Diversity management is a management theory, just like scientific management, total quality management, transformational leadership, and all the rest. All of these are theories that have been put into practice.
The management theories that work when you put them into practice have been used for one reason: there’s a direct line of sight from application of the theory to better business results. Someone has been able to demonstrate that, by using a certain process, I’ll see more productivity than if I just went by the tradition or by the seat of my pants. The theories that do work come with tools and processes to get results.
The theories that don’t work are ones that sound good, but that have no practical application. No one has ever given people a way of actually doing these theories.
This is why diversity management’s orientation towards results is really important. By aiming for specific results, diversity management turns theory into achievable practice.
What are Results?
Diversity management doesn’t think about results in the traditional ways that practitioners envision results. Diversity management’s results are not: Do we have more of this type of person or that type of person? Do we have a 50 percent retention rate? Diversity management isn’t worried about making the flimsy list of this year’s five best places to work based on artificial criteria like a company’s profile.
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What we’re talking about in diversity management is standard business results: Did we close more sales? How many clients did we upsell to higher-level products? Are the sales people making more calls per day? Has revenue gone up? Have costs gone down?
Standard business results also include some of the softer things: Do our employees feel better about working for this organization because they feel included? Is leadership more effective? Are our decisions better?
These are the kinds of measureable results on which diversity management has to be focused. Otherwise, diversity management continues to be a theory without practical application.
Results in Action
I spent a week in a manufacturing plant with my current client, ThyssenKrupp Elevator. They were going through a LEAN manufacturing process, trying to improve cycle times for manufacturing some of their parts. They were doing okay, because if you do LEAN manufacturing right, it’ll work.
But I saw that we were not taking full advantage of the teams that were working on the process. I suggested that we have some outsiders – some non-manufacturing people – on the design teams for improving these processes. I was one of those outsiders — I knew little to nothing about manufacturing.
After adopting four of my eight recommendations, ThyssenKrupp has been able to reduce their reliance on their LEAN manufacturing consultant. The company has improved the cycle times and reduced team meetings from two weeks to three days – and that’s big. The company has increased quantity of each manufacturing output that it was working on by about 30 percent.
ThyssenKrupp achieved all of this because they engaged people. Unless you take into account the different perspectives of the people involved and actually hear from them about how to make the process better, you can’t optimize your opportunity for improvement.
You see results when you know how to manage your diverse perspectives. Get rid of the traditional biases of the people who work in the field. If those people lead the project, you have no opportunities for diverse perspectives. What you need is better communications, more involvement from people, better facilitation, better selection of the team, and better understandings of the difficulty of making decisions when you have a lot of diversity in the mix. This last part is key: for managers to leverage diversity toward better results, they need to understand how to work with and utilize the diversity on their team. It isn’t enough to have diversity: you have to know how to manage it.