Article by Melissa Andrews
Competing for Top Talent Utilizing Diversity Programs – Business – Strategic Planning
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It is estimated that organizations spend billions annually on diversity training and programs. Not included in these figures are related initiatives such as flexible work-arrangements, corporate sponsored groups and other programs meant to retain and attract diverse talent. Most companies have diverse groups that operate within where participation is expected such as urban leagues, women’s groups, etc. The sad reality is that beyond this, some companies are a little bothered by the idea of moving past this level of participation because they feel that is more important to focus on key business practices and processes. Internally, the prevailing thought is that it will increase market share, foster creativity and lead to innovation directly affecting competition within the organization. If businesses re-focus more resources on diversity, it could potentially improve their bottom line by helping them compete for talent within a diverse labor pool and compete for new customers in a diverse customer base.
Findings suggest however that increased diversity in hiring does not necessarily improve the talent pool. These efforts will only be successful and show clear results if they are carefully planned, communicated and measured. Popular corporate initiatives that you might see implemented include: diverse recruiting teams, internship programs, recruiting events at universities and colleges with diverse student populations, leadership development programs, mentoring programs, awareness training, issue-based training, dedicated diversity staff and councils. Task related knowledge and skill sets are not always a guarantee based on demographics. Often, better predictors of performance might be behavioral interviews and work samples. If paired with proper training, well designed assessment tools can also achieve a balance between identifying and selecting people that have the right knowledge and experiences. Demographics should not be the sole method of choosing a good candidate.
Improved commitment, motivation and success are usually dependent on the culture and existing people strategies within your organization. Companies that want to position themselves as inclusive organizations must have measurable objectives designed to capture how well operational direction ties results back to its culture and core values. Resistance to change and new ideas will probably have more to do with the structures that are in place. Risks to introducing diversity initiatives may be communication breakdowns, decreased group cohesion and turnover. Few studies have conclusively proven that diverse groups perform better on investment, profit or other financial acumen.
As negative as this all sounds, the point is to show that the opposite can be true if a well defined diversity strategy is designed and tied to the desired goals of your business. It will become critical to in the way that businesses market themselves, follow through, promote diversity and participate in community service initiatives. Employees must also accept these initiatives and understand the reasoning behind them and how they tie to organizational objectives. Businesses that are focusing on growth strategies and entering new markets have demonstrated clear success when incorporating diversity into their business practices. In recent studies, companies will recruit better candidates that are technologically savvy, have global awareness and are astute in operations by incorporating diversity into their culture.
Identifying a strategy and establishing clear responsibilities for all involved will garner buy-in and gain support. Initiatives must have buy-in from top management so that diversity plans are integrated into business plans. High performing individuals are also more likely to come on board with your company if they see themselves represented at all levels of the business. Some employees will quickly conclude that there is no future in your company if they don’t see examples of high succeeding performers that look like themselves. McDonalds and Aramark are leaders in understanding and mirroring the diversity of their customers and clients. Xerox does not use quotas. They do however monitor demographic data on skills in the workplace and reflect it in their own workforce. If the company sees for instance that 5% of Hispanics are trained in a specialized are, Xerox will push to have 5% staffing in that area. Additionally, if there are clear gaps in the talent pool from that area, they will sponsor scholarships to help fill the need. IBM’s strategy is to improve the quality of inner city schools by introducing technology. Studies show that 50% of the jobs in this century will require computer skills.
The next step is communicating the plan which may include training opportunities, building diversity into day-to-day business opposed to having the initiative be an independent activity. This will move the culture toward inclusion and acceptance. Buy-in again helps increase commitment to working toward the overall diversity goals of your company. Some businesses such as American Express have paired high performing individuals with senior level executives to form mentoring relationships. Other companies like Citicorp and Bank of America have committed to form community partnerships through volunteerism, contributions and development. DaimlerChrysler and Marriott exhibit diversity by working with minority vendors and suppliers, scholarships and community outreach programs. Pepsi encourages procurement contracts with minority vendors and has created a website to help raise awareness for its company diversity initiatives.
The development of role models within an organization will encourage entrepreneurialism and create a path for future management growth. Involve managers in mentoring programs that provide feedback. Some of the best mentors may be people that are the most different than you. Build your initiative up with team building exercises. These activities encourage participants to share information about their individual skills sets and abilities. It has been shown over time to increase overall, long-term performance and lead to positive feelings about their teams. A successful team is the result of leadership with a shared purpose, values and processes. It isn’t simply putting ten people from different backgrounds around a table and hoping that someone comes up with a good idea.
It is also critical to measure your results. Regular organizational assessments on payroll, benefits and work environment will help your team review your long term progress. Continue with programs or initiatives that are working. Discontinue those programs that are not. Comprehensive assessments should always be conducted at the beginning of a diversity effort and serve as the baseline. Without good data, some company leaders may assume that they are meeting diversity requirements but current data will verify progress and achievement. It is also very important to define what objectives you are trying to measure and a clear definition of how your company views diversity. Some examples of internal measuring include cultural diversity assessments which benchmark progress and perform an analysis of the organization’s culture. It helps to establish baselines for how receptive the culture of the company was to innovation, new techniques, and opportunities for increased productivity. Questionnaires, internal report cards which often tie to the bottom line, surveys, needs analyses, and focus groups are additional options. Identifying problematic areas helps determine what needs to be done to implement positive change.
Incorporating diversity will draw recruits from new talent pools leading your company toward innovation, creativity and the synthesis of new ideas. There are several keys to success that will help your organization incorporate diversity into its master plan of success. Identify a strategy with clear goals that meet the needs of your organization. Communicate your plan. Build in opportunities that will help grow your people through training, mentoring and partnerships. Develop your plan into the culture of your business which will help develop leadership. Finally, careful and articulated planning with measured results will help make the transition from having basic programs to elevating standards and practices. Companies that are able to leverage diversity will be able to evolve and be adaptable to change. In order to meet these changes, businesses will need to expand their goals beyond building diversity awareness to include meeting large-scale business challenges which includes hiring the best talent.
About the Author
Melissa Andrews has a B.A, B.S in Elementary Education, a M.A.T.D. in Organizational Training and Development, coaching and online instructional certificates. She has been an instructional designer, trainer, and administrator of a Learning Management System in Healthcare prior to moving into Retail in 2010. Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Development.
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