Challenging Business-As-Usual With Cognitive Diversity

Challenging Business-As-Usual With Cognitive Diversity

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

It’s a typical day in the office for Melissa – a senior executive of a family-owned manufacturing business in the health sector grappling with a rapidly changing business climate in Singapore. Melissa’s economic forecast is looking stormy. Increasing trade protectionism and political unrest is creating upheaval in her supply chains across the region. The profile and needs of export customers that Melissa’s executive team serviced five or ten years ago, are completely different from who she must sell to now. Learning how to chart a new course away from the strong current of her company’s tried and tested strategies and processes is a struggle. 

In the good old days, Melissa succeeded by aligning all team members to work in concert, applying long hours and pure grit. Everyone under her command followed her marching orders  – penalties were heavy when team members stepped out of line. Nowadays, productivity from the old way of doing things is yielding increasingly diminishing returns, anxiety is rising among her board of directors who call for new ideas from her loyal team – but none are forthcoming.

In a search of answers, Melissa sees how diversity has become the poster child of business media; a cure-all solution that magically delivers high performing teams with better problem solving capabilities than non-diverse teams. But in the discerning eyes of Melissa, diversity in Singapore is nothing new. Her home city is one of the most diverse in the region, where all ages, races and genders have been welcome to work side by side for generations. She views her rise to the top as an example of diversity in action in Singapore.

Things changed when Melissa came across research from Harvard Business Review that revealed the problem solving business potential of diversity as more than skin deep. The research found diversity of thought and perspective – also known as cognitive diversity – to be the secret sauce that drives teams towards high performance and innovation. Put simply, by bringing together different ways of processing and explaining the world into a team, novel approaches for solving complex problems have a better chance of arising.

For a leader who is accustomed to team culture where everyone tows the line, the prospect of inviting conflicting and opposing views makes her feel uneasy. Melissa worries how work will get done in a team without order where people are constantly arguing and no one sees eye to eye. Moreover, she doubts that her team members will rise to the challenge. It is uncustomary for her employees to challenge the authority of their boss for fear of being sacked.

However, unprecedented disruptions in the market and mounting pressure from her bosses compels Melissa to try something new; because conducting business as usual will only yield more of the same dwindling results.

Armed with further research, she prepares to make three changes in the way her team operates:

  • Create safe space for constructive disagreement and innovation: Inviting constructive debate in meetings and encouraging different modes of thinking are key ingredients that will help Melissa make team members feel psychologically safe to take risks in the face of complex problems. By establishing a culture where thinking and doing things differently is founded on mutual respect Melissa believes her team will feel more confident when working outside of their comfort zone.
  • Seek out creative and strategic partnerships: Melissa believes that seeking out partnerships with organisations from industries outside of her own will augment the perspectives and capabilities of her team. For example by forging an alliance between her company, experts in building retail experiences, machine learning and communities of patients Melissa will gain knowledge and open previously untapped opportunities. 
  • Recruit for diversity of thought: Hiring talent from the same alma-mater or pedigree of professional experience may feel like a safe bet. But doing so risks producing more of the status quo at her company and further entrenches prevailing bias in the organisation’s processes. By carefully curating pipelines of talent from diverse backgrounds who are aligned on core values Melissa will ensure that different capabilities, experiences and ways of thinking are brought to the table. Her company will thereafter be in a better position to solve for the blind spots in complex problems. 

To be sure, Melissa is keenly aware that speed and efficiency are often traded off when encouraging diverging perspectives – discussions and debate costs time. That said, by taking a long view, Melissa recognises that unchecked bias and blind spots pose a greater risks to company downstream. Thus time for robust, critical analysis is ultimately time spent wisely. 

In closing, business researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis waxed that “when everyone agrees on what to do, find someone who disagrees and cherish them.” Such elegant wisdom galvanised Melissa’s confidence to navigate through turbulent and uncharted waters in search of new and un-imagined opportunities. 

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Diversity Through Your Employees

Celebrate Diversity Through Your Employees

By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting

Celebrating diversity in the workplace is nothing new in Singapore and other parts of Asia.

An example lies in a tradition that many Singapore companies observe during lunar new year festivities. Imagine hordes of company employees crowding around a round dining table reciting chinese proverbs in loud chorus calling for prosperity for the company. As the chorus continues each participant wield chopsticks in unison to toss a delicious salad of shredded fish and assorted vegetables through the air. Each colourful ingredient in the salad is symbolic of luck in Chinese culture.

The scene is that of a yusheng or lo hei – an annual tradition for family and friends that Singapore companies have also borrowed. As with Lunar New Year, Singapore offices are also abuzz with festivities during Christmas, Hari Raya and Deepavali in acknowledgment of the diversity that thrives within the country. Everyone is invited to participate, regardless of differences in cultural background. 

Human history and our personal experiences have taught us that celebrating together deepens engagement between peers, builds a sense of belonging and raises awareness about the variety of cultures from which people hail. 

In recent years shifts in culture and the proliferation of personal stories shared on social media, business leaders are awakening to the true breadth of diversity that exists in the modern workplace. Consequently, people managers in Asia are increasingly faced with uncomfortable questions from staff about why certain groups are celebrated while other groups are ignored. 

To solve this problem some larger companies encourage employees to form affinity groups as a means to build trust, forge stronger ties and nurture a sense of belonging. The formation of such groups are particularly helpful for women, seniors, people with disabilities, LGBTQ and other traditionally underrepresented segments in the workplace. 

Celebrating diversity of underrepresented groups sometimes makes business leaders in Asia feel nervous. The risk of upsetting workplace harmony is reportedly one concern that prevents many business managers from fully embracing diversity. 

That said, the workforce of the future is forecast to be the most diverse in history. Learning how to tap into the value of increased workforce diversification is the key to success for any 21st century company and according to research from the World Economic Forum, companies must embrace diversity NOW.

How can the modern corporate leader in Asia do more to celebrate diversity while delivering direct business outcomes for the company? There are three opportunities for business leaders to consider:

  • Nurture employee groups to become pipelines of leadership: Employee groups or networks are often formed around special affinities like hobbies, shared life experiences or cultural backgrounds. These groups help build a sense of belonging, especially for new recruits adjusting to the workplace culture. But employee groups have the potential to be more than mere platforms for employees to socialise.

For example, DELL, the computer manufacturer has shown how a structured approach to employee groups can create a pipeline for emerging leaders in the company by providing members with professional development outcomes. Participation in employee groups is known to be one key factor that guides Dell’s leaders when they anoint rising stars in the company. 

Well structured employee groups ultimately deliver business value by deepening employee engagement, increasing talent retention and reducing costs associated with staff attrition.

  • Refresh your niche marketing campaigns to reflect the modern consumer: Astute business leaders ensure that their workforce reflects the diversity of their customers and opens new market opportunities. Consider how leveraging insights among your diverse workforce can help to deepen customer success stories and increase the reach of your brand.

For example, to mark its 70th anniversary, Poh Heng the Singapore jewelry company revealed a public photography exhibition in the Orchard Road shopping district. The exhibition presented a diverse array of couples across ages, ethnicity, sexual orientation as a celebration of “journey of trust” that the brand has come to epitomise. Poh Heng’s campaign resulted in significant organic social media engagement – that would otherwise cost a fortune in terms of marketing spend – while reinforcing the company’s core values.

Engaging your diverse workforce to reflect the true diversity of your customers helps your company build loyalty, address unmet consumer demand and leverage word of mouth.

  • Tapping the power of allyship through corporate giving: Giving back to the community is a core tenet of good corporate citizenship. Corporate giving efforts have historically been decided by the interests of founders and directors. Nowadays some companies are inviting greater participation of employees in corporate giving decisions that encompass donations of cash and time. Some corporate giving programs are designed to encourage allyship between employees and disadvantaged groups in the community. 

For example, companies are increasingly implementing gift matching programs where employee donations are matched by the company and employees can nominate non-profit to be part of the program. Allyship programs are powerful channels that help bridge the divide between different groups. For example male employees mobilised to support emerging female business leaders or straight allies mobilised to help LGBT organisations.

Employee driven corporate giving plus allyship initiatives unite a company behind a strong sense of purpose that brings more meaning to daily work. Nurturing allyship among team members is essential for diverse teams to build empathy, find common ground and ultimately leads to productivity gains for the team.

To be sure, some executives say that the workplace is not a place to celebrate diversity and argue that conformity and homogeneity in teams is more efficient, while celebrating diversity leads to chaos. While it is true that diverse teams must grapple more with instances of conflict than homogenous team. But if constructive conflict is managed effectively, business research shows that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams in terms of innovation and problem-solving

In closing, celebrating diversity is part of the recipe for successful teams in Asia. Business leaders who create workplaces that enable diverse perspectives to be celebrated while uniting teams behind a common purpose stand the best chance of delivering winning outcomes for their company.

Follow Catalyse Consulting and stay informed with news and resources tailored to help organisational leaders in Asia cultivate an inclusive, high-performing environment.

Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.

How Your Startup Can Promote Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership

How Your Startup Can Promote Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership

Diverse Hiring and Inclusive Leadership Is How Startups Thrive

The biggest challenge for any startup founder is to achieve high productivity from a lean team with a tight budget. Shortages in local talent and stiff competition from larger employers are major obstacles that startups in Singapore must overcome in order to succeed. Many local startup founders already hire diverse talent only to struggle with integrating teams of different capabilities, genders, ages and cultural backgrounds.

Come, join Roslina Chai and Laurindo Garcia from Catalyse Consulting for a panel discussion with Beverly Dolor from WeWork on 20th August, 2019. At this discussion, founders and hiring managers will be able to:

  • Learn how inclusive recruitment practices can help startups gain the competitive edge in the Singapore talent market.
  • Gain tips on nurturing an inclusive workplace culture that enables diverse teams to become high performing teams.
  • Hear case studies of Singapore startups who have led successfully through inclusion.

Roslina and Laurindo are both serial entrepreneurs with a background in tech startups in Asia. Catalyse Consulting is a proud member of the WeWork Community.

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Copyright © 2019 Catalyse Consulting. All rights reserved.