Leadership in the Era of the Diverse Workplace

Kim Guthrie leadership in a diverse workplace

The 21st century workforce continues to evolve at a breakneck pace

By Kim Guthrie, President of CoxReps, via Boss Magazine

Henry Ford famously said: “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” This quote is especially applicable to leadership in the 21st century American workplace.

Successful leaders today are challenged with finding a way to unify a melting pot of employees towards common goals while simultaneously supporting individual needs.

As the workplace evolves and becomes more diverse,  leaders need to have a strong understanding of what resonates with different life groups within that workforce to create successful teams for the long haul. At CoxReps, a division of Cox Media Group, almost half of the current workforce falls into the millennial generation or next generation. Research shows that members of this generation move quickly from one employer to the next and turnover is expensive and exhausting for most companies. The leadership team at CoxReps wanted to be proactive about how to address the needs of this important life group and subsequently reduce turnover.

To achieve this balance, the company went directly to the source, seeking feedback from all employees. The data from the under 35 workforce was isolated to see if there were any unique differences in what they needed and wanted. To take this feedback and make it actionable, the company created initiatives based on employee feedback. In a relatively short period of time,  these actions proved wildly successful at promoting employee engagement and reducing turnover. Many of the employee ideas required little to no additional costs, which any business could easily replicate. Through the entire process, CoxReps learned that, with a bit of ingenuity and attention, simple techniques can be honed into powerful leadership tools intended to inspire and engage all employees.

Train and encourage advancement

Above all, employees want to feel valued. They want to know that their work matters and that they are progressing in their careers. This applies particularly to the millennial workforce. Stoking these feelings among employees can be as simple as sharing and promoting opportunities for advancement and increasing management training. When all employees have a clear idea of their career possibilities and what they need to do to get to the next level, they are more focused and engaged. The goal is to attract great people, train them, and keep them moving forward in their career, preferably within the company. It’s important to show employees how they can learn and grow their skills to be ready for that next position. Companies need to provide that training.

Recognize and acknowledge

Perhaps the easiest and cheapest form of employee engagement is recognition, yet it’s amazing how often businesses overlook this. A simple “nice job” can go a long way. People need to know that their extra effort matters. Good work that is recognized is likely to be repeated. There are so many forms of acknowledgment, whether public praise in front of peers or praise in an email or handwritten note. What gets rewarded, gets repeated. A conscious effort to increase recognition and acknowledgment will reflect positively on employee sentiment and engagement. Praise can be even more meaningful when it goes “up the chain” and comes back from upper management.

Embrace innovation

Today’s business landscape has never been more disruptive, with new companies, apps, and technology popping up every day. The startup world has blossomed, offering professionals the opportunity to create innovation and “change the world.” Leading a diverse workforce means you’ll likely oversee employees with both entrepreneurial and corporate aspirations: it’s more important than ever to employees of both mindsets for your business to provide opportunities that satisfy these ambitions. Established companies can offer the same “startup” allure by encouraging an entrepreneurial environment, where employees are invited to take initiative and provide fresh ideas. Enterprises that have a forum to support and entertain these ideas win!

Offer perks

There are many inexpensive ways to increase engagement that can make a big difference. Work/life balance is a big desire for most employees no matter the generation. Today’s improvements in technology allow more flexible scheduling and the ability to work from home occasionally. It’s the job of leaders to help people want to get out of bed in the morning and come to work. CoxReps discovered that retention goes up when employees know each other and have fun together. Sports teams and tournaments, happy hours, fitness challenges,charitable activities, pot luck parties, and office-wide events are organized at CoxReps to encourage employees to interact socially. These kind of activities are economical options to boost employee morale, which reduces turnover and increases productivity.

Provide transparency and communicate

How leaders communicate—unique to the company’s mission, structure, performance, job openings, and other key issues—has an enormous impact on engagement at all levels. This is where transparency is so important. Having a clear understanding of how the company is doing and where the company is going, and then laying out specific expectations for different roles and also aligning pay with those expectations, makes a huge difference. When you are not transparent with the company’s performance, employees may think the worst. Sharing good news as well as bad is important as employees may have the answers on how to fix issues that are clogging the system or standing in the way of better performance.

Most people feel good about linking at least some of their pay to performance, no matter what the job title. It’s critical to have a constant flow of information regarding business strategies, company performance, and job openings. When employees feel included and understand their role in fulfilling the company’s mission, the more engaged they will be. It also makes everyone feel as though they have a voice in the company, which is helpful in attracting and sustaining a diverse workforce. Diverse thoughts from a diverse workforce help to bring new perspectives and new ideas.

Establish a sense of community

In addition to better communication, establishing a sense of community can make such a difference in employee engagement, especially if you’re running a business with multiple locations. CoxReps recently added Facebook, Twitter,  and Instagram profiles. These platforms provide a fun way to link the 11 offices across the country. Many of the regional teams have never met each other, and these posts help bring a fun energy into the business through the sharing and celebrating of events and accomplishments. The team that plays together stays together.