to do is to continuously coach ourselves and new executives in leadership development programs to encourage dissent, and even whining and complaining, if it means the creation of better business plans. When we think about it, the fear of diverging opinion in the corporate world is a form of paranoia. Watching our back in business makes sense—to a degree—yes – but not when it makes company leaders suffer from the business world parallel of agoraphobia (as afraid to leave their tiny constructs of perspective as agoraphobic people are to leave their homes).

If we think of dissent at our company as something similar to the bogeyman, look at it this way: Nobody says we have to follow the corporate dissenter/bogeyman back to his lair, but it wouldn’t hurt to listen to what this frightening specter has to say, would it?

But how does “he” handle dissenting opinion in our company? Does he welcome challenges to the prevailing wisdom? Did he go so far as to punish those of a different mind? Hmmmm …..think Dib ….think hard, if not harder …. (macam biasa dengar je nih).

One Response

  1. Diversity in thought is a good topic.

    After all, if we were all of one mind the world would be mighty dull. Right now, I am picturing a highway filled with gray Volkswagen Beetles, all motoring along at the exact same speed. Everyone in the world wears the same white suit, eats at the same restaurant, watches television controlled by the state, and reads the same books. (Reminds me of China’s Cultural Revolution except the Chinese people didn’t have cars back then.)

    The willingness of a business manager to accept differing opinions about policy, strategy, and implementation is critical. Companies that don’t change disappear from history. Henry Ford drove his company and his black Model T almost into bankruptcy before more progressive managers introduced cars with different styles and colors.

    Only forward thinking managers and business can innovate and, so, meet the need for constant change that the world of competition requires. Good managers not only tolerate dissenting opinions, they encourage them.

    That said, a business can not be a “Tower of Babel”. Confusing and contradicting opinions voiced without the guiding hand of management is counter-productive. Unity of purpose and action is necessary to achieve goals.

    Christopher Columbus as he sailed west to the east in his first voyage to the New World, found that his decisions were the subject of constant criticism and occasional mutiny. Columbus’ trip would have failed if the voices of dissent ruled.

    The good manager must also be willing to revise his opinions and choices should circumstances reveal the original choice was wrong. I hate to get political, but here I think of the American decisions in Iraq to “stay the course” when course correction was needed.

    Good managers encourage their employees to think and act independently. While the goals of the organization remain firm, we should always rethink how to achieve them. It is cliche, but, while not reinventing the wheel, we can improve on it, its safety, endurance, and quality.

    Diversity is a fact of life. It is also force for change that if encouraged, leads to a better world. America derives strength from its many peoples, religions, and backgrounds. So do many other countries.

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