Managing Cultural Competence in 14 Transforming Steps


In its simplest terms, a system is an assemblage or combination of components forming a complex whole. It is composed of a hierarchy of sub systems. All organizations have some or all of the following systems: production, marketing, finance, procurement, accounting, processing, staffing, information, security, etc.

Collectively, they comprise the organization operating systems. All organization systems are comprised of inputs, processes and outputs.

Diversity, as a member of the complex of operating systems, finds its rationale in the necessity to integrate within organizations the range of skills, expectations, historical and cultural experiences, education, functional identification, attributes of gender, life and personal style, and world views inherent in their human assets.  The challenge organizations face in installing and sustaining this system is that of first identifying its need, linking it to quantifiable results, and leveraging it so as to achieve competitive advantage, and individual, personal satisfaction. In short, connecting diversity to a competency model. Competency is the ability to perform activities within an occupation that is a component of a system to a predetermined standard set by the organization or the entity where the activities are performed.

Because Diversity is fundamentally an organization change process, it is possible to transform an enterprise from one indifferent to the changed workforce, global and national market dynamics, where respect for every employee is predicated on the whims of management who see them as mere channels of production, to one where these same factors demand increased integration of the attributes of every worker. To facilitate the transformation process, performance criteria and evaluative statements specify the required level of performance for each competency element.

Performance criteria can be used effectively by an assessor to determine whether a person or persons perform to the level required for the standard.

While Managing Diversity Competence [MDC] is here presented in twelve steps, sustaining any change requires resources, commitment and vigilance in ensuring that there is no reverting to the old manners of behavior or reclaiming of old philosophies. Organizations’ leadership will be challenged to establish a climate of encouragement and to demonstrate, tangibly, the business necessity for this change process.


The Process

Like all other operating systems, Diversity employs a methodology for predicting it’s potential for success, allows reflection regarding evaluating its effectiveness, and ultimately enables practitioners or subscribers to the process to assess their attainment towards some level of competency.

Competency is simply measurement against a predetermined standard.



First and foremost, because Managing Organizational Diversity [MOD]is mind-set change, the enterprise must respond to the issue of why is this initiative being launched. In the absence of a clear statement of purpose and an identifiable commitment to the initiative’s necessity from the highest levels of the enterprise and the coupling with real resource commitment, the initiative will founder. This exercise must definitively and persuasively answer this question regarding the necessity for this initiative:

At the end of the day what will the organization look like when Diversity is in full bloom? 

Finding answers to this question serves two fundamental purposes. First, it places the issue of work place diversity on the same level with every other initiative of consequence launched in the organization. Second, it forces an analytical structure upon those seeking to decide whether to do this, and removes diversity out of the realm of some emotional and possibly irrational response to the latest managerial fad.

Secondly, the senior management team must confront the issue that the success of the initiative, because by its nature it is an organizational transforming one, requires the demonstration of palpable leadership. The responses must clearly articulate the desired outcomes – the principle of beginning with the end in mind. What and who in the organization will be affected and what are the benchmarks against which benefits will be identified.

Both the positive and negative dimensions of the initiative must be explored and carefully laid strategies for dealing with the barrier aspects enunciated.

One of these might be employee resistance or another might be disruption of the organization’s comfort zone.



Once there is agreement to move forward with the launching of a MOD initiative, a rationale or encapsulation of purpose must be developed and approved and presented by the highest level of the organization.

Whether the reason is to attract and nurture talent, position for global competition, increase productivity, achieve maximum return on human capital investment, respond to a legal mandate, or penetrate culturally distinct emerging markets, etc., there must follow a strategic communication and reinforcement campaign. The campaign must be designed around a clear policy statement to which is linked the justification for embarking on the launching of the initiative. The leadership of the organization must be very visible in support of and in championing the policy and its rationale.



The ultimate aim of any diversity initiative is to operate seamlessly in the organization. To become simply “the way we do business” necessitates a re-education away from seeing employees framed against a “limitations and perceived deficits model” towards respect for their world view and their capabilities.  The first action in a mind-set change process is to answer the question: Does that perspective have value?  Do I have full understanding of what that employee’s capabilities are?

Managers are to be taught to apply an employee relationship template [ERT] that allows them to continuously examine and reassess their behaviors, responses and attitudes in applying the principle of inclusion where institutional practices have resisted or been ineffective towards those who are different in the areas of style, opportunity and ideas. 



Every major change process requires a stated methodology that provides guidance to the planned change strategies. The rationale for embarking on a diversity initiative must be presented as a bottom line, organization prosperity issue. A planning strategy seeks to unite all the components: organization vision, decision-makers, resources, skills and communication channels in implementation. It elevates diversity to a place of strategic significance along with the marketing, sales, operations and human resources work systems. It achieves standing in full as one of the organization’s values because of its perceived benefits.



How people get selected at the initial hiring stage or for development assignments is a critical area in effecting and sustaining a diversity initiative. A recruiting strategy that rejects stereotyped candidate or employee assessments is the most effective strategy to reinforce a commitment to inclusion. It necessitates exposing the leadership to and having them participate in all the developmental experiences that will subsequently be used to mobilize the entire organization to commit to diversity in the work place.


Skills Training

Because discomfort and suspicion are the prime obstacles to organizational inclusion, managers need to be able to examine whether these behaviors are rational or not. Their presence creates conflict and cynicism and serves to frustrate the mission of the enterprise. To facilitate agreement regarding the benefits of diversity, managers should be allowed to acquire skills in identifying their own fears and apprehensions; to develop and understand the dynamics of communication, to acquire strong supervisory skills when those being supervised are composed of diverse peoples. They should become competent in working in diversely composed teams and to be provided with resources than can be availed in a non threatening setting so as to obtain guidance in meeting personal developmental needs.



Every successful diversity operating system has at least three communication strategies operating within the enterprise. First, the leadership must state in plain and unambiguous language the commitment to diversity and continually restate it in varied forums. Second, the publications of the organization must display in their portrayal of the organization’s employees the evident diversity and allow them to speak for themselves; and third, the training must be provided regarding the differing communication styles of their diverse employees and it should seek to minimize the interpretation and interpersonal snafus that aggravate conflict and dissonance.



Diversity as a system must receive support on several levels if it is to be sustained over time. The commitment from the highest level of the organization must be self-evident. The surveys of employees must affirm this. The work systems - training, mentoring and recognition must demonstrate that the commitment to change is long-term. The events used to acknowledge the value of diversity to the organization must suggest an acceptance and appreciation of the diverse contributions of all peoples within and without the organization. The purpose of these ceremonies is to lessen the appearance of the extraordinary nature of these contributors as the organization moves towards the “this is the way we do business” objective, i.e., a condition of diversity seamlessness. Any sustained diversity process must be linked and supported by other initiatives such as Total Quality, Market Share Growth, New Product Launch, Process Re-engineering, etc., as a strategy to accomplish complete cultural integration.


Extend trust



The training in diversity competence and re-education must produce change that can be tested and observed. There are many measures, some more definitive than others. For example, it is usually a truism that if a manager’s staff is generating a disproportionate number of sexual harassment or racial discrimination complaints that there are issues that must receive attention.  Similarly, because inclusion travels parallel to issues such as lowered employee complaints, this is one approach to evaluating the effectiveness of the diversity process. Others include the balanced management technique - a statistical comparison of the employee mix at each level within the organization, employee feedback data, statistical representation of diversity indicators in publications, examination of employee appraisal rebuttals, absenteeism data, candidate sourcing techniques, promotion data, market niche performance, anecdotal circumstances such as the use of language and trans racial and trans gender conduct are also relevant to an assessment of the difference the diversity initiative has produced.



Unless the reward and recognition systems within the organization are mobilized to support a diversity initiative, it will degenerate into lip service and reinstituting and reinforce the existing culture. Any reward system to be effective, must spell out the expectations of the evaluator and must detail expected outcomes from any aspect of the initiative that’s tied to recognition and reward agreements. Diversity is made seamless within the organization when the recognition is transformed into ceremonies that reinforce the commitment to the process and serves to engage all levels of the organization in the reality of a new approach to the acquisition and retention of talent regardless of its packaging.



Sponsorship within the organization of a diversity initiative operates on several levels. First, there is the change sanctioning process by the leadership at the highest level of the organization. Second, there is the creation of support networks designed to demonstrate the commitment to a changed culture as well as the validation of a desire by the leadership that talented but otherwise different employees succeed and contribute to the organization’s prosperity.




Continuously Improving

Changing the culture, as the diversity operating system eventually accomplishes, is achieved via education, skill development and leadership support. The time line to accomplish change is significant - seven to ten years.  Therefore, the organization has ample opportunities to incorporate a Continuous Improvement Process as it links the diversity initiative, the internal customer satisfaction initiative and, in the event it is engaged in increasing market share in Emerging Market Segments, be able to assess performance regarding external customer satisfaction. The CIP will identify obstacles to achieving the vision of diversity as a seamless organization presence and it will also identify why and how aspects of the initiative may be tweaked for improvement.

J Z Daniels Company Limited © 2010

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