Diversity in the Workplace: 5 Ways to Help Your Team Perform Better

Capitalizing on the diversity in your organization doesn't just mean paying attention to race, ethnicity, gender or age.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
February 15, 2012

When we think of diversity, most of us first think of race, ethnicity, gender and age. We think of the legendary Louis Armstrong's lyrics from his song, "What a Wonderful World," that allude to the notion: "The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by." Yet, diversity in organizations is a much broader spectrum than that. It encompasses diversity in passions, talents, personality, motivations and experience, to name a few.

But diversity is not about focusing on how we differ—as author Ola Joseph puts it, it is about "embracing one another's uniqueness." Leaders who recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of their people help their teams perform better. Harnessing the richness of diversity can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making and increased creativity and innovation.

Here are some inspirations to help you raise your diversity awareness so that you can capitalize on its value.

Optimize the innovativeness of team members. There is ample research to show that the most innovative teams are composed of varied individuals with different styles, approaches or skill sets. In The Ten Faces of Innovation, author Tom Kelley, who is also the general manager of the design company IDEO, describes the 10 personas that are crucial for establishing a culture of innovation. These include, for example, The Cross-Pollinator, who has the ability to draw associations and connections between seemingly unrelated concepts to break new ground, or The Hurdler, whose skills lie in being a tireless problem-solver who enjoys tackling something that's never been done before. Here's a brief introduction of the Ten Faces. If you want to fuel innovation, make sure that each of these 10 personas has a place on your team.

If you need help assessing the various innovation approaches of your team members, consider introducing the Innovation Styles Assessment, which recognizes four unique innovation styles like, for example, visioning (envisioning the ideal future) and experimenting (combining and testing).

Be a talent hunter. Imagine having a reputation for being a talent hunter, for being known as the type of leader who walks into a room and looks for what's right with people. Extensive research has proven that focusing on enhancing people's talents rather than eliminating their weaknesses is the most direct route to individual and organizational improvements. A primer for this is Marcus Buckingham's and Donald O. Clifton's book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which helps readers identify their talents and build on their strengths as a way to boost performance. Talents are defined as people's naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied. The book also provides access to StrengthsFinder, a Web-based assessment that helps you identify the five most powerful signature themes, or talents, for you and your team.

When we shackle people with labels of what they are not good at, we diminish their confidence in their ability to succeed. Resolve to view your people as a reservoir of talent rather than a problem to be fixed. As Peter F. Drucker once said: "Nobody ever commented, for example, that the great violinist Jascha Heifetz probably couldn't play the trumpet very well."

Help people live their passions. Passions are pursuits that fully engage our hearts and minds; they fuel us, and they are different for each person. A company that understands the importance of supporting their employees' individual passions is Amex Bank of Canada. As explained in the article, "Amex Ignites Employees Passions—for Living and for Work," the company has instituted a program called "Realize the Potential," which recognizes and supports the people who are taking the time to identify their passions and realize their potential—whether it is through charity work, taking a sabbatical for adventure travel or being mentored by the company's top people. With this program, Amex is sending a message to their people that they want to know the whole person, so they encourage people to tell their managers about their passions—and to explore them while working within Amex.

Accommodating employees' passions is a smart thing to do. It engenders loyalty and the enthusiasm spills over into one's work.

Educate the organization about "micro-inequities." This idea comes from Douglas R. Conant, retired president and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company. In a Harvard Business Review article, "How to Make Diversity and Inclusion Real," Conant defines "micro-inequities" as the common behaviors that undermine a culture of inclusion. Conant set up courses to raise his managers' awareness of these behaviors. An example of this is the language used. "Too many male managers," says Conant, "may rely too heavily on sports analogies—a habit that might not be inclusive for women and nonathletes. We wanted to make sure that people learned to listen, speak and act more inclusively."

Know what motivates people. If you want to motivate people to give you the best that they have to offer, consider that not everyone is motivated by the same things. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink shows that external rewards (what he calls the carrot-and-stick approach) incentivize performance when the work is simple and straightforward and involves only mechanical skills. But for nonroutine jobs, when the work entails even rudimentary cognitive skills, external rewards don't work. Instead, there are three crucial factors that motivate people to perform better:

  • Autonomy: People are motivated by a desire to be self-directed.
  • Mastery: People have an innate desire to become better at what they do.
  • Purpose: People want to have a sense of deeper purpose in their work.

Consider these motivators and give people the flexibility to choose the way they want to complete their work; give them opportunities to master their craft, to develop and grow and, finally, inspire them with a deeper purpose, a higher ideal than simply making more money for the company. As Pink says, don't unhinge profit from purpose.

Guard against viewing people through a narrow lens and be wide open to the broad landscape of diversity. As Max de Pree, retired CEO of Herman Miller, said: "We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing and inclusion." What a wonderful world, indeed.

Illustration by Cannaday Chapman

President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.