Jimmy Carter who served as the 39th President of the United States and won Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 said, “We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”
Diversity is a characteristic of the world we live in. All the living organisms and all the natural phenomena taking place around us are diverse. All human beings are different from one another not only in the physical sense such as their height, weight, shape and size but also in their inclinations, interests, qualities and behaviours. Organisations being microcosms of the beautiful world we live in must reflect the characteristics that nature endows us with.
Sometimes we ignore this behaviour of nature and try to build a monolithic structure in terms of the kind of people we bring together. In doing so, we believe, it is easier to align the thoughts of the people and drive actions in a uniform and consistent manner giving rise to a productive work environment. How far can we go with this approach?
True, a homogeneous congregation works well for a leader to drive action and deliver results. When people from a similar kind of culture, education and upbringing come together, their beliefs and values tend to be harmonious. It becomes a cherry on the cake if the beliefs and values of the organisation are in an alignment with what the group believes in.
For example, each one of us has a belief around growth – its meaning and significance, the path one should take to achieve it and a visualisation of the milestones around growth. Imagine that an organisation values growth and has defined a vision of the growth it wants to reach and outlined a set of predefined paths and milestones to reach them. It would be great to put together a team of people who believe in growth and their ideas around growth are the same as what the organisation holds.
People would be able to relate with the charted paths and demonstrate the behaviours the organisation wants from them. It comes to them naturally like a match made in heaven. It is not possible to get a large bunch of employees whose thoughts are in alignment with what the organisation is looking for. Let’s assume for a moment that we can have such a situation. Even then, does it sound exciting?
Organisations do not thrive just because their values and beliefs are well-aligned with those of their employees. They need to fulfil the expectations of all their stakeholders like customers, suppliers, government bodies, shareholders, business partners and the community in which they operate. It is impossible for an organisation to find perfect alignment of its purpose, values and beliefs with the preferences of all its stakeholders. So, one has to embrace diversity in its way of being.
There is no short-cut to success
This natural characteristic of all living organisms can be a challenge before the progenitor because it has to adapt appropriately while developing and growing them. No less is the challenge for a leader to bring talent into an organisation, nurture and grow them towards the fulfilment of its purpose and sustainability of its journey. For all great civilisations and communities, we notice their leaders have held a deep belief in something, influenced people from various walks in life to believe in it and made progress towards milestones and goals. And all of them faced challenges along the way and struggled through them to stay undeterred.
Like all of us learn how to survive and grow in this world, leaders have to learn how to adapt and grow their tribe. They have to keep their flock together, keep them away from the predators, empower and enable them to fend for themselves and at the same time, nurture them to grow stronger and transition into making a mark for themselves. Rather than looking for people with similar thinking and beliefs, leaders need to learn how to work with a diverse set of people who broadly fall into a cohort so that they can co-exist and co-travel the journey together. They drive unity of purpose and promote diversity in execution.
Diversity is a productivity tool
It is not uncommon to face challenges on the way each day of our journey. Teams who can win over the challenges consistently are the ones who build and live in an environment that is transparent, collaborative and action-oriented. They recognise the challenges, learn from the perspectives of one another, respect the expertise of every team member, contribute together to the success of the team’s goal, get on with the action and continuously adapt. We notice, even in individual sports like tennis, chess and badminton, the sportspersons are openly acknowledging the contribution of their team behind their success.
As we are building the organisation for the future, we must recognise that the times are changing fast and hence, the socio-economic changes are evolving quicker than ever before. It will be foolhardy to build teams comprising people from homogeneous backgrounds, rather we need to build teams comprising people who come from various backgrounds and are drawn towards our purpose and way of life. We must be able to leverage the unique perspectives everyone brings to the table and make ourselves a colourful mosaic that looks beautiful and purposeful.