Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

If you want your company to be more innovative 4: accommodating and thriving on cultural diversity

Posted in HR and personnel, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on July 16, 2013

Improving a business as a competitive enterprise, and making it more effectively communicative and collaboratively innovative, can be as simple as providing employees with a place where they can come together and talk. My goal for this series is to at least briefly outline an approach for facilitating conversation and the sharing of ideas and for collaboration in a business, as an enabler of innovative excellence (see HR and Personnel, postings 165 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.)

• I began this discussion focusing on the needs and opportunities for developing collaboration opportunities in a single-location bricks and mortar enterprise (see Part 1 and Part 2.)
• I expanded that to include communications and collaboration-enabling commons for businesses that span multiple organizations and even multiple time zones in Part 3.
• And I continue that here, where I add in the sometimes confounding factors of cultural and related diversity.

As I have been noting up to here, this series is not about the specific technologies or organizational protocols and processes that would be set up in building and maintaining an open communications commons. I simply cite my earlier postings in this series for references to those discussions that I have already been adding to this blog. My goal for this series is to pursue a much more Human Resources and interpersonal approach in elucidating these issues. And I continue that here by invoking an all-too-often actively pursued alternative to the open commons, and one that is in many ways its antithesis: rigidly adhered to and enforced corporate conformity.

This can come as a mandate from the top, and in that regard I note by way of example, the famous (infamous?) way that H. Ross Perot required absolute conformity to his dress code, office deportment and everything else from his employees – all of them and even his more senior executive level officers and members of his more creative teams. I even remember being told by a colleague who had worked with him that if an officer of the company came in on his own time on a weekend without a tie they risked being fired on the spot if Perot found them. That type of enforced conformity and its attendant mind-set do not exactly encourage open communications or risk-accepting innovation.

This type of rigidity can also develop as a result of peer pressure from an overly constraining corporate culture, and in effect come from lower on the table of organization, from its more tenured members and flow upwards from there. Either way, the overall results are the same.

• Conformity and uniformity and even in their more rigid forms can seem a safe approach to risk management and quality control, but innovation comes from recognizing alternatives and seeing around, past and through basic assumptions that can become blinders if simply taken for granted.
• When I write of the open communications commons, I write about giving everyone in the organization an opportunity, and one that they are encouraged to use, where they can meet with others who have different views and perspectives, and openly talk.
• Opening up a single bricks and mortar office can help facilitate this, where employees can meet with interested colleagues who are not too close to their particular challenges and who can see them with fresh eyes.
• Opening up the conversation to more distantly sourced voices, whether from more distant offices within a country and culture or even from different cultural perspectives, can facilitate spotting, and thinking through and around, the automatic assumptions that blind us all to our fullest innovative potential.
• And I add that the wider a conversational net is thrown, the wider the ranges of skills and experiences that can be brought in, that might directly inform that new innovative solution to a problem or offer value for capturing an emerging opportunity.

When I write of distance-connection open communications as in Part 3, I could easily write about time zone differences and of schedules that never seem to get in synch, and certainly for any real-time conversations. Here, I could just as easily cite opportunities for intercultural faux pas and the barriers that they can create.

• Technology can help provide communications channels.
• Openness and tolerance of differences and of diversity – and yes sometimes a sense of humor can help make those channels work.
• And that means developing and instilling an open communications-ready and an openly accepting corporate culture. Rigid dress codes and the strictures of politically correct rigidity as an unquestioned if elusive standard do not support this. Respect does not and cannot grow out of fear of somehow “getting it wrong.”

And with that I come to the crux of this posting and of this series.

• Employees still work together in close physical proximity and for most businesses that will continue.
• But we also find ourselves increasingly working together through online channels and at a physical distance from each other – even if the opposite sides of the earth can be as if right next to each other in cyberspace.
• And we increasingly work together across national boundaries and across the boundaries that have traditionally divided us culturally too.

So I am not writing here of a luxury, or of a best practice that would set some certain few businesses apart. I am writing here of what is rapidly becoming a mainstream business necessity, and for all businesses and in all industries. And with the increasingly ubiquitous power of supply chains and the shared value that they create, and at all connectivity levels and for all involved businesses, this even increasingly applies to businesses that are and will remain physically sited in one bricks and mortar building and within one set of connected rooms within that.

I am going to continue this in a next series installment where I will discuss all of this narrative in a very specific perspective: in terms of an increasingly commonly invoked complex measure: the triple bottom line with its economic, environmental and social metrics. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and Social Networking and Business.

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