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6 Managing Complexity

Thomas, R. Roosevelt Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

This chapter places front and center a capability that is inherent in each of the diversity management strategies—that of managing complexity. To effectively implement any of the strategies, CEOs must acknowledge and accept that there will be surrounding complexities, and be ready to address them.

The chapter has three objectives: (1) to examine the relationship between complexity and diversity, (2) to explore the notion that many complexities can be restated as diversity mixtures, and (3) to argue that SDMP can be used to address these mixtures. These three objectives serve the broader one of preparing the reader for the realities of diversity and complexity.

This preparation is important because a symbiotic relationship exists between the two: Where you have diversity, you have complexity; and where you have complexity, you have diversity. Are the two concepts the same? They are not. But because diversity generates complexity, they are found in the same neighborhood.

I first affirmed this when a client requested an introductory, three-week seminar on diversity for managers from around the world. There was, he said, only one critical proviso—I could not use the word diversity. The client believed the word did not work outside of the United States. Although I knew from personal experience that diversity—as defined by me—worked perfectly well across nations, I did not argue the point; instead, I asked if we could replace it with complexity. The client agreed to that substitution.

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5 Strategic Diversity Management Process

Thomas, R. Roosevelt Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

After CEOs have recognized the Four Quadrants and determined that their core diversity management strategies might have utility, additional questions surface: “Are all strategies equally valued?” “Or is one more valued than another?” “How do we get our arms around the Four Quadrants?” “Where do we start?” “How do we actualize the core strategies?” “Are we, perhaps, overcomplicating matters?”

CEOs with these questions will find the Strategic Diversity Management Process (SDMP) to be invaluable. This process can both provide a lens through which these issues can be addressed, and help to implement the quadrants’ core diversity management strategic prescriptions. To highlight the actualization role of the SDMP, I briefly review below what I have said about the four diversity management strategies.

I contended earlier that diversity management in the United States around race, ethnicity, and gender is evolving from three workforce-specific strategies: Managing Workforce Representation, Managing Workforce Relationships, and Managing Diverse Talent. Over the years, additional workforce dimensions have emerged. These include sexual orientation, age, geographic origin, physical ability, religion and national origin, class, education, and others.

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2 Managing Workforce Relationships

Thomas, R. Roosevelt Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

CEOs activated the Managing Workforce Relationships strategy in the 1960s shortly after initiating the strategy of Managing Workforce Representation. In doing that, they sought to address the diversity problems of helping a pluralistic group of employees “get along” and fostering relationships conducive to efficiency and effectiveness. Attempts to mainstream African Americans quickly brought CEOs once again face to face with the complexity of diversity—this time, with respect to relationships. Corporate executives soon determined that they could not bring African Americans and Caucasians together and expect that productive relationships would naturally evolve.

Among the complexities in play were (1) the legacy of slavery and oppression, (2) a history of acrimonious relationships between the two races even after slavery, (3) a history of Caucasians as the dominant group, (4) a history of African Americans as the subordinate group, (5) and the legacy of recent hostilities related to the civil rights movement.

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3 Managing Diverse Talent

Thomas, R. Roosevelt Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The Managing Diverse Talent Quadrant emerged when the earlier two strategies did not resolve a seemingly intractable problem. As CEOs made progress with creating a representative work-force and promoting productive relationships, they struggled with the persistent and ongoing challenge of retaining nontraditional workers. They concluded in the mid-1980s that part of the problem was their inability to fully utilize the capabilities of African Americans. Recruiting them and accepting, respecting, and valuing their differences had not led to full utilization of their talent and to their retention. The revolving doors, glass ceilings, and premature plateaus continued. So management began to embrace this strategy in hopes of enhancing utilization and thereby, retention of African Americans. Later, this strategy was extended to women and other minorities. However, as in previous chapters, from an evolutionary perspective, I will focus on the situation vis-à-vis African Americans.

In attempting to address the diversity problem, CEOs again encountered the complexity of diversity—this time with respect to fully utilizing the talent of all organizational employees. In the mid-1980s, a prevailing managerial philosophy was that “the cream would rise to the top.” But CEOs found that this relatively uncomplicated approach to people development was not working: The cream of African Americans in particular was not rising to the top. Complexities engulfed this diversity problem. A few are mentioned below:

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4 Managing All Strategic Diversity Mixtures

Thomas, R. Roosevelt Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Quadrant 4, Managing All Strategic Diversity Mixtures, is less well known than the earlier quadrants. But it is not unknown. CEOs and other organizational leaders who define workforce diversity as “the differences and similarities that can exist among the elements of a workforce mixture” are increasingly aware of and beginning to gravitate toward this quadrant. As a rule, they do so gradually.

Having begun to view workforce diversity with a broader perspective, CEOs and other organizational leaders start to think about non-workforce differences and similarities that may be hampering productivity. Once they do, many of these executives come to believe that organizations must address more than workforce diversity. They see more clearly that an infinite number of diversity mixtures exist and, in one form or another, demand daily attention. They begin to view this quadrant as the “universal strategy.”

A key attraction of a diversity strategy that can manage non-workforce issues is that these issues frequently relate to challenges that unquestionably are critical to the bottom line: achieving functional synergy, implementing an acquisition or merger, managing a product portfolio, fostering innovations, promoting effective field and headquarters relationships, and coordinating global expansion. Because many senior executives see their personal stock as leaders rise and fall on how such issues turn out, such a strategy possesses face validity as something they can legitimately sink their teeth into.

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