Diversity and high performance

<a href="http://www.ie.edu/eng/sobreie/sobreie_expertos_detalle.asp?id_exp=342">Celia de Anca.</a> Director. Centre for Diversity. IE Business School

7 September 2007

A few days ago, at a summer course in El Escorial, we discussed the equation of diversity and high-performance, posing the need for bidirectional dialogue between company and employee for the proposed equation to have a positive effect.

Diversity has always been part of business, although it must be said that the traditional form of management, which sought efficiency over everything else, rewarded consistency. The entry of people who were different was not prevented, as long as they left their differences behind and adapted to the rules of the game.

And the model worked; and it worked well for many years, but after the 1980s, significant changes in the business environment (including globalisation, technological changes and new social values) made it increasingly difficult to maintain the apparent consistency of the organisation. Personal matters were no longer left at home and a growing number of individuals demanded the possibility of being themselves, even though they were different (besides the fact that it was becoming more and more difficult to define what different was).

Many enterprises took up the challenge and found diversity management to be an opportunity rather than a problem. The battle for talent became evident during the last decade, as well as the idea that talent is found in the most varied of social groups (women, men, young people, the disabled, cultural minorities) and in order to attract it, enterprises compete by offering not only the best salary, but also the best conditions for employees to develop their potential. Consequently, management tools are designed to suit different needs, including tele-working, flexible working hours, training programmes, mentoring, coaching and climate surveys.

The initial equation has a second part: the high performance that employees in a flexible, adapted environment are capable of providing. However, no company can force anyone to give their best. We often see how the talent of brilliant employees is used not so much in their daily work but rather in other activities outside the office. Therefore, the challenge facing enterprise lies in attracting not only a talented individual, but also in that individual valuing the efforts made by the enterprise and giving his or her best in exchange. If this is not the case, the enterprise´s efforts in flexibility and diversity management will be pointless.

There is also an added difficulty in the enterprise´s dialogue with the employee, the form of which changes as it passes through each generation. Those of us who belong to the so-called X generation, characterised by competition at work, effort and work that is almost addictive, look upon policies that sound good with a certain scepticism, since we find it hard to believe that they can work in an environment characterised by unprecedented competition. We find it hard to understand that flexibility does not mean working less, but working in a different way, that the enterprise may sometimes ask us for 120% and, other times, we may ask the enterprise for time to deal with various personal circumstances, such as bringing up children or attending training we consider to be vital. But these same policies, which some of us look upon as unattainable dreams, are almost definitely not enough for those who belong to the so-called Y generation, who clearly see that their personal lives are not going to be left behind.

The challenge facing enterprise therefore lies in finding talented individuals and motivating them to apply their talent at work. Furthermore, the challenge of an increasing number of employees, especially the younger element, will be to find motivation in a job that takes up much of their time without reserving the best of their capacity for when their working day comes to a close. The challenge corresponds to everyone, but the business organisation that is successful in this interactive and constructive dialogue with its staff will undoubtedly be the one that can overcome the challenges we face in this new and complicated century.

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