Diverse Benefits

Posted on Nov 2, 2012 | 4 Comments

In his memoir Adventures of a BystanderPeter Drucker made clear that diversity was a concept close to his heart.

For a good part of his life, Drucker had battled authoritarian tendencies toward conformity. “The totalitarian regimes in which everybody was to conform, to think, write and paint the same, to be centrally controlled—the Nazis called it ‘switched to the right track’ (gleichgeschaltet)—were but the head of a universal current,” Drucker wrote. “But every one of my books and essays . . . has stressed pluralism and diversity.”

Nowadays, the pendulum has swung, and “diversity” is celebrated, even if definitions of it differ. A case in point can be found in the latest McKinsey Quarterly, in which authors Thomas BartaMarkus Kleiner and Tilo Neumann share some research findings into the benefits of diversity based on a study of 180 companies in Europe and the United States. The authors focused on two groups that, they said, “can be measured objectively from company data: women and foreign nationals on senior teams (the latter being a proxy for cultural diversity).” And the findings were “startlingly consistent: For companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, ROEs (returns on equity) were 53% higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile.”

Drucker would have enthusiastically endorsed the notion that diversity pays. In fact, he wrote, “management must . . . become the instrument through which cultural diversity can be made to serve the common purposes of mankind.”

The trick for management, in Drucker’s eyes, is to resist conformity but stress unity. That means getting everyone behind the same goals and keeping them focused on the job at hand—rather than on people’s individual differences. In order “to provide the organization with the human diversity it needs,” Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive, relationships should be task-focused, not personality-focused.  “It is the only way to tolerate—indeed to encourage—differences in temperament and personality in an organization,” he explained.

Where Drucker drew the line was when diversity degenerated into tribalism, which threatened to displace unity of purpose. Precisely because we’re diverse, he advised, we must work harder to stay aligned. “In the United States, tribalism manifests itself in the growing emphasis on diversity rather than on unity,” Drucker warned in Post-Capitalist Society, saying that such a mindset “saps that nation-state’s integrating power.”

What sort of diversity in staffing do you think most benefits—or least benefits—an organization?


4 Comments

  1. Mike Grayson
    November 3, 2012

    Peter said, “People decisions are the ultimate – perhaps the only – control of an organization. People determine the performance capacity of an organization. No organization can do better than the people it has.”

    He encouraged having a systematic process in place to research and test the applicants thoroughly.

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  2. Alba Patricia Valencia
    November 4, 2012

    Diversity is a wealth because it point at abundance of different things that coexist in a particular context. In staffing the most important are patience, persistence, perseverance and constancy.

    La diversidad es una riqueza porque señala la abundancia de cosas distintas que conviven en un contexto particular. En el cuerpo de la organización los más importantes son: paciencia, persistencia, perseverancia y constancia.

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  3. Michael Felberbaum
    November 5, 2012

    The balance between diversity and unity is what I take to be Drucker’s main point. It’s not diversity for diversity sake, which may lead to tribalism, and it’s not unity for unity’s sake, which may lead to groupthink. I like to see it as a very wise and simple notion that people really are different and that different ways of interpreting the world can lead to outstanding insights and results, provided there is a common sense of purpose. However, I don’t think exclusive task-orientation without discussion of personalities is enough. There is some need to talk about how people think and make decisions and perhaps even some more formal team-building work in order to bridge gaps. Discussions of personal attitudes, beliefs, etc. even in organizations where good, well-intentioned, competent people all get along can be productive. Good people may be on very different wavelengths when it comes to how to communicate effectively. The good news about this, though, is that on a basic human level, when a culture is inclusive, people talk open about their own styles and views, so it doesn’t have a be a big deal weeklong retreat or expensive “bring in the consultants” assignment.

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