Cultural Awareness Often Overlooked

Cultural awareness is often overlookedCultural awareness is often overlooked despite the drive toward building a multi-racial workforce. The focus on culture often does not address ethnicity. More and more both organizational culture and ethnic culture are intertwined as companies hire more multicultural staff to better serve their communities. What happens too frequently is that little thought is given to how well employees of different ethnic backgrounds will assimilate into the largely Anglo, male dominated US organizational culture, or how well the existing predominantly Anglo staff will accept and/or work with these multicultural team members. How many companies provide cross-cultural training for their staffs rather than simply expecting the individuals to sink or swim on their own?

In the planning community, there’s a great deal of discussion about culture – but it refers to the organizational climate, the way employees are expected to behave in pursuing the organizational objectives.

Perhaps the Anglo/American approach to pursuing these objectives doesn’t mesh with the ethnic culture of some of the staff. It may be a subtle refusal to act a certain way, to ask questions in a meeting, or to share opinions. Performance may lag because the individual doesn’t have enough information to do the work or thinks there’s a better way, but his or her culture dictates that it isn’t appropriate to question a superior. Rather than assume the individual is disinterested or incapable of performing the tasks assigned to them, the manager should take time to meet one-on-one and ask questions. This will help get to the root of the issue at hand.

Some people are able to overcome their personal cultural attitudes and adapt to the culture of the predominant group. Over time, their very ethnicity becomes less an issue as they develop a persona that transcends all ethnic groups. They become role models for the rest of us. Examples include:

Oprah Winfrey, while a role model for African Americans is also a role model for all women.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a role model for Hispanic women proving they, too, can achieve greatness.
Cheech Marin and Sara Ramirez, while representing the Latino community, also break the boundaries of their ethnicity on screen and in television.
Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have successfully broken across cultural boundaries.

And leadership in US government is becoming increasingly multicultural. Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State to the George W. Bush presidency, was the highest ranking African American woman in US government. And most recently, we have had an African American president and first lady in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama, in particular, is a role model for not only African American women but for young women in general.

More and more television programs feature multi-racial families, as well as multi-racial casts. This has helped to bring cultural awareness into American households. From Latinos to African Americans to Asians, we are seeing them interact with one another both on the job and off. Over time this begins to color viewer attitudes towards ethnic differences, both in positive and  negative ways.

Does anyone remember the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton? Remember how controversial that movie was showing an interracial couple (Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton)? Now we don’t even blink at the concept. We see Asian/Anglo couples (Hawaii 50) Latino/African American relationships (Rosewood), and other interracial combinations on television and it just seems normal. Even television ads reflect this cultural awareness, not only in the actors but also in the language and dress used.

Despite these examples, some still find it difficult to adjust. Instead of building bridges across ethnic lines, they alienate not only the Anglo community but also their own culture. They flaunt their Latino or  Black or Middle Eastern culture, with an attitude and language that are off-putting, using their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness, and inappropriate social graces. What’s worse, they aren’t coached about how their behavior affects their co-workers. It is detrimental to not only themselves and their career mobility, but to the cultural group they represent. Their behavior reflects poorly on their ability to become part of the team in which they work because they alienate their team members.

A lack of cultural awareness or consideration on the part of leadership, and inertia to address a real internal as well as external employee problem, can destroy the very goal the company is trying to accomplish. As we frequently hear, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and in this case it’s ethnic culture affecting employee attitudes and behavior.

Here is an 8-step process for developing a rich, multicultural workforce that works together as a team instead of in factions working against one another:

Step 1   Smart Start Planning. First, determine the future vision of what the workforce should be. This starts at the executive leadership level and includes key stakeholders throughout the organization who can influence the success or failure of the “people management plan”. This will result in an inspirational statement describing where the organization wishes to be positioned to maximize its people as a competitive advantage. This also includes a description of the respective roles of senior management, line management, employees, and the Human Resources function in contributing to organizational success.

Step 2  Key Success Measures. Identify the high-level quantifiable outcome measures (key people success measures) that will be used to measure employee success in adding value to customers, shareholders, and the community. Include measures that take into account multicultural issues that must be addressed throughout the organization.

Step 3  Best Practices Assessment.  Evaluate the organization against the “Six People Edge Best Practices”, developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Planning. Based on extensive research and consulting experience, these Six Best Practice areas are:

  • Acquiring the desired workforce
  •  Engaging the workforce
  • Organizing high performance teams
  • Creating a learning organization
  • Facilitating cultural change
  • Collaborating with stakeholders

Step 4  Strategy Development. Develop core “people management strategies” that are aligned to the direct business needs of the organization’s delivery system, and attuned to developing people’s hearts and minds in support of serving the customer. Both the alignment and attunement strategies should relate closely and support the core strategies of the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. They should also articulate the company’s strategies for developing their multicultural talent, helping them adapt to the organization’s corporate culture, and celebrating its multicultural environment.

Step 5  3-Year Planning. This involves development of actions that outline the key activities for the next three years in support of the core strategies. A three-year lay-out of all needed actions and programs is conducted. Then, these activities are focused down to the top three to four priority “must do” actions for the next year. This leads to the development of a one-year operational plan and budget for each major department. Again, these actions should articulate how each department is addressing multicultural aspects to build and support high performing teams.

Step 6  Plan to Implement. A one-year Implementation Plan is developed here, with the steps, processes, and structures required for successful implementation. This includes how the plan will be communicated and how the change process will be managed and coordinated. The key element is regular follow-up by the Executive/Employee/Leadership Development Boards which are established to ensure a successful implementation throughout the organization. Implementation is everyone’s job, not just the HR department.

Step 7  Implementation. This is the point of actual implementation, change management, completion of tasks and priorities, and periods of adjusting actions as needed during the year. It also involves managing the change process, measuring progress against the key people success measures, and celebrating achievements along the way.

Step 8  Annual Review and Update. The plan must be formally reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The key is to review the entire plan and update the annual priorities, taking into account ongoing changes in the business direction, the environment, and stakeholder expectations. Achievements are recognized and celebrated. Strategies are reviewed, and the three-year plan is updated.

They key to developing high performance teams is to include them in the planning and implementation process. Develop a strength in educating the entire workforce about multicultural differences and similarities. Celebrate the uniqueness of the cultures within the organization’s workforce and highlight them regularly. Make a conscious effort to put multicultural teams together to address organization-wide issues. Team them with a coach experienced in handling multicultural teams so issues can be addressed as they arise. This empowers the employees to see how they contribute to the success of the organization while learning about the similarities and differences of their ethnic counterparts.

Too often organizations forget about including specific ways to address, educate and include the multicultural backgrounds of their workforce, focusing instead on organizational design and workflow. Yet these multicultural backgrounds and experiences influence individual behavior within the organization and the way work gets done. Not recognizing and planning for this can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and divisive work environments instead of empowered, goal-oriented teamwork.

Shaping the overall organizational culture to sustain a competitive advantage is a key Best Practice leverage point, and is the job of leadership throughout the organization.

Contact us if you have questions about this. We look forward to your comments.

Stages of Change Can Be Challenging

The only constant in life is change. And it’s so true! Every project you take on, regardless of size or scope, creates a change in the status quo. That kicks off several stages of change that result in a series of predictable emotions and behaviors.

We talk a great deal about change in our practice. Sometimes they’re easy changes, ones you look forward to, such as getting a promotion or moving into a new job at another company. But you still go through all the stages of change similar to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief – shock/loss, denial, bargaining/acceptance, sadness/depression (the hang-in point), and finally acceptance and even excitement about the new reality.

Stages of Change Have Predictable Behaviors

Job Promotion Can Be Scary

Think about the change of moving into a new, challenging job. You go through a sense of loss because you lose your colleagues in the department or company you’re leaving. You may experience a little denial, telling yourself it’s time to move on and you won’t miss your colleagues.

You may experience sadness about the memories and friends you left behind. Then you accept the reality of the change – you’re moving on, it’s a little scary because you don’t know what to expect in the new position.

You’ll be meeting new people and having to figure out how to work together. If it’s a new management position, you have the challenge of learning how to delegate and manage others. Then as you think about the challenges ahead, you begin to see the possibilities and start focusing on the new challenges you’re taking on.

And finally, as you adjust to the new position and get to know your team and your colleagues, you begin to feel excitement and passion for taking on the challenges and helping the organization move forward.

Change Happens Differently for Each Person

Depending on your circumstances, you can go through these emotions quickly, in a matter of minutes or hours, or it may take days for you to cycle through the stages of change. If the new position is something you pursued, you’ll likely move through the stages of change quickly. If it’s something that happened to you and not one you actively sought, then the adjustment could take longer – even weeks or months.

Frequently, especially when people aren’t involved in creating the change and instead are just told about it, a few will never adjust. They can move between the states of depression and anger for months or longer (the hang-in point), unless the manager is skilled at either coaching them through the emotions or invites them to find alternative employment.

Sometimes, the people remove themselves to find other employment options more suited to them. Either way, the organization suffers if these individuals are allowed to remain in a state of anger or depression. They can turn a positive environment into a negative one, putting a blanket of confusion, doubt and concern on the change process.

Leaders Need to Be Coaches

As a leader it’s important to recognize where your people are in each of the stages of change and coach them through their emotions. Your goal is to get as many of them to the other side of the emotional roller coaster as soon as possible, and to quickly remove those who just can’t get on board.

If you need help with this process, let us know. We have many resources available to help you coach your team through the stages of change.

WD-40 Tribal Culture Creates Lasting Change

By Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International   January 28, 2014

Takeaways: How WD-40 created a tribal culture that focuses on SMART goals, living the company values, and sharing knowledge and expertise.

Book Review
Helping People Win at Work
by GaRry Ridge and Ken Blanchard,
2009 Polvera Publishing and Garry Ridge

Buy-Helping People Win at WorkThis book is a partnership between Blanchard and Ridge about leadership and management. It looks at business as a partnership between managers and staff to ensure everyone in the organization is doing their best to strive, learn, and be the best they can, all while living and acting the company’s core values. How a company gets there is the story Ridge tells of the processes he implemented at WD-40 around the philosophy of “Don’t Mark My Paper; Help Me Get an A”. The book is divided into four parts.

In Part One, Ridge describes the fundamentals of the performance review system he implemented at WD-40, which is organized around Planning and Execution and Review and Learning. Planning involves setting SMART goals and executing them according to company values. SMART stands for Specific, Motivational, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable.

In Part Two, Ridge describes the culture changes that had to occur before the performance review system could be revamped. A big part of that was to ask his people to view themselves as members of a Tribe rather than a Team. Tribal members share their knowledge and folklore with younger, newer members. That’s an important value at WD-40.

In Part Three, Ridge shares his viewpoints on leadership and motivating people and how those developed. In this area he describes his expectations of others and what they can expect of him. Servant leadership is a big part of his personal value system.

In Part Four, Blanchard shares the 12 “Simple Truths” he and his colleagues have learned over the years that are crucial to helping people succeed at their work. These include day-to-day coaching, reprimanding with candor, building trust, and accentuating the positive rather than the negative in both coaching and performance reviews.

The book is filled with great nuggets of wisdom and includes samples of the WD-40 Goal Review Form and how it is used. The company’s success is a testament to how well this system works. Headquartered in San Diego, they employ just under 400 people, market their products in 188 countries, and recorded sales of $368.5 million in fiscal year 2013. WD-40 projects to generate $383 million to $398 million for fiscal year 2014. Learn more about their values and culture here.
Buy the book.

Mentors and Life Coaches Help You Succeed

Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International – 6/2013

Takeaways: What are the roles of mentors and life coaches? How to and why you should recruit them. How to ensure a healthy relationship with them. How to define what comes next.

Most of us are familiar with the word mentor, but have we really stopped to think about what a mentor should do, how a mentor should act, how a mentee (more properly a “protégé”) should act, and how a mentor and protégé should become a team and conduct themselves? Most likely not. Acting as a mentor is often taken too lightly. For example, a new employee is assigned a more senior employee as a mentor to “show him/her the ropes”. This is really more like training and not mentoring. A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide, while also being a tutor and coach.

That word “trusted” is key to the role. Trust, of course, is always earned, not given nor taken. A mentor must earn the trust of the protégé and that trust includes having a high level of ethics regarding the confidentiality of the relationship. It is becoming more common for adults in business to work with mentors who are from both inside and outside the business to help an individual improve and maintain the highest level possible of performance in his or her work. It is also becoming more acceptable for senior executives to openly admit to having one or more mentors, which not long ago was considered a negative stigma, a sign of weakness. The truth is that in our increasingly complex world, none of us is capable of doing everything perfectly or even with a high degree of proficiency, so we really do need some help along the way. And often that help needs to be of the highest caliber, and just as often, not from just one person. The confidential aspect of the relationship permits the protégé to really be candid in the sort of help he/she needs. The mentor needs to be sensitive to the protégé’s emotional needs but not to the point of being a therapist. There is a separate discipline for that and the mentor must have the capability of knowing where to draw the line, and be deliberate and clear about doing so.

Examples of mentors or coaches in a business or personal life environment can be found in numerous books written by well recognized business leaders around the world. In some cases they pay individuals to be in those roles. In other cases, the mentor/coach is someone within their company, and in other cases, the mentor or coach is simply a friend. One key trait among the best mentors and coaches is that they are diligent in ensuring they have no stake in the outcomes the protégé is seeking. This allows the mentor/coach to be highly objective in facilitating the protégé’s actions and decisions as a third party only interested in their protégé’s success.

The Role of a Life Coach

Jack CanfieldThe role of mentor has taken on a new name in certain circles. Now we hear life coach and executive coach as commonly used terms to describe a mentor whose role is to “coach” an individual in a manner that encompasses both personal life goals and personal work goals. To quote Jack Canfield, widely read co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and respected motivational speaker on personal fulfillment: “Of all the things successful people do to accelerate their trip down the path to success, participating in some kind of coaching program is at the top of the list”.

So, do you have a mentor or coach that you regularly check in with to help you overcome big challenges and keep you on track with your longer term objectives? Someone in whom you can comfortably confide and who has the acumen and guts to ask you, and help you ask yourself, those really tough questions? Like, “If you are not really happy with your job, what are you prepared to do to get your ideal job?”, and then help you work through the issues? This is what a mentor or life coach can do for you.

So now we might ask, “That sounds good but what if I don’t know anyone who can do this?” “How do I find such a person or persons?”

Most of us likely have people in our lives whom we have known and who have known us for many years. Sometimes they are friends, parents, or extended family like aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents; people for whom we have a lot of respect. That’s one place to start. There are also professionals who are devoted to exactly this kind of work. Being professionals, they expect to be compensated for their work, so we must ask ourselves if we will really reap benefits from such a relationship, and what the value of it is to us. Not necessarily in dollars, because we don’t make any money from getting health advice from our doctor – so this is similar. I suggest looking at this relationship as having a private teacher with you just about any time you need one.

Finding and recruiting a mentor or life coach should entail the same level of diligence as looking for a medical specialist. This is someone with whom you will be sharing some highly confidential things about your life and work, and you will be seeking really insightful advice. Therefore, the best mentors and life coaches have some experience in those roles and a ton of life experience in general. So yes, age matters. With it comes both knowledge and wisdom, both of which we, as protégé’s, must rely on. A solid and broad education is a major plus in a mentor or coach as is some measure of success in their chosen fields of endeavor.

Five Key Behaviors

Regardless of whether or not you have a hired mentor/coach or someone who will support you in this manner for free, here are some behaviors to consider.
1)    Don’t abuse the relationship by whining and complaining about what is not working, ask for help on real issues and be as clear as possible about the outcomes you are seeking.
2)    Be respectful of your mentor’s time, be brief and to the point.
3)    Have a plan or agenda for each meeting and write down some notes or minutes about the next steps for you or the mentor, and agree to deadlines. If your mentor suggests actions for you to take, agree what you will follow through on and then report back on the results.
4)    Use the easiest communication methods for both of you, whether it’s email, text, snail mail or phone calls.
5)    Both of you be mindful of the confidentiality issue and agree to boundaries.

These are some tips that will help establish and sustain a really healthy relationship between you and your mentor/coach.

As with most things in life, it is also important to consider what comes next. Many mentor-protégé relationships last for many years and even for life. A mentor or coach is usually very interested in the long-term success of his/her protégé, so you can generally count on them being on board with you for the long term. If you keep challenging yourself and have exciting results, chances are good your mentor will be along for the whole ride. You may have other specialized mentors from time to time. I have two mentors, not family members, both are friends. One I have paid and has also helped me for free, the other helps me for free, but that could change. The experience of working with them has helped me deal with some tough life challenges and to learn how to be a good coach myself. I have one long-term client whom I coach on life issues and global business challenges, so I see results both as a coach and as a protégé.

I firmly believe that everyone deserves to give themselves the opportunity to explore working with a mentor or life coach from as early in their life as possible. It takes a certain amount of emotional maturity to work with a coach. A mentor/coach can be tough and critical but we need to remember that it comes from a deep and true sense of being there to help us. We need to be open to seriously exploring other people’s thoughts and ideas and not be dismissive of them.

I encourage you to take a journey to become the best that you can be with the support of a mentor or coach of your choice. I guarantee you won’t regret it, and you’ll ask yourself what you might have accomplished if you had done this sooner in your life.