IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
For maximum effectiveness, Diversity Program leaders need to recognize and understand where they are in their evolutionary process. Achieving the proper degree of diversity, referred to as Diversity Attainment, has no finish line because the dynamic changes in the world's diversity, mobility and communications will never end. Therefore, it makes sense that the optimum time to unleash the potential of the organization's diversity is now. But, on what do you unleash that power?
THE ROAD FROM FISCAL TO FAIRNESS AND BACK AGAIN
Historically, corporations have taken on many tasks that are peripheral to its core mission...
make money for the owners. If its philanthropy and generosity can coexist with the primary mission, it usually results in receiving the unofficial title of Good Corporate Citizen. Corporations with a high level of civic-mindedness are usually held in high esteem by all, but it could all come crashing down if the company fails in its capitalist mission. It is a tremendous challenge to create and sustain a company in robust economic times. It is nearly impossible today. Corporations have a large enough challenge trying to sustain growth, profits and market share while
increasing productivity and innovation. How can the corporate leaders be expected to be Good Corporate Citizens? Once they realize that their social and fiscal strategies can be joined they will be able to operate and invest with a focus on only one objective... fiscal success.
In much the same way that the early industrialists built housing and provided
health care for their workers, corporate leaders can invest in diversity programs for purely financial motives. The value to the individuals and the groups will be significant, but corporations can reach the same result if they simply focused on diversity's fiscal value to the corporation. Being socially fair and fiscally astute are not diametrically opposed. They are symbiotic.
From the Industrial Revolution to the Information Age, corporations made investments and acquisitions, which they deemed to be tactically and strategically important to the company's success. First the investments were focused on the manufacture of products as had been done in the mills and factories of the Northeast. It gave life to the mill towns that were located on the many rivers in the region. This model continues today, but the product-manufacturing model has been augmented by the knowledge and service based economy that we have today. Human capital has taken on a profoundly new meaning.
The bricks and mortar infrastructure of the manufacturing age was considered to be a major asset of the corporation as well as a competitive advantage and differentiator. Many economists have moved these assets to the liability side of the ledger. Since the end of the Cold War, it seems that everything has changed. Warfare is now based on adaptability, mobility and intelligence, having replaced the model based on size and strength. The paradigm shift for the military followed the lessons learned from what its leaders had seen taking place in the industrial sector. Instead of utilizing humans to optimize the function of machines, the two were reversed. Human capital is what will drive armies, agencies and economies in the millennial age.
THE DIFFERENTIATION PROCLAMATION
A corporation should accumulate assets that it feels have the greatest possibility of providing competitive advantage. It should then maximize the contribution of the assets and measure the results. This statement is so simple that it should be viewed as insulting to everyone's intelligence. But, it is relevant when the definition of an asset is not apparent. For example, prior to the popping of the Internet Bubble and the Telecom Implosion, companies considered "technology" to be a critical asset. This may still be the prevailing view, but I will guarantee that its critical significance has been tempered. In most cases, "technology" should be viewed in the same light as a machine that is used in the assembly process. Eventually, every corporate competitor will have one, so where will the competitive differentiation come from?
A corporation's greatest asset is not in the R&D lab or on the manufacturing floor. The asset is walking the halls, working in cubicles and collaborating in conference rooms. The asset valuation that can be applied is dependent on the talent, inspiration and diversity of the team. Since it is impossible to foresee the business challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, it is prudent for corporations to develop a team that possesses the best potential. In the criteria that we have established, diversity is of equal importance with talent and inspiration. As with the other two, diversity must be acquired, cultivated and applied. To ensure that it receives the focus and support it needs, commensurate with its potential for impact, it should be proclaimed as the greatest corporate asset. Treat it as such.
THE QUALITY AND DIVERSITY REPORT CARD
Twenty-five years ago the U. S. automakers faced their greatest challenge. Japanese car companies were introducing automobiles into the North American market that were stylish, inexpensive and highly reliable. It took many years for the Big Three to substantially respond to the challenge. Style and price could be addressed rather quickly, but raising quality to a competitive level required a total commitment to overhauling the way it does business. The same scenarios were taking place in the realm of consumer electronics, semiconductors and precision machine tools. The core differentiator to which domestic suppliers needed to respond was "quality".
Rather than documenting an already well-documented topic, it is practical to derive the pertinent lessons that are common to "quality" and "diversity". What began as a corporate capability, or incapability, evolved into a Quality Program, then a differentiator, evolving to a bottom-line contributor and finally becoming a critical corporate asset. Within one generation, we no longer need to look for quality in the goods we purchase. We expect all products to have quality. The definition of quality is simply: conformance to specification. It is not synonymous with reliability. That's another topic.
Corporations that have been committed to diversity and have developed comprehensive Diversity Programs are now at the juncture of strategic advantage. Based primarily on the work of AT&T and its Western Electric division, the United States was the repository of all the required material, methodology and procedures for the introduction of quality practices into the corporate mainstream. However, it was left to the Japanese multinational corporations to recognize its competitive potential and adopt it. The U.S. companies viewed quality as an academic exercise while their Japanese competitors were "seeing the forest for the trees". They deemed it to be a critical asset around which they built the rest of their corporate practices.
It is recognized that the United States, the Melting Pot, is not only the land of opportunity. It is the land of diversity. The time is now for corporations to take the next step in the evolution and maturity of their Diversity Programs. Heed the words of George Santayana, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Redefine your diversity effort. It has gone well past the point where it should be described as a "program". It is an asset, a critical asset. As with quality, it is a tactical and strategic asset. Let it reach its inevitable destiny.
Under its definition of asset, implement a Diversity Asset Management™ initiative. Finally, apply the lessons learned from your quality initiatives and institute Total Diversity Management™ such that diversity will be woven into the corporate fabric.