<i>Dear Workforce</i> How Do We Overcome Provincialism Among Our Workforce

August 13, 2009
Dear Culture Clash:
A solution must be developed collaboratively among the members of the various groups and subscribed to by a critical mass of the workforce. Having HR or any other group impose a solution won't work.
The key to solving the problem of exclusivity is openness and communication. In many cases, when people are simply made aware of a problem like this, they will take steps to change their behaviors.
First, openly acknowledge that the issue exists, that it has positive elements that you want to retain, and destructive elements that have a cost. Describe and communicate clearly the behaviors associated with the exclusion of people from different groups, and then proceed on the assumption that most people in the workplace would like to see the problem remedied. Don't try to solve the problem behind the scenes.
Form a task team to facilitate (not develop) the solution, composed of people from as many provinces as possible. Be clear that it is everyone's responsibility to develop creative and common-sense ways to solve the problem—not just the responsibility of the task team.
Ask the team to identify the specific areas of difference that are causing people to exclude others. Some of these areas might be:
• Directness of communication style
• Attitudes toward hierarchy
• Provincial pride
These are only examples, and may include some of the dimensions in your company as well as others. Reach consensus on what your dimensions are, and then address them directly.
Now, talk about it. In written communications, in manufacturing team meetings, and in every other opportunity to communicate, let the problem be discussed among your workforce. This is a problem just like a flawed manufacturing process, a quality issue or any other problem that adversely affects your business.
Be very clear about the end result: that the members of the various groups will be more inclusive of, and work in better collaboration with, members of other groups. That's the bottom line. How they accomplish this should be up to them.
Teach employees that this will require changes in attitudes, as well as specific, demonstrable behavior changes. Ask employees, under the work team's coordination, to identify new and more productive behaviors, and be sure that they understand the business benefits of doing so.

Enlist a representative group of informal leaders to take the lead in implementing, demonstrating and modeling those attitude and behavior changes.
Avoid mandates and gimmicks. Don't dictate that “people from Hebei must begin to include people from Qinghai” and the like. Stay away from ideas like “Learn the Culture Day.”
Recognize that this will take time to accomplish, but that progress can begin immediately. As work groups begin to make incremental progress, celebrate their successes. And openly acknowledge the challenges that remain.
Conduct a formal assessment of the situation after about two years. Communicate progress and the benefits realized. Identify the specific behaviors that have worked well, and encourage those behaviors in new employees and in others who have not yet embraced them.
Finally, never let up. Don't allow the old ways to creep back in. Continually communicate the progress you make and you'll keep the company moving in the same direction.
SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, co-authors, Contented Cows MOOve Faster
LEARN MORE: Toyota Motor Sales USA has designated about 140 employees as “diversity champions” in its push for a more inclusive workforce.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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