Can You Have Too Much Diversity?

Replacements Ltd. has always taken a great deal of pride in receiving the first perfect score for the Corporate Equality Index.  Their founder and CEO, Bob Page, originally worked as an auditor for the State of North Carolina.  However, as a gay man, he worried that exposing ‘who he was’ would get him fired.  When he started Replacements, he did so with the desire to prove that you could build a company that embraced diversity and was still profitable.  The result is a corporation with 550 employees, a top 150 internet company and one of the most successful companies in the tableware industry. “We have over 20 different languages and nationalities represented in our workplace.” says Bob.  “If you have performance issues, we will work with you.  However, if you make a derogatory comment about a person’s nationality, race, religion or sexual preference you will be fired on the spot.”

However, does diversity encompass more than language/race/nationality/etc.  Does it encompass managerial styles?

“In a nutshell I would say that diversity is infinite.” comments Scott Fleming, the President of Replacements.  “And that the more diversity you have the more diversity of thought you have which ultimately makes for better business decisions.   That diversity also incorporates the diversity of individual styles.”   

Can you have too much diversity in a culture? Depends on the strategy!
Different managers have different styles.  This invariably means working in one department will be a vastly different experience than the department across the hall. To what extent are different corporate cultures under the same roof healthy?

“I would challenge the belief that different managerial styles really create different cultures” Scott adds.  “Culture is really about how the organization functions, it is really about the beliefs of an organization.  Diversity, for instance, is an organizational value.  You need to have people in your organizations that, although they have different styles, they share common values.”

Bonnie Nixon, former Director of Human Resources within both the Saskatchewan and Alberta governments agrees.  “Different managers have different styles and this can impact the local culture to a large extent.  However, in my public service career I found that if the leader(s) placed a strong emphasis on something and followed through with rewards and action, where needed, then the values and ethics were met.  Where the leader had a strong value on diversity--not who you are but what you can do and what you can bring--and an HR group that hired based on competencies, then you tended to see the best person hired and promoted, and the culture was able to utilize each person’s individual genius effectively.”

How do you create an organization that embraces diversity without creating separate cultures within the organization?
Jason Lauritson, Vice President of Human Resources for Omaha-based West Corp. explains.  “In my opinion, the organization should have a framework of values and leadership competencies that help to define the organizations culture.  These values and competencies act to align the actions/activities of the organization.  Great organizations take this process to the next step and clearly define the expectations surrounding management.  These expectations essentially provide the foundational requirements of managing within that organization.  These might include things like setting written goals and objectives for each person at the beginning of each year or conducting a one on one meeting with each direct report no less than once per month, etc.  With this type of framework in place, managerial stylistic differences can be allowed without too many issues.  The framework laid out above helps to ensure the consistency when a person moves from one group to the next.  We will never remove all of the stylistic differences between managers, so we need to create systems and structures that allow for it.”

Values/Ethics Create the Culture
Will there be a difference in a person’s working experience based on their manager and is it healthy for the organization?  The answer is that because people are different, how they manage will also be different.  As Scott pointed out, it is an important part of a business that allows it to grow and not be blindsided.  At the same time, you want to ensure that there is a consistency from manager to manager.  This consistency comes from the organization’s values and should be used as the basis of who is hired.  You want people who share the organization’s beliefs, even if their styles are unique.  When you have people who share a common belief, you can accommodate different styles without having competing cultures.