Why Diversity Doesn't Always Work

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These days it seems like you can't go a week without reading another article or being invited to another company meeting extolling the virtues of diversity. And can we just decide once and for all, whether it’s Diversity & Inclusion or Inclusion & Diversity? You have probably heard at least one of these statistics that are supposed to convince you that diversity is a magical elixir for all that ails corporate America.

Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue

Source: Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market

Source: Josh Bersin research

Racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%

Source: McKinsey

Well gosh golly, if BCG, McKinsey and Bersin are all making the case, it must be a slam dunk, right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a poster child for diversity. While still in my 20’s I was having some coverage problems, but refused to join the Hair Club for Men. Instead, I opted for the full Shaolin monk treatment. This was before shaved heads were relatively normal to see in the office. I still remember the look of distress on the face of the VP of Employment Law as he said, "There's something . . . different . . . about you today," just as he realized what it was. I let him off pretty gently. If this doctored photo of me is any indication, I think we can all agree that shaving my head was the right decision. Alas, my K-pop boy band destiny was never meant to be.

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Still, sometimes I can't shake the feeling that there is something missing in the diversity discussion. Maybe you feel it, too. It's okay to admit it. The bald guy feels it, too. Maybe you feel like you have only been told the shiny parts of the story. It's like getting engaged to a charming someone with a high-paying job only to find out after the wedding that you are now drowning in debt. Or maybe there is a disconnect between the sexy statistics being thrown around and your own, less than glamorous experiences.

Enter Chris Jean-Charles - veteran of the United States Marine Corps, KPMG alum and former pet project of mine. My mission, as I jokingly told him, was to take this fit, disciplined, highly trained soldier and turn him into a soft, corporate marshmallow. There were some bright moments along the way (free pizza always helps and truffle fries might as well be kryptonite), but in the end I failed and for totally unrelated reasons, Chris moved on to follow his entrepreneurial pursuits. While we worked together, we talked a lot about how many of the leadership principles he learned in the Marines were applicable to corporate America.

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This got me wondering, how does diversity work in the military, where collaborating effectively can be a matter of life and death? Chris and I met over lunch at a local pizzeria (see what I did there?) to discuss. I wanted to get his perspective on what works and what doesn't. Below is a summary of what I learned.

"When does diversity have a negative impact?"

Having a diversity of ideas about how to do things is just the starting point. In order to take advantage you also need a mechanism to decide what ideas to keep and what ideas to discard. Otherwise, you have chaos as arguments about whose idea is best go round and round. So let's say you have that mechanism and a decision has been made. Guess what? We're still not done! You also need buy-in from everyone. Justin Bariso during the Why It Works podcast on EQ, discussed the concept of "Disagree and Commit," often attributed to Intel. You don’t have to agree, but once the decision is made, the entire team needs to execute fully in good faith. In other words, when people aggressively or passive-aggressively sabotage the implementation, you're going to have a problem. So there is a people management aspect that cannot be overlooked.

"What types of leaders leverage diversity positively?"

The strength of diversity is also its weakness. More viewpoints equal more points of friction. Some managers don't want to deal with challenges to their world view. In extreme cases, they just want yes-men/women or clones. This makes for less friction, but are they really getting the best results? We shouldn't overlook the way that diversity challenges your ego. The likely result, maybe even the point of diversity is to directly challenge what you, as a person, truly believe is the best way forward.

The best leaders realize they don't know everything. They realize that there is usually someone around who knows more than they do on a given issue. And guess what, this doesn’t intimidate them. They relish the access to this information. Even though the leader is responsible for making the final decision and is accountable for the results, that doesn't mean they must decide without input from others.

Another weakness of diversity is that more viewpoints can make decision-making less efficient because analyzing the additional options will require more time. It's important to recognize that not all decisions carry the same time-sensitivity. Good leaders know which decisions need to be made swiftly vs. which ones can benefit from further discussion, and they communicate this clearly to their teams.

"How can leaders effectively lead a diverse team?"

Three insights here. The first one surprised me, in a good way.

1. Make sure the team meets its goals. Excellence and success breed connection and collaboration. Mediocrity and failure invite blame and divisiveness.

2. Encourage healthy conflict and lead by example. Make sure people are not afraid to disagree with you or speak up. This will encourage them to disagree with their teammates as well. There is a great discussion of this in the business book, Radical Candor.

3. Set the rules of engagement for healthy conflict. While you want people to be passionate and to give voice to their disagreement, they should always be respectful. Fight over whether an idea is stupid, but don’t call others stupid for having an idea that is different.

I hope this has given you some additional, real-world perspective on diversity and if you are like me (the conflicted about diversity part, not the bald part), informed your thinking about how we can better navigate these complex waters.

Please share your own experiences with diversity (or lack thereof) in the comments below.

And if you'd like to discuss further how your diverse teams can best leverage the principles of the Connection Code to achieve the best results, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm happy to discuss!

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Special thanks to Chris Jean-Charles for taking the time to chat with me on the very important topic of diversity. To find out more about Chris or to connect with him and learn more about his latest adventures, find him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisjean-charles/

Bonus: Listen to Chris’ appearance on the Why It Works podcast as we discuss the topic of Blind Leaps.



10 Ideas that Rocked My World in 2018

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Maybe I’m just slow, but every once in a while I come across an idea that changes everything for me and I wished I had realized a lot earlier.

This is not a comprehensive list, but here are my TOP 10 from the year 2018 (in no particular order):

1. Ideas have an expiration date and you can wait too long to act on them.

2. You must commit to deserving money to attract it to you.

3. Lack of forgiveness can mess up your life in a subtle, but powerful way.

4. You have to welcome your Imposter Syndrome and get to know it to overcome its hold on you.

5. Today, not tomorrow, you need a side hustle.

6. With great success comes an even greater need to keep your ego in check or your success will be hollow.

7. You are a worse person (e.g., husband, parent, employee, friend) than you realize because it's difficult to see ourselves clearly and you will rarely be told the truth. And when you are, you probably won't be listening. In the rare instances you do listen, it will hurt a lot, but you will grow and become a better person.

8. The pressure we feel to do something or not is not driven by logic, but rather our warring internal programs that seek to avoid pain.

9. The best way to stop doing something is not to stop doing it, but rather to do something else.

10. A good maxim for dealing with managing people, mechanical repairs, and lots of other areas is: “As soft as possible, as firm as it takes.”


Your Move: What lessons do you wish you had learned earlier in life?



How to Network Better

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Have you ever noticed that sometimes your attempts at networking eventually fall flat? They start out with a spark, but at some unforeseen point they just fizzle. If this happens too often you may be discouraged from continuing your networking efforts.

The other day we bought one of those mini table tennis kits on a whim. It comes with a small net, two paddles and a ping pong ball. As a warm up, we decided to see if we could volley the ball back and forth up to 50 consecutive times. The ball could hit the ground, but you could only hit the ball once before the other person's turn.

What I noticed on our journey to 50 is things went a lot better if we kept the ball in the air. You develop a sort of rhythm and start to move a little faster towards your goal. A few days later I noticed an email that a friend had sent me that I hadn’t responded to, yet. It was at least a few weeks old. I felt terrible, but responded to try to pick up where we left off.

The goal of networking is to strengthen your relationship with people in your network. You get there a lot faster if you don’t let the ball drop. While there’s no magic number of days that is always right for getting back to a person, there is a point that is later than idea. That’s like letting the ball hit the ground. It doesn’t end the game, but it does make it take longer to get to your goal.

What can we do to network better?

Better Networking Tips:

  1. Understand that there is a natural rhythm with each different person you are keeping in touch with. For some, more regular contact makes sense and for others, more periodic contact is better.

  2. Regardless of the appropriate amount of time between contacts between you and a given person, there is a period that is too long and breaks the connection. This is not fatal, but weakens the relationship and makes it take longer to reach the same level of strength in the relationship vs. if you had responded earlier.

  3. Keep in mind that everyone has a limited ability to respond. Imagine playing the volleying game, but instead of 1 partner you have 5 or 10 or 100. So don’t take it personally if you don’t always get a response. All you can do is hold up your end for as long as makes sense.

  4. Keep the level of interaction appropriate. A networking contact need not be a novel. As stated in point #3 above, people are keeping in touch with many more people than you. It’s okay to send short, light messages that show your good will and intention to stay connected. None of us can fully engage on every contact and it’s onerous when people expect that too much.

If you use these tips, you will reach your networking goals more often and with less attempts fizzling out prematurely.

Your Move: What has worked best for you in terms of networking?