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Monday, August 09, 2010

Why Managing Diversity has Become a Business Imperative?

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Mike Vizard, Editorial Director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise makes a poignant remark about the importance of diversity in the IT department in his blog “Diversity in IT Has Become a Business Imperative”. I agree with his view that “the great issue of the day in technology is not the technology but rather the people within the IT department itself”. His observation “Indians and Russians seem to prefer to work with their own. Caucasian employees form their own cliques based on age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity while Asians do likewise along national and sometimes even tribal lines. And, in response, Afro-Americans have now also created their own cliques”, and “The onus on preventing that from happening should fall squarely on the shoulders of IT managers who unfortunately appear to be unwilling for any number of reasons to tackle the issue head on” has some truth to it.
I think it’s not only important for the managers but for the organization’s culture to recognize the importance of enabling the collaboration among employees with diverse background. But without proper training the HR department or the management do not have the right tools to maximize the productivity and take advantage of diversity within the organization. Most of the HR departments have diversity initiative that targets the issue only superficially (based on the skin color). That may be counterproductive and no one knows how to translate diversity initiative into maximizing profits for the organizations. Hence the diversity initiative end up being only one of the many ‘HR policies’ and managers don’t get very enthusiastic in implementing it.   Hence they will try to do the minimal that is mandated by the corporate HR department.
According to Martha Maznevski, professor of organizational behavior and international management at IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland, only way to leverage diversity in the organization is for individuals to develop Cultural Intelligence. According to Martha, Cultural intelligence is an ability to look at situation from both business and cultural perspective simultaneously. The link to her video where she talks on how to leverage Cultural Intelligence to manage global (in other words diverse) resource is here. If you would rather read, here is the link to the transcript of that video.
The gist of it is: There are three components of Cultural intelligence that one need to master to manage people and thus enable lateral and bottom up communication globally
  1. Knowledge: Ability to engage in learning other’s culture, getting historical and different perspective of a nation, religion, culture or ethnicity.
  2. Skills: Ability to master Cross cultural communication and become an effective communicator
  3. Mindfulness: Capacity to continuously learn from our own actions and to reflect on them.

There is a tremendous potential if the organizations harnesses the collective intelligence of its work force that transcends every cultural barriers, but there is no easy way for organizations to provide incentives to change those behaviors. Mind you, being mindful is a powerful ability that will differentiate individual employee from crowd. As the Globalization of Labor continues, individuals that can fine tune their communication to be culturally sensitive will no doubt succeed. 

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