Building and optimizing your diverse, multifunctional “Dream Team”

By Gordon Galzerano, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Timberwilde Consulting Group

We are all in a race to attract, develop and retain top talent for our organizations. Our aspiration, I believe, should be to create a workforce that reflects the incredible diversity of our customers, our partners, our suppliers and our community. But before I delve into what leaders can do to make this happen, I want to share some context for why it’s important.

For the first time ever, we have five generations of people across six decades represented in the global workforce. They are:

  • Traditionalists – born before 1946 and who are still in the workforce either because they love it and they want to be or because they need to be
  • Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X– born between 1965 and 1976
  • Millennials– born between 1977 and 1995
  • Generation Z – those of working age born after 1995. We will continue to see this number rise as these younger individuals join the workforce.

So how do we as leaders effectively partner and connect with this workforce and, most importantly, with our multi-generational customers? It starts with understanding where people are coming from and what makes them tick.

The business case for diversity

Two statistics to think about: 35% and 15%. Numerous studies have revealed a direct correlation between companies with diverse teams and business success and impact. According to McKinsey & Co., companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to see financial returns above the industry. Thirty-five percent! Meanwhile, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to see the same outcome. This is playing out in real time.

It’s also been shown that diverse perspectives inspire creativity and drive innovation, whereas homogeneous teams will often gravitate towards the status quo. If we fill the room with people with similar backgrounds and experience, we’re going to end up with sub-optimized ideas and opportunities. But if we fill the room with diverse teams, it’s going to create healthy competition. It’s going to stretch the team to achieve their best. It’s going to produce new ideas.

So diversity improves business results, but it doesn’t end there. According to the company-reviewing website Glassdoor, two-thirds of job seekers today say diversity is important to them when evaluating companies and job offers. The research that I have done supports this. Given the competitive job market, demonstrating that our business is invested in fostering a multi-generational, multicultural and inclusive environment is absolutely going to help the organization stand out, attract the right talent and create an environment where top talent is going to want to stay. So our practices in this area are going to be incredibly important because if our organization doesn’t look like the candidate, think like the candidate and/or foster an environment where the candidate feels like he or she has a seat at the table, then they’re not coming to work for us.

New skills for a changing world

According to the World Economic Forum, the workplace skills of 2025 will look very different from the way they look today. Here are the five from their list I think personify where the world is headed.

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation. Can we keep our teams moving forward to drive real productivity and value? Mind you, I’m not just talking about product innovation. The definition of innovation that I prefer is this: thinking and acting differently in a useful way. To me, surrounding ourselves with people who think and act differently in a useful way will be a powerful opportunity for competitive differentiation.
  2. Active learning, learning strategies.This involves understanding how the adult learner gets new information and shifting to meet them where they are. Different generations look for different types of information and assimilate information differently.
  3. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us this: We have to take care of ourselves and we have to take care of one another. We have to build resiliency. We have to manage stress differently, and we all have to be flexible.
  4. Leadership and social influence. Social influence is at the core of where our culture is going, so building the capability to show up that way and to lead that way is going to be incredibly important.
  5. Emotional intelligence. My definition for emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of one’s self and to express one’s emotions and handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Again, it goes back to how we connect with people.

Creating our dream team

To achieve our visionary outcome of creating a workforce of people who reflect the incredible diversity of our customers, our partners, our suppliers and our community, we need to enhance the way we recruit, develop and retain our top talent. Here are three best practices.

#1: Develop targeted marketing, advertising and community outreach activities as a competitive advantage. Social media: If we’re not using it effectively, our competitors are. That’s the reality. We’re all consumers first, and our behavior outside of work often determines how we show up at work. If you think about how you make personal buying decisions – whether it’s buying a new computer or choosing where to eat dinner tonight – you were probably influenced by targeted marketing, advertising or community outreach on social media. (Yelp counts.) How people show up on social media tells a lot about a candidate, but it also tells potential recruits a lot about us as an organization.

But this isn’t just about our corporate LinkedIn or Twitter feed. Sixty-five percent of companies say they have been able to increase brand recognition from employee advocacy posted on social media. There’s no better way for your organization to convey what it’s like to work for you than through those people who are already onboard – so get your employees involved in brand ambassadorship.

#2: Target undergraduates with internships and early-career programs.

Over the course of my time at Cisco, I hired 3,000 early-career employees, candidates from 32 different countries, into sales and sales engineering positions. It’s an incredibly powerful way to augment the workforce, in this case the sales organization, with motivated people having no attachment to the status quo to get in their way of thinking innovatively. It’s a huge competitive advantage to be able to bring in young people early and then nurture them.

#3: Understand what motivates people.

Our research shows that, regardless of who we are, where we come from or when we were born, we all want five basic things from work: (1) camaraderie, (2) interesting work, (3) organizational respect and loyalty, (4) flexibility and (5) work-life balance. 

If our goal as leaders is to have a workforce that reflects the wonderful diversity of the world, then we need to harness and nurture these five needs. And by the way, diversity is not just about the five generations across six decades. It’s about the full spectrum of diversity: race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural identity…fill in the blank.

According to Deloitte, only 6 percent of organizations today feel that their leaders are equipped to lead their diverse, multi-generational workforce effectively. So there’s a big opportunity for those who can get it right. Some SAMs and KAMs may read this and think, “This doesn’t really apply to me. It’s my organization that needs to recruit and develop and retain.” I disagree. We’re all leaders, and we all need to invest the time and energy to fully understand the diverse work environment and the diverse people within it. 

When we do understand who’s in the room, the diverse groups and perspectives represented, we empower all of us to do our best work. This understanding helps us as leaders of individuals, leaders of teams and leaders of customers to be more authentic, consistent and approachable – to not only engage but truly connect.

Ensuring employee happiness

Once we’ve attracted this amazing, diverse, highly motivated workforce, how do we make sure they’re happy, productive and wanting to stay? Because that’s the holy grail.

Research from Gallup shows that leaders and managers account for 70 percent of employee motivation and happiness. While people have to be self-motivated to succeed, there needs to be an environment that allows people to do so. Another statistic: While three in four employees see effective communication as the most important leadership attribute, less than one in three say their leaders communicate effectively and efficiently. Why is that? I think it’s too much one-size-fits-all leadership.

Borrowing from the world of high-level team sports, we know that the best coaches know how to connect with individual athletes based on who the athlete is, how he or she thinks, and what motivates and inspires the person. And then, using this information, they know how to put each athlete in game-time situations where they will be in the best position to succeed. 

So how do you connect with the individuals on your team? It starts with communication. But communication preferences can vary quite a lot across generations. While Baby Boomers (and those further along in their careers) generally appreciate email and other forms of plain text communication, Millennials and Generation Z prefer more engaging types of communication such as videos, podcasts and webinars. Although the things people care about are remarkably consistent across generations, the way people prefer to learn, communicate and engage is highly variable.

So whether we’re engaging with our customers or our internal teams, we all need to modify our communication style to suit our audience’s preferences. 

Three best practices for developing highly productive teams

#1: Promote employee mobility, cross-functional collaboration and cross-training opportunities. Jerry Seinfeld observed that when comedians find themselves together at a party, they inevitably cluster together in a corner somewhere. Why? Because it’s easy to relate to those who have similar experiences to us. But when we put people from different experiences and backgrounds on projects together, we see increased collaboration and organizational effectiveness.

But just as importantly, by creating cross-functional project teams, we enable our employees’ professional and personal development journey by giving them opportunities to pick up new skills. Employees who feel they are growing feel inspired, and inspired employees get more satisfaction from their work and therefore do their best work. It can have a profound impact on the bottom line.

#2: Create opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural interactions. The research my firm has done shows that doing this leads to an increase in three things: curiosity, empathy and trust. These are three key ingredients to not only engage but connect with our employees. 

When this is done skillfully, it can be extremely impactful.

#3: Offer creative solutions for different working options and logistical needs. The pandemic has done a lot to force organizations to think creatively about virtual collaboration and work-from-home. There’s no going back. In fact, many organizations are thinking about going 100 percent virtual. The point is, when it comes to developing our people, the more creative we can be about accommodating different needs, wants and priorities – not just work-from-home but also things like flexible time off, part-time work and job sharing – the more opportunities we create to have happy, fulfilled and engaged employees.

A closing mantra

Some of these things may seem crazy, but believe me: They are doable. To help you do it, I encourage you to adopt a mantra that has helped me enormously in my professional and personal lives: I do not have to be the same person I was five minutes ago. If we adopt this mindset, then we give ourselves permission to try doing things differently. If we put some of these ideas on the table in our organizations, I can tell you from experience: It will create differentiation that will lead to real business value.

Gordon Galzerano is co-founder and managing martner for Timberwilde Consulting Group. Before starting his own company, he held leadership roles responsible for building, leading and scaling Cisco’s next-generation sales and leadership programs to audiences worldwide. He is a strong advocate for helping organizations build a thriving, inclusive culture, optimize their go-to-market opportunities, accelerate employee productivity and create customer-centric value for his clients. 

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