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27 Oct 2011

Diverse Workforce Means Rethinking Talent to Manage It

In the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, I ran across Richard Florida’s article, “Where the Skills Are” and found myself rethinking the idea of a diverse workforce. The idea has two paradoxical forces playing on it:

  1. Diversity improves a company’s adaptability, creativity and innovation
  2. Employers tend to hire employees who are like them
A diverse workforce can be quite a challenge for a manager with only traditional managerial talents.

Managing a diverse workforce requires a different talent set than a homogeneous one does.

Why Encouraging a Diverse Workforce is Tough

For the moment, let’s imagine that employers can hire a diverse workforce. The next challenge is managing it. It’s difficult because personality conflicts are side-effects of diversity.

Since everyone’s a people person until people are the problem, managers are more apt to “get rid of the problem” rather than incorporate it. Consequently, employers will not only tend to hire those “who fit in” but also dispose of those “who don’t.” This moves them ever faster toward a homogeneous workforce lacking adaptability and innovation.

The Role of Conflict Management

Richard’s article focused on talented people adept at connecting with diverse people. Still, it applies to management. Diversity requires talented managers comfortable with it. Being able to handle conflict is key. That’s because personality conflicts are more likely in diverse teams.

Personality conflicts show up in many superficial ways as differences in approaches, organization, ideas, behaviors and others. A manager needs to see through this. Otherwise, he’ll spend too much time trying to fix the superficial problem and not the root one. This means accounting for his own biases, creatively solving it and having the discipline to see things through. Personality conflicts do not go away overnight.

The Rising Need for Better Management Talent

Moreover, as technology continues its advance, the need for such managerial talent will only rise. Technology will take over more and more routine tasks. What’s left are people issues. That puts a rising premium on soft skills.

Marketplaces will also drive this. They will continue to become more dynamic. This needs innovation. Diversity is key here. However, the problem is that the workplace is only  accustomed to thinking of diversity in demographic terms. This thinking needs to expand to personality types too. As a result, the need for better talent to manage a diverse workforce will only rise.

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