Forecasting Effects of Cultural Changes Inside Worldwide Telecommunications
Inc: Linking Demographic and Cultural Diversity and Performance
Within today's increasingly globally-infused corporate workplaces, conventional wisdom holds that demographic and/or cultural diversity contribute positively to enhanced performance by groups, teams, or other divisions of a trans-global corporate entity, thus ultimately enhancing, by association, company products and/or services and the company itself, at home and abroad. As corporate giant Nokia's website states, for example (2005), of its own global workforce: "Respect for individual qualities, as well as a willingness to work together in a constructive, positive, even enjoyable, way [,] are all essential for high-quality results." Much related research suggests, however, that while diverse employee skills and abilities in and of themselves may enhance group or team performance, demographic diversity (e.g., differences among workforce members, in terms of language; cultural; referential; or social background), may detract from it (Knight, Pearce, Smith, Olian, Sims, Smith & Flood, 1999; Jackson, 2003; Hamilton, Nickerson, Jackson, & Owan, May 2004). I will examine factors that, based on research and anecdotal evidence combined, may inflect corporate workforce compatibility or success, exploring both positive and the negative potential effects of demographic and cultural diversity on global and other workplace behavior and performance.
In a telephone interview conducted by this researcher, on October 6, 2005, with a friend who is a human resources assistant manager at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) based in San Jose, California, a recently-merged company created by the Hitachi-IBM HDD (Hard Disk Drive) company merger of January 2003, "[A lack of] enough good and clear intercultural communications is still contributing a lot, I would say, to lower than expected employee morale" (Sindai). However, despite the inevitable difficulties, misunderstandings, and other company challenges it inevitably brings, globalization is here to stay. According to Alden, for example, in an article on UPS's expansion, "Over the past 40 years the number of multinational corporations in the world's fourteen richest countries has gone from 7,000 to 24,000. (6-7). Moreover, as Alden observes, while many companies have marketed internationally for years, more and more companies are looking to enter the arena of global competition.
However, according to Wilbur (2005), in terms of global workplace (or any team or group) performance or behavior, in and of itself, mere diversity of a workforce, or group, team, or other entity within that workforce, is non-conclusive.
Specifically, as Wilbur states:
HP [High Performance] teams are built with . . . complementary skills.
Blend and balance of social styles . . . technical skills, problem solving skills, and political savvy. . . . They treat differences with respect realizing the survival value in versatility, . . .develop mutual accountability that builds respect, commitment. High performance teams blow away barriers and boundaries.
Typical demographic and/or cultural diversity increasingly found within global conglomerates or other entities like Worldwide Telecommunications, Inc. And others, may contribute to or detract greatly from performance, depending on specific aspects of diversity; management communications, actions, and philosophies, and various other factors. Optimal workplace performance itself, on the part of any group or team, whatever its internal composition, generally springs from commitment, shared values, and pursuit of a common goal (Knight, Pearce, Smith, Olian, Sims, Smith & Flood, 1999; Jackson, 2003;Wilbur, 2005). Demographic characteristics and/or cultural diversity may contribute to or detract from high-performance teams, but these characteristics alone will not determine performance. They may, however, influence it, in combination with other factors, such as shared or common goals; shared values; group commitment and support, and group synergy (Jackson, 2003; Wilbur, 2005).
As Sindai (telephone interview, October 7, 2005), of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) also stated:
After the merger almost three years ago [of IBM's and Hitachi's Hard Disk Drive
(HDD) entities in January 2003] about our making more videos and doing more training sessions to keep enhancing diversity training. Our office wanted to do more, not just [what we had done] up to the merger, and everyone agreed it was needed. But little by little it got moved to the back burner. I think there's been a feeling, or a hope at least, that it would all work itself out in time. But it didn't, [and] it hasn't.
Sindai added that, after IBM and Hitachi's respective hard drive divisions (HDD's) merged in 2003, various clashes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings of two distinct types of cultures emerges. One was the inevitable initial clash between IBM (an American company) versus Hitachi (a Japanese company) corporate cultures. Another, which proved to be more chronic, was based on demographic, social, cultural and other miscommunications and misunderstandings, sometimes although not always based on language incompatibilities, among workers from the United States; Japan; Pakistan; China; India; Sri Lanka; Singapore; India; Mexico; Bulgaria; and (as Sindai put it) "at least ten or twelve other places."
Results of a more formal study, on effects of diversity on group management performance, seem to confirm Sindai's anecdotal observations. Knight, Pearce, Smith, Olian, Sims, Smith & Flood (1999) concluded that: "Diversity in ability enhances the team productivity if there is significant mutual learning and collaboration within the team, while demographic diversity is likely to harm productivity by making learning and peer pressure less effective and increasing team-member turnover." Hamilton, Nickerson, Jackson, & Owan (May 2004) found, in a similar study, that:
Data from 76 high-technology firms in the United States and Ireland were used to examine three alternative models. The results showed that while demographic diversity alone did have effects on strategic consensus the overall fit of the model was not strong. Adding two intervening group process variables, interpersonal conflict and agreement-seeking . . . greatly improved the overall relationship with strategic consensus. For the most part, TMT [Total
Management Team] diversity had negative effects on strategic consensus. Jackson (2003) further concluded that:
efficiency when social category diversity (sex and age) was high, but not when it was low; consequences . . . For team conflict were best understood by taking into account interactive effects for specific dimensions of diversity. (p. 803)
An interesting and arguably related example, from the world of professional football, and one that starkly and vividly exemplifies workplace diversity training gone awry (i.e., the San Francisco 49'ers controversial diversity training tape that was leaked to the press (Ryan, Sunday June 5, 2005)) painfully illustrates how management attitudes anywhere, with any diverse group of people in any occupation, especially vis-a-vis other groups of people, strongly inflect "accepted" or perceived "normal" workplace attitudes about diversity (be they positive or negative), potentially polarizing, not unifying, workplace group members.
As Ryan states, in analyzing this incident:
. . . The video, which the team was required to watch, was particularly insulting to deeply religious players. Imagine if a corporation made it mandatory for employees to watch a training video that featured soft-core lesbian porn and a racist depiction of a bumbling, bucktoothed Chinese man. . . because the employees happen to be football players, people seem willing to dismiss it as a harmless prank.
This incident effectively lampooned diversity training and workplace diversity itself, within an extremely high-profile professional, organization, and geographical location (one that possesses enormous cultural diversity among its residents and sports fan "customers") instead of promoting it. The incident also likely reinforced pre-existing stereotypes of many sports and related industry professionals: as boorish, intolerant, ignorant, or racist. Admittedly, the San Francisco 49 ers football team and its management are non-equivalent, structurally, functionally, or in terms of goals or purpose, to Worldwide Telecommunications; Nokia, HGST, or any other large global corporate entity. Nevertheless, the implied lesson, for corporations and managers, contained within this incident is clear (at least to this author): company and group attitudes about diversity and its desirability and value to (and within) an organization, come from the top and migrate downward. Further, positive attitudes about workplace diversity and about diversity in general (which affect workplace attitudes and behaviors, consciously or unconsciously) must be practiced; reinforced; repeated, and encouraged, in order for workers to embrace and maintain them.
One other fact that emerges from research combined with interviewee observation of effects of diversity on group performance, and reality combined, is that genuine appreciation for demographic and/or cultural diversity is most powerful and lasting when it grows from within a diverse group itself, rather than being imposed from the outside. Jackson (2003) further explains that "most [diversity] studies assumed that diversity influences affective reactions and social processes within teams and organizations. Social processes in turn were assumed to provide the explanations for the effects of diversity on team and/or organizational performance" (p. 803). Moreover, according to Jackson:
Decades of research on similarity and attraction indicate that people tend to dislike dissimilar others, all else being equal. By extension, it has been argued that diversity is likely to have negative consequences for affective reactions such as cohesion, satisfaction, and commitment . . . Several early studies showing that diversity was associated with higher turnover rates seemed to support that conclusion. (Recent research on team and organizational diversity: