3 Tips on How to Benefit From Diversity
By Upgrading Both Culture and Technology in Tandem
Today’s fast paced knowledge economy places an ever-increasing requirement to support the creative and innovative potential of employees. In this context, a company which can tap into the diverse skills and experiences of its people will undoubtably adapt faster than its competitors.
Thanks to technology we can now work in ways unimaginable a generation ago. Cultural attitudes to work and life are shifting. It is not a coincidence that the latest generation of business software emphasises bottom-up collaboration and greater information sharing across teams. Consequently the greatest benefits are found in upgrading cultural practices and technology in tandem.
Tip 1: Empower People to be Creative
Diversity can boost creativity. Different people will bring different ideas, different ways of thinking, of seeing the world. When properly channelled, this creativity will lead to more innovation, adaptability and overall better performance.
So how do you empower people to be creative? Allow them the space to express themselves. However, it is not about letting loose any idea on any topic. At least not all the time. Managers and leaders need to be responsible for the direction on which to focus creativity. It should be used to solve a specific question.
Ensure that you have a process that will allow creativity to blossom. Having a meeting to discuss something will usually not be enough. Creativity relies on all the senses, it needs to be an experiential event. You probably want to develop real workshops or similar events.
To keep ahead of the game, you need new ideas regularly. Why not have a channel where ideas, however crazy they may seem at the time, are gathered?
Create communication channels for people to discuss new ideas. This could be a simple chat channel within your workspace or purpose-built app for sharing and voting on ideas. Office 365 has a free Power App called “Employee Ideas” which can be installed with just a few buttons. Trello is a common tool to visualise progress made in implementing chosen ideas. People know they have been heard and know when to expect a change. This also saves time in update meetings.
When planning complex work use a collaborative task system. This technology allows broader aims to be set at an executive level while the granular details are compiled by those who will undertake the work. The result is a more accurate plan which can be reviewed and adapted by all involved.
“An important aspect of inclusion is to ensure that people feel they belong, and that they can see how to contribute to the organisation.”
Tip 2: Appreciate that Everyone is Different
As a staff incentive or by law, companies offer flexitime, home working and other reasonable adjustments. However these are viewed as an exception to the norm and usually only certain people are eligible.
There is now growing evidence that giving people more choice over when, where and how they work leads to higher productivity. Put simply there is no “normal” way to work – no one size fits all method. Some people need to pick up their children or support older relatives, meaning 9-5 office culture isn’t practical. People are physically and neurologically diverse and may have different ways of working.
Manage your culture around outputs and behaviours and let people work how it’s best for them within your culture.
Work management tools should track outcomes not hours. Agree a list of deliverables and give people the freedom to get the work done. The conversation then focuses on working together to achieve better outcomes, rather than rewards for being present for long hours.
As a normal part of the continuous improvement process, staff should feel comfortable sharing personal barriers alongside the usual IT/supplier issues which impede workflow. An example might be a dyslexic member of staff suggesting it would save time if some internal emails could be sent as a voice message. For those who follow Agile practices these conversations can take place during the Retrospective meeting.
Tip 3: Design Clear Guidelines and Behaviours to Follow
An important aspect of inclusion is to ensure that people feel they belong, and that they can see how to contribute to the organisation. This begins right from the start. Are new recruits left to fend for themselves and locate information for themselves? A good onboarding procedure ensures that a new recruit knows in advance of joining what the organisation is about.
You may have a set of written company values but has this filtered down to the department or team level? Values are good to have but they are very theoretical by nature and definitely open to interpretation.
How are people expected to exhibit company values in the course of their specific work? More than values, it is essential to define the behaviours you want everybody in the organisation to exhibit, the behaviours that will transcend your values, make them lived by every single day.
Having written guidelines helps to describe what teams do, but also why they organise and interact in a particular way. However just as culture changes over time, so the guidelines should be a living document. Start simple and add more detail if it’s required.
Communications technology can be configured and used in many different ways. So it can be a useful exercise to reflect on how it’s currently being used. Most companies will now have email, post chat, private chat, chat on tasks, in file chat, and multiple channels.
Agreeing when to use each tool saves massive amounts of time looking for messages. Some forms of communication are more transparent and inclusive than others, so it’s important to embed the company’s values. You may also wish to allow different teams to have different guidelines which are customised to the work and style of each team.
An organisation’s values relating to inclusion, flexible working, innovation, staff empowerment or productivity should align with how collaborative tools are configured. Considerations include: who can update plans and access information, how to use busy or available status, where to store files, how to suggest improvements, when it’s okay to turn the video or notifications off, and how work is assigned and tracked.
Teams can create their guidelines within a team Wiki or company knowledge base. Even a simple document pinned to the workspace will suffice. Just having the conversation written and agreed can be the difference between a workplace which is stressful and confusing, or welcoming and inclusive.
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