Featured Images

The best practice of managing diversity at work

The best practice of managing diversity at work

The business case for being positive about diversity at work is not just legal and financial; it is also closely linked to looking after your customers and your staff. Although many organisations are becoming more aware of the legal aspects of discrimination, a focus on the legislation will not change hearts and minds.

This article discusses what is meant by diversity, outlines the business case for taking a positive approach to diversity at work, and discusses the psychological underpinnings of related concepts such as stereotyping, prejudice and group membership. Most importantly it will highlight best practice for training and diversity awareness sessions, as recent research highlights that if not done correctly diversity training can actually make things worse.

What is diversity?

People vary in multiple ways, by age, personality, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, sexual orientation, morals, beliefs, hair colour, and shoe size, to name but a few! Sometimes these differences mean that some people are treated less favourably, or find things more difficult to do because of the way we create our environment to fit the ‘average’ person. Sometimes this makes people upset or angry, or they just ‘give-up’. Generally it can lead to misunderstandings and/or poor working relationships. Even if no harm was intended, in the wrong environment people can feel threatened and stressed if they perceive inequalities. It often means the organisation and the people in it are not working as effectively as they could.

The business case
Organisations in many parts of the world are beginning to take note of the benefits of a diverse and equal workforce. These include:

  • Enhanced creativity
  • Reduced employee stress
  • Increased customer satisfaction (particularly where the customer profiles are matched with staff profiles)
  • Reduced incidence of bullying or harassment
  • Improved team-working

For many this has led to increased organisational performance and a reduction in problem behaviours, (some of which may result in legal claims).

Psychological underpinnings
A wide range of psychological processes underpin both the problems and the solutions to diversity in organisations.

These include:

  • Group memberships – People have a strong need to feel part of the in-group. They like to identify with people who are similar to them and there is a strong drive to wish to differentiate from out-groups. This can lead to:
  • Categorisation – lumping people together into groups because they seem to share characteristics. This process is very beneficial to us normally as it speeds up recognition, allowing us to see that a Poodle and a Great Dane are still examples of dogs for example (and therefore potentially dangerous if they bite). However as people are so complex this generalisation process is often misleading. It is linked to our need to use:
  • Stereotyping – ideas are held about other people based solely on their membership of particular groups or their physical characteristics. Although useful when there is a need to make quick judgements (in evolutionary terms stereotyping has been helpful for our survival) they can be used unthinkingly to create prejudice and to justify discriminatory behaviour. Stereotyping can lead to prejudice – pre-judging people solely on the basis of some perceived difference.

Many of these processes are automatic, although in the right circumstances people can learn to reduce or control them. Understanding these processes, and why they are both useful and problematic, can also help us to understand which types of diversity training can be of most benefit.

Best practice for diversity training
Many organisations have started to include diversity awareness training as a standard; some are moving further forward into diversity management (which implies a step-change in systems and processes). However, some types of awareness training actually increase the processes of group membership and stereotyping, actually making the atmosphere at work worse! Groups can become defensive if made to feel responsible for inequalities and may increase their group cohesion by denigrating the out-group. Other activities have been known to increase anger, confusion, or to lead staff to deny that such situations exist in the workplace today.

The most successful interventions apply the concepts of social identity and enable re-categorisation (welcoming a broader membership into your in-group) and make salient the complexity of social identities. Such exercises have been shown to minimise bias and increase tolerance and positivity towards ‘out-groups’. Other successful interventions include simple stereotype activation sessions, where employees are then allowed to discuss why they were unable to consider non-stereotypical answers to scenarios. Examples of these include situations which can only be resolved by non-stereotypical gender roles, such as a female surgeon. Increasing awareness of our own cognitive biases and how the processes ‘work’ has been shown to increase participants’ motivation and willingness to change.

One important factor must be taken into account. Prejudice and discrimination are supported, or rejected, by organizational norms and values. Research indicates that people often become more prejudiced in public, because of the support they gain from others. Any diversity training must therefore start at the top and include everyone in the organisation, and systems and policies must be effective in demonstrating that the organisation is equal, open and fair.

Increasingly, HR Professionals are increasing their own knowledge of the psychological aspects of work, by studying advanced courses in occupational psychology or organizational behaviour. They wish to ensure that they fully understand the processes involved in their practice, and can ensure that any training and development, even if outsourced, is based on both theory and the latest evidence. Diversity is one of many areas in HR that can be more fully informed by considering psychological processes.

Hiring Consultants – an ebook on selecting and contracting consultants

When do we need consultants

Performance measures help the managers of organisations to monitor performance and highlight problems within their areas that need attention. Problems in organisations tend to show through as symptoms in performance that result in deviations away from a desired norm. Symptoms show up as a change from an expected measure or just from a feeling of unease that some aspect of the business is not going well. Perhaps an environmental issue such as poor communications is suspected to be causing a problem that can be later traced back to some behavioural problem in a group or individual deep within the organisation – and far from where the symptom was felt.
Problems and their symptoms can occur at all levels of analysis within an organisation. From the Board Room via divisions, departments, groups and right down to individuals. Some types of problem occur in unexpected ways or appear suddenly such as the case of a competitor launching a new product that competes with your own but does so more effectively, cheaper and with better service. Or a sudden crisis blows up that has to be reacted to such as the credit crunch. What tends to happen in such areas is the problem is seen is a deviation in some form of qualitative or quantitative measure and this deviation can occur at some distance from the source of the problem itself. It is these symptoms that point to a problem deep within the organisation and give us the entry point to the diagnostic stage where the actual issue is pinpointed, the cause identified and solution proposed.
Some typical problems and symptoms to look would be:

  • High or increasing absenteeism.
  • Internal conflicts and tension between departments or individuals.
  • Missed project deadlines or cost overruns.
  • Performance and competitive symptoms such as:
  • Falling market share overall.
  • Declining profitability within certain product groups.
  • Increases in numbers of calls at the service centre.
  • Increasing waiting times as the accident and emergency department.

A common error is to not distinguish a problem from its symptoms, or to confuse a potential solution as the problem. For example it is common to identify Outsourcing a department as a problem to be addressed rather than a potential solution to some yet not understood problem. Also when an issue surfaces if it looks similar to one solved before managers and consultants will look for the cause of the problem close to where the symptom is occurring or to confuse the symptom with the problem and treat that rather then the underlying cause.
It is also common to assume that what worked last time will do as well now and the same solutions are proposed time and time again with ever diminishing returns. Research has shown different problems can manifest themselves in similar ways in terms of symptoms (such as declining market share). What can be seen as a symptom pointing to a specific local problem may only be a consequence of a much greater and broader issue in the organisation (such as a poor product development process resulting in product obsolescence hence market decline).
These sorts of effects can result in a false diagnosis of the problem and the potential over steering of a consultant during the initial assignment stages towards a particular given solution prior to any diagnosis being done. The problem is perceived as so evident that further diagnosis is redundant and a waste of money. Consultants will refer to this initial problem statement as the evoked problem. This is typically what would be described by the client to the consultant during the first meeting as the problem that must be looked at and good consultants use this to probe the problem space further whilst suspending judgement until at least some preliminary work has been done to identify the problem.
Clients should allow for this and treat with some suspicion any consultant who jumps straight away at the evoked definition of the problem or injects statements such as this problem is known, we have seen it before etc. – This is just demonstrating a simplistic understanding and is a danger sign that this consultant will be unsuitable.


What is the relationship between leadership and Motivation?

Leadership and motivation?

Research on motivation and leadership continued for many years with little interaction between the two areas, although more recently motivational concepts have been drawn upon to understand leadership processes. Many motivational theories were posited to have direct implications for leader behaviour, however the evidence for motivational impact is unclear. As motivation is an abstract construct, motives can only be inferred from reports or performance outcomes, not directly measured. Making these inferences are difficult because of the complex, dynamic and multi-causal nature of the concept, and wide variations in expression, furthermore there is considerable debate concerning the nature of the Leadership construct, which we shall discuss elsewhere on the forum. These issues make an assessment of the impact (effect or influence) of leadership on motivation at work, a difficult task. So, do leaders motivate?

Firstly, we need to unpack a little what we mean by ‘motivation’. Definitions concern influences on the direction, vigour and persistence of action. Work contexts are broad and varied, however in most cases organizations need people to be attracted to their organization and stay, perform tasks in a dependable manner and to do so in creative and innovative ways. Whilst one could argue that the latter requirement is not always present in work situations, motivation is of increasing interest as a potential explanation for workers productivity, effort and attendance. How can we assess and measure what impact leadership has upon this process?

In many cases the impact of leadership on motivation tends to be inferred by outcomes, particularly focusing on group or company performance, although work has been carried out on absenteeism (see Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003). However it is possible that a leader can motivate subordinates without this making any difference to effort or outcomes, conversely there are many other things a leader can do to improve performance that are not linked to motivation, therefore such studies are limited.

Other research uses multiple levels (e.g. follower, leader, leaders’ supervisor) often of performance ratings or constructs such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Although it has been suggested that more satisfied workers have a greater chance to perceive their jobs as motivating and take advantage of motivational interventions, the link between these concepts and motivation is unclear. Furthermore, research on attributional biases suggests individuals often view leaders as making a difference only in retrospect, therefore such ratings are prone to error (see e.g. Chemers 1997). Indeed such a broad range of measurement have been used, that this makes comparisons difficult, increasing the potential for confounding. Much research is correlational, making causal direction impossible to assess, and many other variables which cannot be controlled for are likely to influence findings. These issues of measurement have considerable implications for evaluation of research and theories, but firstly we should consider in what ways theories may inform us of a leadership-motivation link.

Theoretical Basis for a link

Steers et al., (1996) suggest ‘one of the most important impacts of organizational leadership, whether it be effective or ineffective, is on the motivation of organizational members’ (p618), but the links between leadership and motivation are often implicit. A great variety of theories of motivation exist, and a correspondingly great number of leadership theories have been developed, some we can discuss elsewhere on this forum). Theories of motivation can be classified on a continuum from proximal to distal (distance from actual behaviour), and content (dispositional/choice focus) or process (perception/volition focus). It is most likely that leadership behaviour will affect more proximal and processual aspects of motivation, making these theories more likely to inform. Motivational theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are still used to help understanding, but as little research supports the ideas these have been taken over by goal setting and exchange based theories of motivation. In terms of leadership, path-goal theory, and theories of transformation versus transactional leadership, have taken over from some of the earlier ideas. However, I will leave the theory for another day, and concentrate right now on two types of leadership – those at the top of the organization, and those in charge of teams:

a) Organizational Leaders
Much research assumes a link between CEO leadership, motivation and performance, but there is controversy over leadership impact on organizational performance. De Vries (1996) argues for links between top leaders and high performing organizations, although little robust empirical work is cited. Some suggest these outcomes are partly due to Transformational forms of Leadership, although the links are unclear, and even the more academic research has serious weaknesses. It is possible the outcomes considered are too far removed from the construct of motivation, perhaps the results will be clearer if we consider teams?

b) Team Leaders
Some evidence indicates that if a Leader is missing, member motivation may be low, implying that simply having a leader can increase motivation. Others argue that substitutes for leadership can make a leaders role unnecessary, however research indicates that leader effects are not neutralised, suggesting an emotional bond with a leader cannot be replaced (in Chemers 1997). Furthermore much of the ‘substitutes’ research replaces aspects that many would define as Management rather than Leadership.

Some suggest the presence of well-defined leaders may reduce a group’s ability to experiment, this view is supported by evidence that Charismatic leaders may deny empowerment – for some individuals this may result in de-motivation, although again, little systematic research has been carried out on this. It has also been shown that in routine reliable performance areas, charismatic leadership effects are neutralised (see Howell & Costley, 2006).

Research from a Social Exchange perspective suggests particular forms of team leadership can empower subordinates, which leads to increased satisfaction and fairness perceptions, and improved performance. There is also evidence of a significant relationship between delegation and subordinate performance and satisfaction. Deci (1990) argues that social influence strategies can attenuate intrinsic motivation; if one accepts a definition of leadership as a social influence process this suggests a positive influence for leadership. Yet there is evidence that non-contingent rewards and punishment are ineffective and may demotivate

The above evidence, although mixed, does suggest potential negative and positive effects of leadership on follower motivation, however, most of the cited research is correlational, therefore no causal direction can be proven, constructs are often ambiguous, and many studies are weakened by attributional biases. Perhaps difficulties with finding evidence are due to there being no leadership impact on motivation at all?

No Leadership Impact?

Some argue that leadership is purely an explanatory category, used after the event, due to attributional and prototype processes and a need for causal and controlling principles. It is suggested that leadership, in reality, has no direct impact. Others suggests this argument is misplaced, as it is just as likely attributions of outcomes to leadership is widespread because of direct experience of leadership effects. However, the evidence suggests leadership is often attributed after the event, (Steers et al. 1996) lending weight to constructionist arguments.

Others argue that much employee motivation is actually out of a leaders control (Shamir et. al 1996), due to the multitude of meanings that originate outside the organization, however it is acknowledged that these meanings can be influenced through the leadership function, influencing organizational culture, perhaps this is a key to motivation? The next article will consider this aspect.

Chemers, M.M. (1997) An Integrative Theory of Leadership, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M., (1990) ‘A motivational approach to self: integration in personality’ in R.A. Dienstbier (ed) Perspectives on motivation, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation,
De Vries, M.K., (1996) ‘Leaders Who Make a Difference’, European Management Journal vol. 14, no. 5, p.486-493
Howell, J.P. & Costley, D.L. (2006) Understanding behaviors for effective leadership. 2nd edition. Pearson.
Porter, L.W., Bigley, G.A. & Steers, R.M. (2003) Motivation and work behaviour, 7th edition, McGraw-Hill.
Shamir, B., House, R.J. & Aarthur, M.B. (1996) ‘The Motivational Effects of Charismatic Leadership: A Self-Concept Based Theory’, in Steers, R.M., Porter, L.W., & Bigley, G.A., Motivation and Leadership at Work, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill International.

Main Content for a Training and Development Policy

Training and Development Policy

‘Your company name’ believes in the importance of lifelong learning for all directors, staff and associates, and in the need for continued professional development (CPD). Crosslight works towards continual ‘reflexive practitioner’ processes, to enhance the learning environment for all involved in our projects.
The company will employ and contract from a pool of highly qualified, experienced and well-respected professionals who already have high levels of education (to at least Masters level with the exception of administrative staff). In particular, staff and associates are selected for their highly developed and practiced skills of written and oral communication, professional and ethical conduct, analysis and synthesis of a wide variety of information, and research and evaluation leading to sound practical advice for our clients. Professional development seeks to build on these skills to assist team members and individual researchers or consultants to apply these skills to satisfy our clients needs.
The training and development policy is as follows.
The training will be designed to enable associates and staff, where appropriate, to:

  • participate in accessible and relevant training and development which is economical in the use of their time;
  • experience learning methods which take account of individual learning styles;
  • participate in training which takes due account of prevailing legislation;
  • participate fully in training activities that will be relevant to all participants irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity or disability;
  • hone and apply core skills essential for all of the company’s methods.
  • What can staff and associates expect of the company?

All staff and associates can expect the company to:

  • provide induction to the work of Crosslight, its mission, standards and values;
  • train him/her in specialist skills needed to carry out or facilitate research or consultancy work; this includes effective use of the electronic communications system set up to support projects;
  • assist him/her to develop sufficient confidence to undertake or facilitate their projects;
  • hold regular reflexive practitioner meetings, coaching sessions and lead-researcher/consultant observations and follow-up reflection discussions.
  • work together in teams whenever possible and have regular team meetings focusing on development of skills;
  • provide training reference material to use after completion of their training;
  • provide the company’s documents they need to conduct the project to which they are assigned;
  • add them to Crosslight’s mailing list for receipt of relevant new publications and information about the company’s work;
  • provide them with opportunities to contribute to the evaluation of the methods which they use on Crosslight projects.

Benefits for clients and other organisations include
Adherence to this policy should provide the following benefits:

  • confidence that Crosslight team researchers and consultants are properly trained to undertake research and consultancy work professionally, and confidently;
  • consistent application of chosen method;
  • consistency in quality, ethical processes and benefit realisation.

Related documents: Quality Policy, Health & Safety Policy, Diversity Policy.

Getting ready for change carrying out a readiness assessment

Change Readiness

Many organizations find that change programmes, even apparently straightforward changes, fail to achieve their objectives. In many cases this is due to unclear aims, uncertain plans and a low awareness of what is required of the people involved.

Research has shown that a clear understanding of the current organizational situation, readiness for change, and the requirements for different stakeholders to enable the change, will help to increase the chances of success. An organization needs to understand the positive aspects of current attitudes, processes and behaviours that can be actively used to drive change, and the negative aspects that need to be reduced or controlled to avoid errors and reduce resistance.

Management Studies

In management research it is suggested that all components of change need to be assessed to gain a complete understanding of the level of readiness:

Management research emphasises the rational and political aspects of change, but tends to suggest that emotional responses are problematic. Much of the research is based on case-studies and tends to be descriptive, analysing change after the event and offering prescriptive solutions.

Psychological Studies

Psychological research focuses on three aspects of the individual during change, cognitive, emotional and behavioural, but also emphasises how the structure and situation within which the individual experiences change will influence their reactions. Emotions are accepted as a part of human nature, and both positive and negative aspects taken into account. Although this research also uses case studies, the concepts are backed up by tested theory and grounded in psychological experiments, enabling a much clearer view of cause and effect.

Psychological aspects of change:

Research in this area suggests that employees often view change as a signal that the organization may be reducing their side of the psychological contract, unless communication is clear they will tend to interpret any change as a potential loss. Many will experience anxiety and feel that their current schemas or mind-sets are challenged, which will increase anxiety further and lead to emotional contagion within groups. Psychological research also emphasises the importance of fairness or ‘justice’ perceptions during change, and how carrying out an assessment can be used to develop positive perceptions of ‘anticipatory justice’ to facilitate the actual change process.

Knowledge about the correct application of techniques to reduce anxiety, develop trust and commitment, adjust schemas, and help staff through processes of emotional and rational acceptance, will lead to positive behavioural outcomes. At the same time the correct use of behavioural reinforcement, goal setting, and role modelling will feed back into behavioural, emotional, and cognitive aspects.

Recent psychological research has also led to an awareness of the importance of considering both structure and agency in preparing for change. This suggests that it is important to assess and where necessary change the rules norms and roles that have developed in the organization. Consideration of organizational culture and history are important.

There is also now increasing evidence that organizational discourses (how people talk, the words they use, the stories they tell), strongly influence employees approach to change. Past experiences of change influence a persons approach to current and future changes, how groups of people talk about change can be an important part of the process. Although history is difficult to re-write, and cultural change is known to be extremely problematic, organizational discourse can be influenced over time, and analysis of this is another important tool for assessing change readiness.

Integrating management and psychological theory leads to seven key aspects of change:

A Holistic Approach

Many change consultants focus on the individual, arguing that individuals change not organizations. However, research suggests a more complex approach to change is needed, the organizational processes and structures need re-alignment to enable the individuals to change. Therefore a more holistic process is required, that takes into account the full range of likely barriers and enablers, all of which are interconnected, as highlighted above. All these aspects need to be taken into account when analysing readiness and designing each stage of the change.

Change Readiness Assessment

The readiness assessment includes analysis of the behavioural, emotional, cognitive, structural, rational and political aspects of the organization, specifically analysing the following areas:

o Values & goals
o Perceived management support
o Individual and organizational ‘self-efficacy’
o Perceptions of the history of change in your organization
o Communication flows
o Current & future measurements and rewards
o Change willingness x stakeholder
o Resources (availability, limitations)
o Processes (suitability, requirements)
o Management structures
o Administrative support processes
o Technology
o Knowledge levels
o Future-gap awareness

The methods used can be based on action research (therefore accepting that the assessment itself will generate some change, and actively using this) and grounded in the psychological and management literature, it will include:

o Focus groups to increase understanding of the above areas but also inform regarding communication processes and underlying blocks or channels for change promotion or resistance.
o Interviews with key stakeholders which will also enable assessment of private or sensitive issues.
o Survey instruments to add a quantitative element, provide access to a greater number of stakeholders, and enable some measurements for before and after the change.

As openness of communication is a key aspect of successful organizational change, it will be important to feed-back the findings to the people involved. Indeed, this feed-back activity will be an important mechanism in generating a positive approach to the change.

Readiness Assessment as part of the Change Process

Analysing the organization and the carriers and barriers for change is an important first step in any change process. Without this analysis it is difficult to assess what steps need to be taken to mobilise change. Perhaps more importantly, carrying out the assessment also enables the future change to be contemplated, discussed, and envisioned, with a potential loosening of current mind-sets, and pre-acceptance leading to increased push from all stakeholders. However, the process needs to be managed in a professional manner, making good use of psychological techniques to facilitate a positive outlook, as research suggests attitudes solidify early upon hearing of an imminent change and there is a need to secure a favourable sentiment from the very beginning.

Benefits of a Change Readiness Assessment

By carrying out a change readiness assessment an organization will enable:

o Increased likelihood of a successful change
o Clear objectives for the change
o Related measurements to enable assessment of success
o An understanding of what needs to be done to enable change, across a broad range of areas (processes, attitudes, behaviours)
o An increased understanding of the need to change for all stakeholders

Ethical Considerations

All assessments should be carried out under British Psychological Society code of conduct guidelines or similar code, by highly qualified consultants. All data should be collected, reported and stored to ensue anonymity and confidentiality. All participants will be offered the right to withdraw, and it should be stressed that participation is voluntary. As highlighted earlier, the information should be fed-back to the staff, which will also facilitate the start of the change process.