Can diversity co-exist with uniformity?

The diversity versus uniformity debate in the 21st century is highlighted by the conflicting views about whether we should as a society hold onto long held systems of beliefs and practises and in some parts of the world, adopt an extreme conservative view among communities of those practises; or take what is often referred to as a progressive view about the future of society and adopt a more secular and liberal approach to the functioning of society at large.


by David Mond – Managing Director & CEO, recoveriescorp

At times it can be impossible to envisage how, at the extremes in particular, the proponents of a new wave of diversity, underpinned by the medium of social media, could ever co-exist with people seeking to maintain long held views about uniformity of beliefs and practices.

Yet within the extremities is a sea of people across all faiths and ethnic backgrounds that do have a respectful spiritual or humanist belief system and want diversity as long as it doesn't cross the line. The question is – what is that line? Indeed, what is that line in the workplace?

The workplace has mirror-imaged the changes in society. There is often tension between fostering a culture that celebrates diversity and the need to create a uniform culture within any business. It is extremely important for companies who wish to be to be successful to recognize the new paradigm and plan for the future.

At recoveriescorp, we have people from over 16 different nations and ethnic backgrounds. So how did we get these people from such diverse backgrounds to adopt a shared set of values and behaviours and build a great culture?

For a people to be sovereign, they need to form an entity and have a personality. This concept is just as true for a workplace. For a company or business to have a loyal and engaged workforce on the way to building a corporate personality, it must at the very least embrace a system of values and behaviours that are common to all and are based on principles that comply with the rule of law. However, it is unlikely that merely following prescriptive systems and processes, built on the relevant rule of law, will result in an engaged and loyal workforce. Businesses need to be more elastic to recognize and implement strategies that incorporate the diversity movement. This, I suggest, will be the new force behind change in the workplace.

So it begs the question - what are, or should be, the limits of embracing diversity that allows society and the workplace to function, and importantly, ensure that we have a cohesive society and workplace? In truth, the answer is that we don't really know because the rules governing laws in secular democracies in the last 10 years have, and are changing, at a pace unprecedented in human history.

When I became a Managing Director of Recoveries Corporation in April 2007, I recognized that our people came from a very diverse number of nationalities, ethnicities, belief systems, social classes and standards of behaviour. Our ‘churn’ rate was high and the culture was more about politics rather than good policy and collaboration. No one felt confident about making a decision and we needed to reform our workplace and our culture.

So we have introduced the following initiatives over the last few years to bridge the gap between diversity and uniformity:

·         We built a team of engaged and united executives to create a new culture.

·         We developed a new vision, mission and statement of purpose for the company to connect everyone to a shared future.

·         We changed the culture of the organisation and undertook a process that ultimately represented a metamorphous that would deliver a common purpose and real belief in the company’s goals.

·         We conducted independent staff engagement surveys to know what staff were really thinking and acted to lift staff engagement and retention.

·         We introduced initiatives to celebrate the diversity of cultures within our company and programs to get people to understand and work more effectively with different behavioural styles.

·         We promoted an open door policy and encouraged staff to speak up and leaders to listen.

·         I was brought up under what I say is Australia’s quintessential ethos - everyone is entitled to get a fair go. So, aligned to the rules of natural justice, we introduced systems and processes that ensure that every person is heard on any issue by persons who did so with a genuine independent mind. Staff can approach me directly if they don’t think they received a fair go.

·         We introduced a range of policies and procedures to support the new culture, including dress codes and behavioural guidelines.

This program embraced cultural diversity within a common set of values we call the icare values. icare stands for integrity, collaboration, accountability, respect and excellence.

These values are backed up by creating our own ‘rule of law’. Importantly, it is not a legal system; it is a justice system because it embodies the rule of just law. Breaching our agreed values and behaviours is considered ‘crossing the line’ and unacceptable. Every person is expected to live the values and this is recognized regularly through our icare awards.

This system is also inculcated into our performance management system. Success requires performance in two elements; firstly, operational excellence and secondly whether you achieved that operational performance without compromising our values and behaviours. This uniform code of conduct has been embraced by all of our people. Those members of staff who fail to adhere to these values and behaviours are not retained. In this regard, I have learnt that only by adopting and living our culture from day-one would every one of our people eventually understand the benefits that it brings to them, individually and collectively. So we have become very adept at quickly identifying whether new starters are going to be a good cultural fit.

Importantly, I’ve discouraged the use of the word ‘tolerance’. Tolerance to me means “I don’t really like you but I am prepared to put up with you”. Our minimum level of relationship is ‘respect’ and we define respect as ‘treating people as they would like to be treated’.

The result of these measures has been that we have built ‘collaborative trust’ at all levels within the business and with our clients. We have been successful at growing our business on a foundation of the highest standards of professional excellence and delivering great outcomes.

I see human diversity as an asset of any business, as it brings new ideas and good practices that should form part of a continuous improvement program. A uniform acceptance of the desire to grow through diversity is what I believe is a key to having an engaged and loyal workforce and a growing and sustainable business.