Workforce diversity is one of the modern day issues affected the society and working people. The diversity in workplace relates to age, social status, gender and ethnicity. Even the notion of accepting different approaches to diversity vary depends on the culture. Cultures may be more or less open to new ideas. Thus, diversity as a starting point means accepting different paths to a positive outcome. For example, some business products are the same regardless of the culture in which they are sold—a soft drink or a cell phone are basically the same whether they are found in Russia or Egypt. It can be argued that the actual production of products, goods, or services have globalized more rapidly than HR practices.
The differences that exist between cultures and nations are apparent in workforce. In the minds of some HR practitioners, international differences have a larger variance than those within a single culture or nation. When we use these somewhat obvious and large international differences, it is easier to make a point about the importance of recognizing and working with diversity. The principles of working effectively with diversity within a single country (for example, the United States) are fundamentally the same as those that exist globally. Diversity is, indeed, not a confounding factor but rather a source or energy and ideas to drive individual as well as organizational change and growth (Laudon and Laudon, 2005). If there are generalities that fit across cultures, our experience is that careful consideration of what is occurring in a particular culture is best done by developing an understanding of the meaning a particular culture attaches to HR practices. This is best accomplished by carefully listening and offering feedback about what has been heard and then modifying one's understanding appropriately. Feedback and listening and a discussion of different mindsets allow the modification of practices that will lead to appropriate outcomes. The leadership initiative example discussed earlier demonstrates that business practices may often be sufficiently powerful to carry an HR initiative. For example, if a production line must run in a certain way and at a certain speed, that very fact will guide and focus the behavior of those ensuring that line speed. Although culture is important in determining how the workforce will organize to achieve that line speed, it will have very little to do with the speed of the equipment. Start with what must be accomplished and then be ready for cultural consequences, but do not assume that cultural consequences come first. Practices can be designed with the end game of providing people with the right tools, procedures, and intent to win in the marketplace; these transcend the singular issue of diversity (Mujtaba, 2006). Treating people with fundamental respect and believing that they have intrinsic worth is fundamental to effective diversity practices. A global culture needs HR practices and values that are first grounded in the work to be done. Aspirations alone, although motivating, are not a necessary and sufficient condition to direct a workforce. For a worker in Indonesia who is unlikely ever to visit or understand U.S. work practices fully, Indonesian HR practices must have meaning for the work life and aspirations of that worker. It is often easier to agree on the work that must be done than on cross-culturally acceptable practices in a more abstract sense. For example, people from North Korea are more closed, the United States employees are more open in communication. The challenge for workforce diversity today is to help organizations operate in a complex, culturally diverse environment. The best HR practices from many diverse cultures are combined and interlinked. Furthermore, diversity management practice would be more general and perhaps more efficient from a business perspective (Laudon and Laudon, 2005).
The case study selected for analysis discusses the situation when Wal-Mart made an attempt to install a senior leadership training initiative based on 360-degree feedback. The company met with stiff resistance from the senior executives of an ethnically diverse organization. A key part of this leadership initiative was to ensure synergies across borders, cultures, and markets. In other words, the initiative would harness diversity. However, the senior executives could not understand why so much time, energy, and funds were necessary. After all, the leadership training initiative was to be provided to general managers who were already more or less successful and currently running businesses around the world. Further, these general managers, from more than thirty different cultures, were thoroughly grounded in the vision and strategy of the business and such a leadership program would only unnecessarily take them away from their respective businesses (Mujtaba, 2006). In addition, the leadership initiative was initially viewed by the senior executives as little more than a training program. To launch this initiative, the HR practitioners first had to present the concepts of international leadership in a way that was relevant to the business and allow the cross-cultural synergies to emerge as the program developed. Although very important, the cross-cultural dimensions of this initiative alone were not going to sell it to management. Only after the business relevance was made clear could both the benefits and importance of understanding and leveraging cross-cultural differences be woven into the sessions. To make this leadership initiative effective, the following steps and actions were taken to emphasize both positive business outcomes and enhanced use of diversity. This primarily collectivist society required that each salesman who had not met the quota stand up in front of the entire salesforce, admit his culpability, point out his failings, and then publicly promise to do better.
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The issues of diversity and culture and organizations have become very popular as business activity has become increasingly more globalized. The uniqueness and inherently interesting nature of cultural differences have also produced a great deal of conventional wisdom about how different cultures or ethnic groups approach the accomplishment of business and organization objectives. This seems counterintuitive for a collectivist society but is consistent with the cultural principle of shared accountability and responsibility to the group. It should be noted that in some cultures negative feedback, if delivered improperly, can cause an individual to lose face and feel humiliated.
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