Diversity Strategy: Stucture vs. Behavior 

Depending on your organizations capacity, at some point you probably already have or will  develop a ‘diversity policy’ or a ‘diversity program’ or hired a consultant to conduct a ‘diversity workshop’. While viewed within the typical framework this is a step forward, but from an organizational perspective, what does that really mean?

A useful tool, is to view diversity from the lens of structure and behavior and how they interface . Here is a roadmap to understand this better –

  • Structure impacts the infrastructure whereas behavior impacts the action
    • Organizations can tackle diversity by developing frameworks e.g. policies, programs, HR best practices, legal agreements that are inclusive and are ‘designed’ to ideally encourage diversity. But – that is only one aspect. The other aspect is behavior – behavior resulting in actual actions. Diversity in behavior is what an organization does at the grass root level, amongst the ranks on a daily basis to enable behavior which results in actions that are inclusive.
  • Structure flows top down whereas behavior moves from bottom up
    • A structured approach including frameworks, processes, policies and the like tends to originate from the leadership and executive management – it is top down. The leadership sets the parameters for dealing with diversity and develops the channels to flow down this information. Behavior on the other focusses on the dialogue and the conversations that take place within the employees cohort and NOT just the leadership team or executive management. When an organization encourages employees at large to engage with and address the ‘idea’ of diversity, behavior starts changing resulting in actions that can flow from the bottom up.
  • Structure focusses on the tangible whereas behavior consists of intangible
    • Structures designed to encourage diversity are clearly laid out. They are tangible, quantifiable and readily recognizable. They lay out a roadmap, which if followed should result in success. A change in behavior on the other hand is organic – there are no clear pathways or easily quantifiable tangibles – that is where an organizations efforts to engage and interact with their employees in various formats can yield rich dividends.

Both structure and behavior share a symbiotic relationship.  One needs the other and careful attention needs to be paid to both in order to find the right balance.

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Values that Drive Organizational Growth

I was at a concert by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the  sarod maestro this Saturday. Besides the beautiful music, I was intrigued by the interaction that he had with his tabla players and his sons who are also accomplished sarod players (Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan). The dynamic interplay between each of the parties and their production as a group, led to honing in on 5 key concepts that are essential for organizational growth –

  1. Recognize the value of teams
    • In any organization, there tend to be some teams that are given more significance than others. For eg – in companies offering a product or service, the sales and marketing team tends to be at the forefront and garner appreciation versus others such as legal or operations. Yet the end result of success is a cumulative effort of each of the teams working together –  so remember to recognize the value that each team brings to the table.
    • During the concert the maestro took breaks to show case the talents of each of his tabla player, even though he was the star of the show and did not need to.
  2. Harmony amongst moving parts
    • In music and in life the most successful and beautiful productions are those where the moving parts work together seamlessly with harmony. Instead of creating insular silos and teams where competition can be negative, encourage an open harmonious environment where there is an exchange of ideas and information.
    • The whole concert from beginning to end was seamless. It was clear that at various points there were different parts in play, but each player during the concert supported and showed generosity towards all the other musicians in order to achieve the attend goal – beautiful sound.
  3. Be fair
    • Praise is easy, but being fair in action to all teams and individual team members is hard. Fairness strikes at the heart of organizational balance and growth – the belief  that at work, people will be treated with fairness based on just standards and there will be no bias, is a highly motivating force. Fairness, equity, justice – these are all foundational values that we as individuals seek out and instinctively respond to.
    • During the concert, the ustad/maestro was fair with the time attention and praise that he gave to his sons as well as to the table players. The result was that both parties were happy and the tabla players as well as his sons were motivated to give their best because they were treated fairly based on their performance.
  4. Show respect
    • Respect is another key human value that has a significant impact on how people view themselves and their work environment. Organizations that encourage their employees to treat each other with respect and consideration are developing a resilient organizational foundation that can withstand disruption and stressors.
    • Through out the concert, including the breaks, all the players and the maestro were consistently respectful and considerate of each other. This simple behavior was reflected in the cohesive and amicable manner in which the group interacted with each other.
  5. Train leaders
    • Most often management and executive team leadership by default tend to nurture those lower in the ranks to be good workers. There exists a system of rewards, checks and balances that encourages the mind frame of a worker but not a leader. For your organization to succeed your management has to consciously make an effort to imbibe leadership skills in their employees from day one. 
    • It was obvious during the concert that the maestros goal was not to take the lead and be the center of the attention. To the contrary at various points of time during the concert, each of the players took the center stage individually and led the group though a musical piece.

UN I COMMONS Conference: Berliner Gazette

I was in Berlin October 22 to October 24 attending the Berliner Gazette UN COMMONS Conference, where I was a guest speaker at the ‘Big Data in our hands’ panel. it was a jam packed but exciting two days exploring  alternative perspectives on data governance, digital commons, digital good, online inclusion and diversity. Here is a brief note about my panel from Berliner itself-

BIG DATA IN OUR HANDS?

Big data is rarely seen as a phenomenon of co-production although more than 75% of the data constituting our digital universe is co-produced by us, the people, in the course of our daily (digital) lives. So, how do we turn big data into our digital commons? The workshop “Big Data In Our Hands?” discusses a position paper being collaboratively developed by Berliner Gazette for transforming the administration and control of big data away from large corporations like Google or government bodies like the NSA and towards common and public institutions.

International Young Leaders Assembly at the UN

On August 18th, 2015 the International Young Leaders Assembly was held at the United Nations. The focus of the conversation was on empowering and inspiring young leaders in their respective fields, to impact local communities and embrace the value of being an ethical leader driven by a strong moral compass and innovation.

The common themes that resonated amongst all the speakers were-

  • A focus on the youth as agents of change
  • The need to develop moral values that serve as the ethical framework for sustainable decision making
  • A call to organizations to invest in ‘youth leadership capacity building’
  • Promoting inclusion, accountability and viewing these concepts from social justice framework
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation at all levels amongst youth
  • Encouraging young leaders to forge connections

This conversation was pertinent because it comes at a point when the population of young people (between the ages of 10 and 24) has reached 1.8 billion as of 2014 and is the fastest growing age demographic. The majority of young people live in developing countries and the immediate issues assailing them are fundamental, such as –  education, employment, hunger, health and drug abuse. Young leaders as change makers bring a resilient, dynamic and innovative perspective on how to handle deep rooted traditional problems – empowering not only themselves but their peers and local communities to address challenges head on.

The dialogue with IYLA and the UN is a step towards developing an increased awareness on the issues that assail this age bracket; there is an urgent need for governments, international agencies, corporations and other civic bodies to collaborate towards the development of effective policies, programs and commensurate implementation strategies that can provide the impetus that youth development and leadership needs.

India-US Relations in the Coming Years

On Tuesday, August 4th, 2015 the United States Assistant Secretary of State, South & Central Asian Affairs – Nisha Desai Biswal spoke at the Indian Consulate of New York. Consul General Mulay hosted the evening’s talk titled “Vision of India-US Relations in the Coming Years and its Strategic Significance in the Global Context.”

Biswal laid emphasis on the strategic value of defense cooperation between the United States and India which could usher in an era of “co-development and co-production”. She laid out a road map of defense cooperation through shared defense exercises, developing satellite technology, deep sea exploration and a vision of sharing challenges and capabilities. This is especially pertinent given the shift in geo-political power taking place in the South Asia and Asia Pacific at large with both India and US keen to maintain the balance and security in the region.

Biswal also spoke extensively about India’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Her take on India as a technological development laboratory and “the poor of India as not problems to be solved but in fact consumers, participants and problem solvers”; she further elaborated on the need for the two countries to partner and develop a technology and innovation eco-system, citing the California eco-system as a model.

Biswal emphasized growth in Asia as a driver of global growth and the need to develop partnerships not only at an institutional level but also through increased ‘community engagement’ – people to people partnerships. Essentially, Biswal and Mulay highlighted defense cooperation, technology innovation/entrepreneurship and economic growth as the three main areas of focus to look forward to. The optimistic talk and delicious Indian dinner closed out an evening that waits on upcoming fall announcements where India-US strategic partnership will roll out some clear policies and procedures.

Doing Business in India: Learn the culture code

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In my experience, one of the biggest challenges faced by American companies in setting up and navigating business in India, is successfully negotiating cultural differences. Among management professionals the catchphrase is understanding the “culture code of India” – because while India’s robust economy is inviting, there are particular social norms that can often serve as severe roadblocks.

In the following article Hofstede’s six points of cultural dimensions functions as a foundation for my interpretations on how to do business in India. It serves as a starting point in understanding how to navigate culture and business in India.

Gerard Hendrik Hofstede – a Dutch Organizational Psychologist has defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.” In the 1960’s & 70’s he conducted a large scale study within IBM across all of its more than 50 international locations. Based on this study & insights derived from it, he developed a ‘Cultural Dimensions Theory’ which consists of six culture dimensions that provide a framework for understanding how cultures and values can be analyzed.

Here are the six culture dimensions with my perspectives and experience, using which companies can start the process of understanding how to navigate business with India-

1. Power Distance Index: This indicates the degree to which members of the community accept and expect power inequalities. a larger PDI indicates a willingness to accept a hierarchical order without much justification. From a historical and cultural context, Indian society is a culture of hierarchies and interpersonal relationships that provide the framework for day to day functioning. For any corporation seeking to do business in India, it is essential to understand and respect the place of hierarchies both implicit as well as explicit ones and and how it impacts team organization. To a large extent clearly structures and hierarchies in fact help facilitate team dynamics.

2. Individualism versus Collectivism: India is predominantly a collectivist society; Interpersonal relationships and social-familial structures form the heart of Indian culture –  readily evidenced by the existence of small and large family run businesses (Reliance, TATA, Dabur etc). There also exists at the same time a strong spiritual individualistic trait rooted in Hindu philosophy i.e. an individual is ultimately responsible for their actions and consequences.  Understanding this intermediate ground is a core part of engaging with and navigating business relationships in India.

3. Masculinity versus Femininity: The former places emphasis on traits such as achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards versus the latter which places emphasis on cooperation, modesty, caring, common consensus and quality of life. Indian culture tends to have an aggressive masculine approach, but in specific instances of managing relationships (especially those in which one is seeking to be command respect) more feminine traits such as politeness, prudence, patience and humility are valued.

4. Uncertainty Avoidance Index: This indicates the extent to which a society is comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity and not knowing what the future holds. “Countries with strong UAI have rigid codes of belief and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies have a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.” India traditionally is a tolerant culture where uncertainty and ambiguity are considered to be a part of life. Reliance on clear cut rules of engagement is minimal and most interaction is more practice based versus rule based. This is one of the most enduring traits of Indian society which it makes so resilient and vibrant; It is also one of the most difficult  characteristics since there is always room to maneuver and change at any point time. Being prepared for change and the unexpected is a must for doing business there.

5. Long Term Pragmatic Orientation (LTO) versus Short Term Normative Orientation (STO) i.e. Pragmatism: Normative societies tend to focus on time honoured traditions and norms whereas pragmatic societies have a focus on dealing with the challenges of the future. India because of it’s multi religious and pluralistic culture is a more tolerant and pragmatic society where change, resilience, adjustment along the way and the ‘jugaad‘ characterise work and relationships. It is possible in India to embark on setting up a business or pursue a project without knowing what the a clear cut process for it is.

6. Indulgence versus Restraint: This dimension is defined as the extent to which people control their desires and impulses. India is a culture of restraint i.e. individuals are governed by social norms of what is ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ and there is a tendency to view indulgence as ‘wrong’ or not appropriate. In navigating this environment restraint and avoidance of undue indulgence can be a tool to gain respect and establish business.

India is a country of contradictions and dichotomies. It is also a fast growing and emerging economy which according to Ernst and Young is going to be one amongst the top three economies of the world by 2020. Understanding India, its culture and building an emerging market strategy around it has to be one of the core priorities for businesses and corporations seeking to build value and long term sustainable growth. The factors I have discussed today provide a starting point for this strategy.

Culture as a Change Enabler

 

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When trying to bring about change at an organizational level, it is easy to focus on simply developing policies-procedures, but it is as an uphill challenge to in fact bring about change effectively through them. Part of the challenge lies in understanding and accepting that change management is directly correlated to and in fact dependent on culture. A 2013 study by the Katzenback center suggests “strong correlations between the success of change programs and whether culture was leveraged in the change process”.

To enable change successful leaders need to understand culture and navigate it. In the Harvard Business Review, July 2012 article: ‘Cultural Change that Sticks’, Jon R. Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley lay out five principles to implement change while keeping in mind organizational culture

 

1. Match Strategy and Culture.  Strategy tends to be a top down decision taken by executives determining the direction the company will head in – these decisions need to be made with a sound understanding of what the ‘current’ culture and the practices and behaviors that are already existent at the ground level. Strategy must be aligned with culture in order for it to be successful and lead to productive change.

2. Focus on a Few Critical Shifts in Behavior.  Change is tough. It is hard to try and change an entire category of behaviour or a generic category of ‘culture’. Instead focussing on few but key behaviors and cultural traits that are absolutely essential for the long term growth of the organization is a more effective way of enabling change. But how do you identify and change those behaviors? The first step is to closely observe the current socio-cultural environment and the prevalent behavior within the organization by engaging with and getting direct feedback from teams+team leaders.

3. Honor the Strengths of Your Existing Culture.  When enabling change it is easy to focus on only the negative aspects of the current culture or entirely ignore it to develop a completely new one. However either of the two may be hard to implement if viewed by employees as contrary to existent culture. In order for change to be effective and sustainable it is important to evaluate the current culture and leverage prevalent effective behaviors, norms, practices (aka culture) as valuable assets with the goal of making change a ‘shared evolution versus a top down imposition’.

4. Integrate Formal and Informal Interventions.  Often leaders focus on purely formal approaches to enabling change such as process, systems, benchmarks, rules versus more informal interactions such as emotional insights, cultural IQ, peer to peer conversations, one on one feedbacks, group discussions etc.   Infact integration of both approaches are key to successful change management.

5. Measure and Monitor Culture Evolution.  While it is easy to view the entire process of change management and its correlation with culture in abstraction and as a ‘phenomena’ that cannot be measured –> it is how ever essential to continually monitor and evaluate cultural progress. According to Katzenbach, Steffen and Kronley executives need to pay attention to four particular areas:  business performance, critical behaviors at multiple levels of the organization, meeting specific intervention milestones, and underlying beliefs/feelings/mindsets (the results of employee surveys).

Change and culture can be perceived at loggerheads with each other but a successful leader or leadership team recognises that culture is an ‘enabler’ for change and it is their responsibility to evaluate out how to harness culture in the company in order to build lasting change.