By Vincent M. Cramer
The phone rang but I did not recognize the name or number. The caller introduced herself as Jennifer, a graduate student researching a project on diversity. Because she was frustrated in her research, she asked her brother, a college professor, for guidance. He suggested that she contact me and ask about déjà versity.
I asked Jennifer to tell me about her research frustration. "I have been researching the topic of diversity for a week and I have a stack of notes and articles about 3 inches high. I have no idea how I can complete my assignment. I generated only two pages from all that material." She felt that diversity trainers and thought-leaders were fundamentally saying the same thing. She could not see how to complete her project without being repetitious and redundant. It was then that I said, "You do not need me to tell you about déjà versity, you have already experienced it first hand." Déjà versity is diversity training that feels like déjà vu.
First, I directed her to a research study that I have not seen referenced by any diversity specialist. The Journal of Management, December 2003, contained the article, Recent Research on Team and Organizational Diversity: SWOT Analysis and Implications. Professors Susan E. Jackson, Aparna Joshi and Niclas L. Erhardt authored the article. Some thought-provoking statements dealt with Diversity Training:
"Diversity training has mushroomed in the past decade."
"If more research is conducted to understand how the design and context of diversity training influences program effectiveness, diversity training will eventually be as useful as it is popular."
"Training teams to manage and leverage their own diversity may prove more effective than training individuals."
Is Diversity Training Tangled in its Own Web?
Jennifer told me that she found a common thread woven through the diversity material that she read. She summarized that thread as, ‘People who learn to appreciate and value each other will work more effectively and accomplish something." She agreed with that premise, but her assignment was to determine how diversity directly impacts the corporate bottom-line.
In the corporate era that launched Diversity Programs, Quality Programs were also created. Over time, Quality Programs proved to be critical to corporate success. The benefits of quality are dramatic and certifiable, having an impact on revenue and profit, as well as operations, suppliers and customers. Diversity has not yet achieved that level of certifiable bottom-line impact, but it must…and it will!
What can corporations do to break the web of déjà versity? The answer lies in transposing the previous diversity mantra. It should read: "People who effectively work together and accomplish something will value and appreciate each other." Déjà versity ends when teams are empowered to collaboratively make decisions and solve problems. It is in collaborative decision-making that diversity is "as useful as it is popular." As the research report stated, "Training teams to manage and leverage their own diversity may prove more effective than training individuals."
Insights Are More Powerful Than Ideas
Workgroups that focus on generating ideas are inefficient and they limit the asset contribution of diversity. Insights have much greater value than ideas. We acquire insights [to have the capacity to discern the true nature of a situation] from the moment we are born, and we accumulate them throughout our lives. Who we are, and how we interact with the world, make our insights as unique as our individuality. Each of us experiences life as no other individual has, or can. If others experience the same event, under the same conditions and at the same time, each will come away with insights that are as unique as snowflakes. The beauty of insights is that we can share and transfer them as easily as we exchange currency. Insights have tangibility and a transferability that ideas do not.
Insights may appear to be synonymous with ideas, but they are not. An insight is the seed that gives life to an idea. Additionally, insights have greater value in a workgroup. You can transfer them to others by explaining how you acquired a particular insight. Equally important, insights have cumulative value in collaborative decision-making. Insights are not only transferable they are explainable. Insights are personal, but we can decouple our feelings from them. On the other hand, people tend to cherish their ideas as a component of their persona. So strong is our affinity for ideas, that an attack on an idea is considered a personal attack. Insights are not as delicate, nor as personal.
Active Diversity Management
The Journal of Management article states, "In conclusion, it seems likely that active diversity management will be required in order for organizations to realize the potential benefits locked up within their diverse work forces." It is not diversity that is managed; it is diversity’s asset potential that is managed. If diversity is to be recognized and managed as an asset, it must be utilized for maximum contribution and impact. The methods for "active diversity management" exist under the name Diversity Asset Management™.
Workgroups, having a clearly stated objective, can utilize Diversity Asset Management™ with dramatic and measurable impact. Utilizing insights instead of ideas makes the communication, collaboration and decision-making process a meritocracy that empowers all team members. Instead of generating ideas to determine What The Solution Is, teams utilize their Unlimited Cognitive Bandwidth to first determine Where The Solution Is. Each individual contributes the full spectrum of his and her insights that are applicable to the assignment.
If you feel that your diversity training may be stuck in the web of déjà versity, you should act now. Focus your diversity training on insights and collaborative decision-making in order to "realize the potential benefits locked up within (your) diverse work force."
Vincent M. Cramer is the author of Cramer's Cube. He is also the founder of Winchester Consulting Group, an Organizational Development and Training Company specializing in the principles of Cramer's Cube and its application to Leadership, Innovation and Diversity Asset Management™. http://www.cramerscube.com