No one comes to work every day to be average. We don’t get up in the morning to go to work to do just enough to get the job done. Actually, it is the exact opposite. We are ambitious and want to do meaningful, impactful, and dare I say, “game-changing” work. We want to be great, get epic results and have our names on the lips of the company’s leadership when discussing the stars within the organization. Much of the effort to reach our goals rests within. We are individually responsible for honing our craft and pursuing client service excellence; however, it’s incredibly important that managers create an environment that encourages the behaviors needed to do great work. While that may sound simple, with today’s diverse employee base often with three generations of employees with varied backgrounds and experiences, managers now need a new skillset to lead their teams successfully. It is a skillset not often acknowledged, appreciated or typically even part of management training, but I do believe that it is only by managing diversity that managers can liberate greatness.
Porter Novelli’s CEO, Brad MacAfee recently published an article in the Holmes Report making the case for diversity in the workplace and how it is now table stakes to successfully meet clients’ needs. It is by building and cultivating diverse teams that companies can attract and retain the best talent and offer innovative ideas to clients that uniquely advance their business. As an African-American woman with more than 20 years in the public relations industry, I have long understood the need for diversity in the business sector. However, it was only recently that I truly understood the challenge for today’s managers to successfully manage diversity.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the diversity leadership training program by American Institute for Managing Diversity, an organization founded by Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., a leading diversity expert, to advance diversity in leadership through research, education, and public outreach. The program curriculum helped leaders to truly unpack the topic by considering a broader definition, identifying our hidden biases, understanding what it means to manage diversity and providing resources and skills to ultimately create and lead high-performing teams. One of my favorite sessions focused on how we as leaders often unintentionally stifle innovation and creativity by our inability to manage through diversity. Managers will clearly articulate a project’s requirements, but don’t recognize that in building the final deliverable or output, they have unspoken preferences or traditions that impact how the work should be done. Without an open mind to the outcome, we send our teams down a rabbit hole trying to find their way to a successful outcome that has already been predetermined but not communicated, ending ultimately in frustration for them and potentially a missed opportunity for our clients.
During the workshop, the instructor started with an example about a married couple that we could understand. There are towels that need to be folded and put away in the linen closet (the project requirement). One spouse who typically does it, folds the towels in thirds so they stack nicely and fit in the closet. On occasion the other spouse folds them in half and puts them way. The spouse who prefers them folded in thirds goes behind the spouse and proceeds to refold them. After noticing this a few times, the spouse who folds them in half gets the signal that the effort isn’t appreciated and stops folding towels. This leaves the spouse who folds in thirds upset for having to do more work and wondering why the other spouse stopped, not realizing that the requirement that the towels were put away was completed but that unspoken preferences and traditions created a negative environment. It was an “aha moment” for me. I completely saw myself in this example and I was struck by how it’s possible to exhibit this behavior in both subtle and not so subtle ways as team managers.
Our clients have business challenges that require different approaches and solutions. We have to create a safe space for our teams to explore new, different and possibly radical ideas to break through and reach their audiences. As managers, we have to be open to this diversity of thought and approach even if we haven’t seen it done before. If the requirement is that we deliver a new campaign to the client, then we have to consider the various shapes and forms it could take based on the experiences and perceptions of those on the team who are challenged to create it. As a personal example, I struggled a bit with using influencers for program amplification because of my traditional media relations background. However, I had a team member who had done this before and believed it was the best solution. I put aside my preference and backed her. The campaign was a success and the client was thrilled (by the way, the client hadn’t done an influencer campaign before either but was open to a new approach which was a nice change given the exhausting risk aversion we often experience when clients believe they want bold, new ideas).
Managing diversity takes intentional action and active effort. But the outcomes speak for themselves. I’m honored to receive Porter Novelli’s 2017 Liberating Greatness award, and even more grateful that this recognition comes due to nomination by my team. This award was established as a legacy to Karen van Bergen, Porter Novelli’s former CEO, who encouraged each of us to rise to our greatest potential by pushing our clients and teams to even greater achievements and results. I was surprised by my selection and humbled by the words of my team who spoke of how I have helped them reach their goals and do amazing, award-winning work (our team mantra is #flawless). I also realize that I’m still a work in progress and building my skills in both appreciating and managing diversity in the workplace. I see the incredible impact from empowering a strong and creative team, and fruition of new opportunities that result from client satisfaction. Most importantly, I see it in the response of my team. Recently, Dwayna Haley, a vice president on my team, spoke at her first national conference. She sent me a note saying how grateful she was for the opportunity and Porter Novelli’s support. She ended the note by thanking me for giving her wings. My response was one that I hope managers can embrace and understand as their role. I told her that she always had wings. All I did was just provide the breeze.