It’s all about synergy!
Synergy – the total
is greater than the sum of the parts.
The realities of the competitive pressures of a global marketplace
suggest that only those organizations that create and maintain
true synergy among its parts and among its employees can hope
to be successful.
Hypothesis: The total will not be greater than the sum of the
parts if all the parts are the same!
Imagine a group of employees who are all:
What is the total of the parts?
Suggestion: The kind of synergy required for sustained competitiveness
demands that there be differences among the parts of the organization
and its employees.
Every organization with whom I have worked has voiced loudly
and often, “we value differences!” Too often, however,
the demonstrated behavior says “why aren’t you more
like me?” When confronted with this perception of their
behavior, invariably one notes a very puzzled look or confusion.
is not a reality based upon what we say
everyone must avoid making statements and/using terms that are offensive
to people who are different that we are, However, truly valuing differences
is a reality based upon what we do
– the ways in which we demonstrate
that we respect the individual and really do appreciate the fact
that people within the organization are NOT all alike! (See Attitudes
If we are to behave in ways that demonstrate that we do, if fact,
honor and value differences we must learn to:
Learn about and optimize
the unique contributions inherent in each individual; and,
obstacles to inclusion and people feeling truly valued.
In other words, begin by accepting a suggested “fact of
life”: I am not better or more valuable - as
a human being - than any other person. No other person is better or more valuable - as a human being – than I am! We are just different – thankfully!
One of the biggest barriers to truly valuing differences, in my
experience, is the existence and influence of stereotypes.
Too often when we say, “we value differences” when what
we really mean is “why aren’t you just like me?” Such
a statement is based upon the stereotype one holds of another.
Perhaps to the best example of “stereotyping” occurs
in the movie, Pretty Woman. In one scene, Julia Roberts enters
a very fancy women’s wear boutique on Rodeo Drive in Hollywood
dressed in a mini-skirt, knee boots and a very revealing blouse.
The very pretentious female sales associate quickly suggests the “we
don’t have anything that would suit you in our shop” based
upon her judgement of the “type of person” Julia Roberts
Two days later, after Julia Roberts, after beginning a relationship
with her benefactor, re-enters the same shop “dressed to
the nines” in attire stereotypical of this elite shop’s
clientele. The sales associates quickly flock to her side to show
her all the outfits (very expensive ones to say they least) from
which Julia Roberts might choose.
Julia Roberts retorts, “Weren’t you the same person
who refused to wait on me two days ago? You work on commission
don’t you? Big mistake – BIG mistake!”
Another example of the cost of stereotyping is contained in a
legend surrounding Jimmy Ling (LTV founder). According to the legend,
Mr. Ling walked into a Neiman-Marcus store in Dallas dressed in
his faded jeans, muddy boots, washed out Western shirt and floppy
ten-gallon hat. When he approached the fine jewelry counter, the
sales person suggested that he go to Sears to get “the kind
of jewelry you can afford.”
As the story goes, Mr. Ling went directly to the offices of Neiman-Marcus;
called his comptroller and commanded that he purchase that store
regardless of cost. The day after the transaction was finalized,
Mr. Ling called the offending sales associate into, now his office,
and fired her after admonishing the entire sales staff of the ‘cost’ of
Mr. Ling then sold the store back to Neiman-Marcus after he had
made his point!
All of us have stereotypes of people who we believe are different
that we are - skin color, dress, stature, gender, accents, etc.
If we are to truly value differences we must become aware of the
stereotypes we hold of others, examine them and discard the behaviors
we demonstrate due to our stereotypes of others.
||What stereotypes might one hold of
this group of people?
|Or, these people?
||Or, these people?
Armed with an understanding and appreciation of stereotypes, we might
find it helpful to genuinely get to know those who appear differently
that we do. I have been amazed that, when we get past the apparent
differences and our stereotypes, we find how very much we have in
An exercise that many have found helpful.
A typical group of people who work together is usually composed
of very diverse people. Get this group together and lead a discussion:
What are the advantages and disadvantages
of a group composed entirely of left-handed (or right-handed) people?
are the advantages and disadvantages of a group composed
entirely of very tall (or very short) people?
the advantages and disadvantages of a group composed entirely
of people with highly technical (or non-technical) education
What are the advantages
and disadvantages of a group composed entirely of females (or
What are the advantages
and disadvantages of a group composed
entirely of Caucasians (or Afro-Americans or Hispanic-Americans)?
do the people within this group have in common? What are
the positive and negative effects of this
What are the differences among the people within this group? What are the positive and
negative effects of these
What have we learned from
this discussion about similarities and differences? What about
the level of synergy in each of the
seven questions asked above?
What specific behaviors can we
demonstrate that will maximize the advantages of differences
and minimize the disadvantages?
From this discussion, participants can develop
a set of expected behaviors
which, when demonstrated in day-to-day action, will become
a major step in truly valuing differences. However, it is not
EMERGING HYPOTHESIS: In my work with a very
large and diverse group of organizations, I have found that one
of the underlying
and major causes of “non-valuing of differences” is the inability of people to effectively deal with the inevitable conflict that arises in all human interactions. Too often, as they
become more and more frustrated, angry and impatient, people involved
in conflict will attribute the cause of the conflict to that which
is different about the person with whom they are in conflict.
“That’s just the way all men, women, engineers, __________(fill
in the blank) are! ”In other words, “we are in conflict
because you are ________(different than me)”; rather than, “we
are in conflict because of ( fill
in the blank ) behaviors!”
In a large Midwestern manufacturing, 750+
employee, organization comprised of the most diverse workforce
I have ever seen, faced
chronic problems with “diversity” issues. The management
and union leaders had done an excellent job in creating and implementing
the best policies, procedures and practices I have ever seen in
any organization. Yet, ‘not valuing differences’ issues
continued to plague the organization.
The general manager was very frustrated
with the situation and wanted to do something about whatever
was causing the ‘problem’.
In a very bold and, in my experience, unprecedented move, he asked
all employees to ‘get ahead’ on their respective work
schedules by four hours so that he could ‘take them to the
The employees responded within four weeks. A nearby movie theatre
was rented for each of the shifts so that ALL employees (salaried
and hourly alike) could view REMEMBER THE TITANS. The company paid
the wages and bought tickets, a soft drink and bag of popcorn for
Employees went to the movie in their natural work groups. Upon
completion of the movie, each work group was taken through the
questions cited above plus questions tied to significant events
in the movie.
The result -
a remarkable change has taken place throughout the entire organization.
of “diversity” and “not
valuing differences” have dramatically reduced to
the point that they are no longer an issue.
being addressed when it occurs – and
is a much smaller and easier issue to resolve.
Employees are dealing with ‘issues’ by
giving and receiving feedback in a constructive and, usually,
A detailed protocol has
been put in place for those few situations
that occur that are not satisfactorily resolved by
(See Giving and Receiving Feedback).