Case Study 4

Do We Really Know OUR People?

PROBLEM:  I have a diverse workforce and I don’t want to make a cultural mistake and offend anyone- how do I know what might offend and what might not?

Process mapping is often thought of in relation to IT, but this is not the case!  For our recent F&B client, IDA were asked to assist with job descriptions for a local restaurant chain.  However, before writing an accurate job description, you must understand the exact job.  This is just one of the reasons process mapping is so important.  Read on to learn how Helena helped this local favourite F&B company draft their job descriptions, including metrics for performance measurement, by using process mapping.

David was invited into an international organisation based in Dubai as the company head of HR believed that the cultural awareness within the organisation was lacking, despite employing a highly diverse workforce.  During the company observation, it became evident to David that the organisation had evolved de-facto working environment that used the English language as the primary language used and attempted to use western cultural techniques, despite the majority of the workers coming from Eastern countries. 

Evidence shows that language is the critical method for knowledge sharing, so any limitations, inconsistencies or deviations can seriously impact the quality of knowledge sharing. What David saw was that the use of language became an inhibitor to innovation and idea generation.  The variance of linguistic skills and competence formed marginalisation based on linguistic competence. Many of the workers chose to limit their interaction in English rather than run the risk of losing face and appearing weak. This created groups formed around linguistic barriers where individuals preferred to communicate with people of a similar linguistic background, thus maintaining the symbolic power of the national language. 

This use of language clusters dampened cross-cultural linguistic exchange. It made workers share critical information and seek advice from only within the linguistic cluster, which forms knowledge networks making knowledge seeking and dissemination a linguistic driven activity rather than an expertise-driven activity.  The observation showed that this linguistic constraint developed and polarise polarised group identities to reinforce or maintain stereotypes, leading to a vicious circle where communication became less effective, as did knowledge sharing. 

To address these linguistic problems, David encouraged individuals to talk in a more social environment where the work pressures were less prevalent.  He also introduced a system that encouraged knowledge sharing in groups where the variance of skills did not limit the interaction.  This created an open atmosphere that encouraged good English language speakers to help the lesser competent speakers.  This demonstrated no correlation between the quality of the English Language and the quality of ideas and innovation and encouraged all workers, irrespective of language ability, to have the confidence to speak more openly.  


This is just one example of the challenges facing managers that employ a diverse workforce.  By culturally educating the whole workforce, the benefits of diversity can be realised and exploited.