Information technology, the predominance of Western culture in many global organizations, the necessity of “time to market”, and other factors accelerate the speed of organizational life. Commitments are aggressive, competition is cut throat; speed is strategy. Were Darwin alive, he would have written a book about Organizational Darwinism.
Global organizing means exposure to “acute diversity”, not the diversity of skin colour and other relatively “minor” differences often referred to by folks who deal in diversity within the US and Canada. By acute diversity, I mean a lack of a shared language, opposing and clashing cultural values as well as very different and opposite views of organizational life.
- Amala keeps her cell phone constantly because she believes she needs to be available to her clients all the time. She comes late to meetings because time is not a valuable resource. She texts her family members during meetings because work and family are a simultaneous mix; she works 7 days a week. Amala is very opinionated but rarely expresses her opinions because she does not believe she can input his boss’ faulty direction. Amala ignores process because it “does not reflect the way the world works”. Amala will stay with her company for decades. Amala comes from an area in India where her “accent” is hard to understand in a phone call.
- Fred works 5 days a week. Fred shuts down his phone in meetings and Fred is punctual. On the basis of personal expediency, he will express himself when he disagrees with his boss “up to a point”. Fred follows process to a T. Fred will stay with his company until he gets a better offer with a shorter commute. Fred speaks one language, English, and he has never left the States, except for a trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
So, if business moves so quickly and people are so different, what does that mean for dealing simultaneously with the need for speed and coping with acute diversity?
It means that the speed will accelerate the differences between people. Speed accentuates conflict, forces direct communication and pushes for rapid resolution. Speed forces people to accommodate one another, but destroys trust needed for long term sustainable relationships.
So, 4 tips for coping with speed and acute diversity.
1) Don’t assume a shallow “can do” attitude. Acknowledge the problems and difficulties. “Can do” is a deadly enemy of acute diversity.
2) Build and foster relationships instead of just expediting tasks.
4) When you visit other locations, stay for a weekend or two. Make friends with the people you work with. Establish a context where you can “exchange favours”.
4) Be very patient when things are very different. Slowing down often makes things speed up. Not saying anything may be more useful than speaking up. Showing humility in face of great challenge may be more useful than being arrogant by trying the same tactic again and again.
Suddenly, after you slow down, things will pick up on their own. Sounds weird, but it happens. It is just counter-intuitive.