Diversity is one of the most important – and challenging – concepts in hiring, particularly in executive and managerial searches. Diversity can conjure up thoughts of hiring quotas or requirements based on demographic qualities like ethnicity and gender.
And while almost everyone would voice their support for diversity, there is an element of the word that can conflict with a basic principle in performance management: that advancement should be based on merit and achievement regardless of diversity factors.
Yet, ensuring diversity within your managerial and executive team is becoming more important in a global economy.
For your company, the value of diversity isn’t about meeting specific demographic quotas. It’s about having multiple perspectives that come from a wide variety of experiences, ideas, and individual thoughts. Those perspectives will help provide insight into your current and future customers and help your organization become more adaptable and competitive.
You shouldn’t consider diversity when hiring just to meet a quota regarding the right mix of ethnicities and genders.
You should consider diversity as a way to push your organization out of its comfort zone and, more importantly, to create a competitive advantage
Selling Automobiles in France
If you are a German automobile manufacturer and want to grow or expand your presence in a different market—for example France—who should you hire to manage that initiative?
If you are like most companies you will likely task someone who has succeeded in growing sales in an existing market. If your head of sales in Germany has shown consistent, year-over-year growth, you may send him or her to develop your French market.
But is that really the best decision?
The French and German markets are very different. A German executive may not know the French regulatory system or understand how the two countries very different cultures may affect attitudes toward automobile ownership.
For a French automobile owner, will their new car be a status symbol that says something significant about that individual? Or is the French consumer merely looking for a convenient and cheap way to be mobile? And if that’s the case, how do you position your product against car sharing services, or even bicycles?
You could hope your German head of sales has such a strong skillset that he or she can overcome those challenges—however, at Robertson & Associates we are often engaged after a company’s current managerial talent fails to understand and adapt to an unfamiliar culture or market.
Ultimately an unwillingness to hire managers with diverse backgrounds and experiences can mean failure in a new market.
There is, however, an alternative.
You could search for a head of sales that may not know your product, but knows the French market because his or her family settled in France long time ago, or search for a head of sales who is already succeeding with a French company.
I here considered a simple case with Germany and France. Now, imagine lesser known parts of the world and how exponential the challenges get!
Without knowing it, or planning on it, with either one of these approaches you’ve just made a diverse hiring decision based on taking an innovative approach to a strategic need.
A Changing World
Our world is changing rapidly. Every day millions of new people become economic participants for the first time. Those participants may be a Greek college student looking to buy his or her first car, or an Italian highly qualified mother entering the skilled labor force for the first time.
In order to remain competitive, your company is going to need a strategy to ultimately reach these new consumers. You need managerial talent who has some understanding of what it’s like to be the first member of their family to leave the village, attend college, and build an entirely different life than anyone in their family has ever known.
You need managerial talent who knows what’s like to move out of a kitchen and into an office for the first time, to feel the pride of earning her first pay check -and to consider how she will spend it, and what she will want to buy just for the sake of showing she can buy it, on her own.
You need to consider diversity when hiring not just because it is the “right” thing to do.
You need to consider diversity when hiring because it is the strategic thing to do.
Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates, a European Executive Search and Leadership Solutions boutique. Pierre is working out of Brussels, Paris and Zurich. firstname.lastname@example.org