Fair Exchange: Harnessing diversity — challenge or benefit?
by Erna George. Diversity is, now more than ever, crucial to the success of businesses — it is critical for remaining competitive and staying ahead in the long term. My definition here includes race and gender, and also age, time in business, overall experience, education, thinking style, role and more.
If the marketing assistant from my team wanted to be just like me, who would execute with exacting precision constantly? Could I do it? Yes. Would I be brilliant at it, would it come effortlessly to someone with my bundle of strengths, and would I stay motivated if that were my job? Highly unlikely.
Would brands be as strong?
More than that, would the brands be as strong and would the brand plans have a greater chance of success? Even more unlikely. A team of ‘mini-mes’ to manage and execute against the brand portfolio we are custodians of would result in gaps in our delivery.
I have worked with many different leaders and I know that I am not the easiest person to work with, as I do like my space and want to stretch my wings and play a little. (I plan but I am somewhat fluid, less meticulous or paper-bound in doing so). I remember working for an individual who embraced discipline, planned with detail (often in Excel spreadsheets) and managed tightly. Theoretically, these two personae could complement each other well.
While there were things I could learn, this manager wanted me to prove my ideas in numbers, validate most things and wanted to see plans in writing — what I would do and how/when I would deliver it. For marketing (and more so for me), this may be helpful but not always suitable. I resisted and the response was to impose the change more strictly, which did not leave me feeling my methods were needed or inspired to perform my best, resulting in a spiral to dwindling advancement.
Leadership must reflect
The reality is that, unless leadership reflects the attitude and commitment to integrating diversity, it will not filter down and a single style could be the result.
Imagine a service brand with one cognitive approach, a single view of the market or narrow cultural understanding? When a highly unique client walks in with a challenge to be resolved, the brand response could be limited to one of a few approaches, which could lead to a less-than-satisfied customer. It could feel a little like “you can have it in any colour. as long as it is black”.
I am not saying that people are not open-minded. I am suggesting that multiple age groups, areas of experience and points of view have a greater chance of imagining and delivering a range of possibilities. Often, the longer one works in one place with a particular style, the more habitual things may get. Yes, one can react with depth of experience but it could also result in a response that has been played out before. Brands and businesses that create a culture of diversity throughout their ranks improve their chances of tailoring their offers to meet unique needs, as well as their ability to compete on national or global scale.
Guiding the power of difference takes work. Being inclusive in formulating ways of working or altering direction can be successful in re-energising and maintaining diversity.
While still in consulting, I once observed a marketing team in a workshop. The team was composed of a senior marketing head, trained in classical marketing with years of experience across industries in general management and marketing; a brand manager who started in R&D and moved to marketing years earlier; a highly creative marketing manager with over 14 years’ experience; a young brand manager who enjoyed analysing stats; and a couple of marketing assistants with skills across digital, numbers and excellence in project management.
Watching them work exposed a level of tension when they could not quite see each other’s perspective or if a proposed solution went against their personal grain. At the end, however, the ideas that came from this team were progressive, captured the business key strengths and were the most successful in consumer testing — different views can lead to the innovative ideas and creative approaches that yield long-term success in the market.
What diversity may bring
Diversity brings challenges, as channelling multiple approaches into a unified strategy is tough, but the positives can outweigh these. If diversity is truly embraced and not only a strategy on paper, it brings:
- A variety of viewpoints for increased creativity and innovation
- Increased morale and teamwork, strengthening productivity
- More-effective execution, as different capabilities are harnessed
- Advancement opportunities across functions for teams
- There is an aspiration and ability to serve new market segments
- A diverse offering and team send a message to clients that the brand embraces a more-flexible approach, building positive brand perceptions across a broader customer base, and
- Ultimately, this enhances the likelihood of increased market share and economic growth
So the next time a colleague’s views are different to yours, consider the possibility, even if it feels less comfortable, that building upon each other’s visions could be the difference between good and great.
Erna George is the new marketing executive of Pioneer Foods’ Cereals & Other division. She has worked on both client and agency sides with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column, concerning business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland, to MarkLives.
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