Skill no. 21: Valuing diversity

“Understanding and managing people who are similar to us are challenges – but understanding and managing those who are dissimilar from us and from each other can be even tougher.” The increasing diversity of workplaces around the world means that managers need to recognize that not all employees want the same thing, will act in the same manner, and thus can’t be managed the same way. What is a diverse workforce? It’s one that’s more heterogeneous in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age and other characteristics that reflect differences. The ability of value diversity and help a diverse workforce achieve its maximum potential is a skill that managers increasingly will find is needed.

The diversity issues an individual manager might face are many. They might include issues such as communicating with employees whose familiarity with the language might be limited; creating career development programs that fit the skills, needs and values of a particular group; helping a diverse teams cope with conflict over work assignments; or learning which rewards are valued by different groups. You can improve your handling of diversity issues by following these eight behaviors.

  • Fully accept diversity

Successfully valuing diversity starts with each individual accepting the principle of multiculturalism. Accept the value of diversity for its own sake – not simply because you have to. Accepting and valuing diversity is important because it’s the right thing to do. And it’s important that you reflect your acceptance in all you say and do.

  • Recruit broadly

When you have job openings, work to get a diverse applicant pool. Although referrals from current employees can be a good source of applicants, that tends to produce candidates similar to the present workforce.

  • Select fairly

Make sure that the selection process doesn’t discriminate. One suggestion is to use job-specific tests rather than general aptitude or knowledge tests. Such test measure specific skills, not subjective characteristics.

  • Provide orientation and training for minorities

Making the transition from outsider to insider can be particularly difficult for a diverse employee. Provide support either through a group or through a mentoring arrangement.

  • Sensitize non-minorities

Not only do you personally need to accept and value diversity, as a manager you need to encourage all your employees to do so. Many organizations do this through diversity training programs. The most important thing a manager can do is show by his or her actions that diversity is valued.

  • Strive to be flexible

Part of valuing diversity is recognizing that different groups have different needs and values. Be flexible in accommodating employee requests.

  • Seek to motivate individually

Motivating employees is an important skill for any manager; motivating a diverse workforce has its own special challenges. Managers must be more in tune with the background, cultures, and values of employees. What motivates a single mother with two young children and who is working full time to support her family is likely to be different from the needs of a young, single, part-time employee or and older employee who’s working to supplement his or her retirement income.

  • Reinforce employee differences

Encourage individuals to embrace and value diverse views. Create traditions and ceremonies that promote diversity. Celebrate diversity by accentuating its positive aspects. However, also be prepared to deal with the challenges of diversity such as mistrust, miscommunication, and lack of cohesiveness, attitudinal differences, and stress.

Skill no. 20: Solving problems creatively

In a global business environment, where changes are fast and furious, organizations desperately need creative people. The uniqueness and variety of problems that managers face demand that they be able to solve problems creatively. Creativity is a frame of mind. You need to expand your mind’s capabilities – that is, open up your mind to new ideas. Every individual has the ability to improve his or her creativity, but many people simply don’t try to develop that ability.

You can be more effective at solving problems creatively if you use the following 10 suggestions:

  • Think of yourself as creative

Although this may be a simple suggestion, research shows that if you think you can’t be creative, you won’t be. Believing in your ability to be creative is the first step in becoming more creative.

  • Pay attention to your intuition

Every individual has a subconscious mind that works well. Sometimes answers will come to you when you least expect them. Listen to that “inner voice.” In fact, most creative people will keep a notepad near their bed and write down ideas when the thoughts come to them. That way, they don’t forget them.

  • Move away from your comfort zone

Every individual has a comfort zone in which certainty exists. But creativity and the known often do not mix. To be creative, you need to move away from the status quo and focus your mind on something new.

  • Determine what you want to do

This includes such things as taking time to understand a problem before beginning to try to resolve it, getting all the facts in mind, and trying to identify the most important facts.

  • Look for ways to tackle the problem

This can be accomplished by setting aside a block of time to focus on it; working out a plan for attacking it; establishing sub goals; imagining or actually using analogies wherever possible (for example, could you approach your problem like a fish out of water and look at what the fish does to cope?) or can you use the things you have to do to find your way when it’s foggy to help you solve your problem?; using different problem-solving strategies such as verbal, visual, mathematical, theatrical (for instance, you might draw a diagram of the decision of problem to help you visualize it better or you might talk to yourself out loud about the problem, telling it as you would tell a story to someone); trusting your intuition; and playing with possible ideas and approaches (for example, look at your problem from a different perspective or ask yourself what someone else, like your grandmother might do if faced with the same situation).

  • Look for ways to do things better

This may involve trying consciously to be original, not worrying about looking foolish, eliminating cultural taboos (like gender stereotypes) that might influence your possible solutions, keeping an open mind, being alert to odd or puzzling facts, thinking of unconventional ways to use objects and the environment (for instance, thinking about how you could use newspaper or magazine headlines to help you be a better problem solver), discarding usual or habitual ways of doing things, and striving for objectivity by being as critical of your own ideas as you would those of someone else.

  • Find several right answers

Being creative means continuing to look for other solutions even when you think you have solve the problem. A better, more creative solution just might be found.

  • Believe in finding a workable solution

Like believing in yourself, you also need to believe in your ideas. If you don’t think you can find a solution, you probably won’t.

  • Brainstorm with others

Creativity is not an isolated activity. Bouncing ideas off of others creates a synergistic effect.

  • Turn creative ideas into action

Coming up with creative ideas is only part of the process. Once the ideas are generated, they must be implemented. Keeping great ideas in your mind, or on papers that no one will read, does little to expand your creative abilities.

Skill no. 19: Setting goals

Employees should have a clear understanding of what they are attempting to accomplish. In addition, managers have the responsibility for seeing that this is done by helping employees set work goals. Setting goals is a skill every managers need to develop.

You can be more effective at setting goals if you use the following eight suggestions.

  • Identify an employee’s key job tasks

Goal setting begins by defining what it is that you want your employees to accomplish. The best source for this information is each employee’s job description.

  • Establish specific and challenging goals for each key task

Identify the level of performance expected of each employee. Specify the target toward which the employee is working.

  • Specify the deadlines for each goal

Putting deadlines on each goal reduces ambiguity. Deadlines, however, should not be set arbitrarily. Rather, they need to be realistic given the tasks to be completed.

  • Allow the employee to actively participate

When employees participate in goal setting, they’re more likely to accept the goals. However, it must perceive that you are truly seeking their input, not just going through the motions.

  • Prioritize goals

When you give someone more than one goal, it’s important for you to rank the goals in order of importance. The purpose of prioritizing is to encourage the employee to take action and expend effort on each goal in proportion to its importance.

  • Rate goals for difficulty and importance

Goal setting should not encourage people to choose easy goals. Instead, goals should be rated for their difficulty and importance. When goals are rated, individuals can be given credit for trying difficult goals, even if they don’t fully achieve them.

  • Build on feedback mechanisms to assess goal progress

Feedback lets employees know whether their level of effort is sufficient to attain the goal. Feedback should be both self-generated and supervisor generated. In either case, feedback should be frequent and recurring.

  • Link rewards to goal attainment

It’s natural for employees to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Linking rewards to the achievement of goals will help answer that question.

Skill no. 18: Scanning the environment

Anticipating and interpreting changes that are taking place in the environment is an important skill that managers need. Information that comes from scanning the environment can be used in making decisions and taking actions. And manager at all levels of an organization need to know how to scan the environment for important information and trends.

You can be more effective at scanning the environment if you use the following suggestions.

  • Decide which type of environmental information is important to your work

Perhaps you need to know changes in customers’ needs and desires or perhaps you need to know what your competitors are doing. Once you know the type of information that you’d like to have, you can look at the best ways to get that information.

  • Regularly read and monitor pertinent information

There is no scarcity of information to scan, but what you need to do is read those information sources that are pertinent. How do you know information sources are pertinent? They’re pertinent if they provide you with the information that you identified as important.

  • Incorporate the information that you get from your environmental scanning into your decisions and actions

Unless you use the information you’re getting, you’re wasting your time getting it. Also, the more that you find you’re using information from environmental scanning, the more likely it is that you’ll want to continue to invest time and other resources into gathering it. You’ll see that this information is important to your being able to manage effectively and efficiently.

  • Regularly review your environmental scanning activities

If you find that you’re spending too much time getting non useful information of if you’re not using the pertinent information that you’ve gathered, you need to make some adjustments.

  • Encourage your subordinates to be alert to information that is important

Your employees can be your “eyes and ears” as well. Emphasize to them the importance of gathering and sharing information that may affect your work unit’s performance.

Skill no. 17: Reading an Organization’s culture

The ability to read an organization’s culture can be a valuable skill. For instance, if you’re looking for a job, you’ll want to choose an employer whose culture is compatible with your values and in which you’ll feel comfortable. If you can accurately assess a potential employer’s culture before you make your job decision, you may be able to save yourself a lot of anxiety and reduce the likelihood of making a poor choice. Similarly, you’ll undoubtedly have business transactions with numerous organizations during your professional career, such as selling a product or service, negotiating a contract, arranging a joint work project, or merely seeking out who controls certain decisions in an organization. The ability to assess another organization’s culture can be a definite plus in successfully performing these pursuits.

You can be more effective at reading an organization’s culture if you use the following behaviors. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to look at this skill from the perspective of a job applicant. We’ll assume that you’re interviewing for a job, although these skills can be generalized to many situations. Here’s a list of things you can do to help learn about an organization’s culture.

  • Observe the physical surroundings

Pay attention to signs, posters, pictures, photos, style of dress, and length of hair, degree of openness between offices, and office furnishings and arrangements.

  • Make note of those with whom you met

Was it the person who would be your immediate supervisor? Or did you meet with potential colleagues, managers from other departments, or senior executives? Based on what they revealed, to what degree do people interact with others who may not be in their particular work area or at their particular organizational level?

  • How would you characterize the style of people you met?

Are they formal? Casual? Serious? Laid-back? Open? Not willing to provide information?

  • Look at the organization’s human resource manual

Are formal rules and regulations printed there? If so, how detailed are these policies?

  • Ask questions of the people with whom you meet

The most valid and reliable information tends to come from asking the same questions of many people (to see how closely their responses align) and by talking with individuals whose jobs link them to the outside environment. Questions that will give you insights into organizational processes and practices might include: What is the background of the founders? What is the background of current senior managers? What are their functional specialties? Were they promoted from within or hired from outside? How does the organization integrate new employees? Is there a formal orientation program? Are there formal employee training programs? How does your boss define his or her job success? How would you define fairness in terms of reward allocations? Can you identify some people here who are on the “fast track”? What do you think has put them on the fast track? Can you describe a decision that someone made that was well received? Can you describe a decision that didn’t work out well? What were the consequences for the decision maker? Could you describe a crisis or critical event that has occurred recently in the organization? How did top management respond? What was learned from the experience?

Skill no. 16: Providing feedback

Ask a manager about the feedback he or she gives employees and you’re likely to get an answer followed by a qualifier! If the feedback is positive, it’s likely to be given promptly and enthusiastically. However, negative feedback is often treated very differently. Like most of us, managers don’t particularly enjoy communicating bad news. They fear offending the other person or having to deal with the recipient’s defensiveness. The result is that negative feedback is often avoided, delayed and substantially distorted. However, it is important for managers to provide both positive and negative feedback.

You can be more effective at providing feedback if you use the following six specific suggestions:

  • Focus on specific behaviors

Feedback should be specific rather than general. Avoid such statements as “you have a bad attitude” or “I am really impressed with the good job you did”. They’re vague and although they provide information, they don’t tell the recipient enough to correct the “bad attitude” or on what basis you concluded that a “good job” had been done so the person knows what behaviors to repeat or to avoid.

  • Keep feedback impersonal

Feedback, particularly the negative kind, should be descriptive rather than judgmental or evaluative. No matter how upset you are, keep the feedback focused on job-related behaviors and never criticize someone personally because of an inappropriate action.

  • Keep feedback goal oriented

Feedback should not be given primarily to “unload” on another person. If you have to say something negative, make sure it’s directed toward the recipient’s goals. Ask yourself whom the feedback is supposed to help. If the answer is you, bite your tongue and hold the comment. Such feedback undermines your credibility and lessens the meaning and influence of future feedback.

  • Make feedback well timed

Feedback is most meaningful to a recipient when there’s a very short interval between his or her behavior and the receipt of feedback about that behavior. Moreover, if you’re particularly concerned with changing behavior, delays in providing feedback on the undesirable action lessens the likelihood that the feedback will be effective in bringing about the desired change. Of course, making feedback prompt merely for the sake of promptness can backfire if you have insufficient information, if you’re angry, or if you’re otherwise emotionally upset. In such instance, “well timed” could mean “somewhat delayed.”

  • Ensure understanding

Make sure your feedback is concise and complete so that the recipient clearly and fully understands your communication. It may help to have the recipient rephrase the content of your feedback to find out whether or not it fully captured the meaning you intended.

  • Direct negative feedback toward behavior that the recipient can control

There’s little value in reminding a person of some shortcoming over which s/he has no control. Negative feedback should be directed at behavior that can do something about. In addition, when negative feedback is given concerning something that the recipient can control, it might be a good idea to indicate specifically what can be done to improve the situation.

Skill no. 15: Negotiating

Negotiating is another interpersonal skill that managers use. For instance, they may have to negotiate salaries for incoming employees, negotiate for resources from their managers, work out differences with associates, or resolve conflicts with subordinates. Negotiation is a process of bargaining in which two or more parties who have different preferences must make joint decisions and come to an agreement.

You can be more effective at negotiating if you use the following six recommended behaviors:

Research the individual with whom you will be negotiating

Acquire as much information as you can about the person with whom you’ll be negotiating. What are this individual’s interests and goals? Understanding this person’s position will help you to better understand his or her behavior, predict his or her responses to your offers, and frame solutions in terms of his or her interests.

Begin with a positive overture

Research shows that concessions tend to be reciprocated and lead to agreements. Therefore, begin bargaining with a positive overture and then reciprocate the other party’s concessions.

Address problems, not personalities

Concentrate on the negotiation issues, not on the personal characteristics of the individual with who you’re negotiating. When negotiations get tough, avoid tendency to attack this person. Remember it’s that person’s ideas or position that you disagree with, not him or her personally.

Pay little attention to initial offers

Treat an initial offer as merely a point of departure. Everyone must have an initial position. Such positions tend to be extreme and idealistic. Treat them as such.

Emphasize win-win solutions

If conditions are supportive, look for an integrative solution. Frame options in terms of the other party’s interests and look for solutions that can allow this person, as well as yourself, to declare a victory.

Create an open and trusting climate

Skilled negotiators are better listeners, ask more questions, focus their arguments more directly, are less defensive, and have learned to avoid words or phrases that can irritate the person with whom they’re negotiating (such as “generous offer,” “fair price,” or “reasonable arrangement”). In other words, they are better at creating the open and trusting climate that is necessary for reaching a win-win settlement.