Colors of Holi – United in Diversity :)

The colors of Holi makes me very nostalgic and takes me back to the BHEL colony where we used to play Holi and the celebration in the neighbourhood, no matter what was your cast, creed, religion and culture Holi was the most celebrated festival there, in fact all other festivals were, be it Deepawali, Id, Christmas, Gurupurab the enthusiasm in the colony was just awesome.

The reason I  joined HR actually came from all these things, our upbringing, the value systems and the multi religious friend circle of our parents, made it possible for all of us to be open to the diversity of cultures blending together.

Cultural diversity has been a problem area for many organisations, till date there have been some or the other cases happening in companies which are related to culture diversity, be it groupism, bias, communication problems and so on. But any organisation you join today you will come across a vast diversity, especially in the MNCs where such diversity is welcome as it brings in fresh ideas, more creativity and better culture.

However, the range of diversity can be very wide, the language, thought process, religion, ethics, value system, festivals, beliefs, Gods and even eating habits and so on, all these need to be handled carefully as people are generally very sensitive towards such issues.

Let me present a practical case to all of you: We were working in an MNC , the Indian subsidiary of this company was just involved in sales and service of Machineries and there was no manufacturing done here, we were a team of 36 people initially and a close knit group. We used to have monthly meetings where all the team members, no matter where they were in the country used to come to the Head Quarters which was in Delhi. During these meetings the Administrative Executive, who was reporting to the HR department, had to also arrange for food apart from other things.

Once in the month of April, all the team mates were in office for a meeting and the office environment was quite different from the other days, it was vibrant and lively with the presence of the entire team, and it felt nothing less than a festival. During lunch suddenly a lot of noise was heard from the pantry, and I was amazed to see a very humble and polite colleague of mine shouting at the top of his voice. After our intervention we got to know the reason that made him so upset that he started shouting, this colleague of mine was a follower of Jain Dharma and was used to eating satvik food which is prepared without onions, garlic and potatoes. Generally we would order a special thali for him but this time we goofed up and so he created the nuisance.

The idea here is not to demean any Dharma or religion but the point is that employees can be sensitive to such areas also which was not taken that seriously by many of us in the company.

Handling of cultural diversity is an area where the company has to take care of lot of things such as:

Teams: The mix of different cultures and variety of people bring in better team work and with the initial hick ups people generally tend to mellow down in such groups and perform much better than they do in homogeneous groups. The consideration is to have proper mix of varied cultures to bring out the best.

Outlook towards Boss and Superiors: This can be a problem area if not taken care of in a professional manner; people tend to get a stereotypical notion about their superiors in an organization. The most common example is that of bias “woh to Punjabi hai to Punjabi ko hee promotion dega.” Prejudice comes in the way even if such things do not exist. Better communication and a transparent culture can keep such assumptions at bay and can put a stop to any such behavior and rumors.

Creative thinking: Many researches have proven this fact that the diverse the group the better creativity they can bring out in the group. The major responsibility lies on the shoulders of the leader who has to imbibe that kind of a culture which can bring out the best in a group of people coming from varied backgrounds.

Foster the culture of Openness: People will always be resistant to some changes in the organisation be it of any nature, to curtail to such resistance the leadership management needs to craft  the culture of openness, culture of equality which can be absorbed in the companies in such a manner that all these things just look shallow.

Global Approach: With many mergers more companies look forward to a global approach at work which can be effectively accomplished through handling of diversity. With a blend of people speaking different languages, having assorted beliefs and values, different styles of working, an organisation can offer their services to a wide geographical area.

Communication: The biggest challenge lies in handling communication, where you have such a mixed breed of human resources there you have to make sure the channels and the methods, everything is defined in an approach that reaches the mass without much hassle. As far as my experience goes perceptual barriers lead to far more destruction than even the language barriers so utmost care is required to handle these areas.

The policies, processes and systems need to be well crafted where companies are looking to go global. A well organized plan can take care of diversity related issues.

  • Arsofi

    HI Archna, Nice article….ARSofi

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    thanks Sofi….

  • Gayathri Chilakalapudi

    The problem of cultural diversty in an organisation and area’s to be concentrated to avoid problems because of some common reasons like goofing up and others is very good regarding this article

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    I’m thankful Gayathri for the kind words. Hope sharing my experiences will help the readers to think unique solutions to different problems.

    Stay tuned for more…everyday..:)

  • Nikhil Gurjar

    Cultural current has multiple manifestations:
    Lowest level: A tendency to be open… Usually evolves into a mix-breed ‘creature’ that is hard to manage! Finally, it becomes difficult to do the ‘clean-up’.
    Moderate level: Creates a multitude of grapevines. Can often become a political minefield. Information conditioning often reflects on the values of the organization.
    High level: The various groups tend to be at loggerheads. However, one of them has power, and one frequently sees friction among the ranks.

    Indians are an intrinsically diverse lot and hence, they have a tendency to quickly accept, adapt and even follow the ‘rules’ set by another culture. There are outliers everywhere, though.

    Unlike local offices elsewhere in the world, where the culture is strongly local (you will see that in American companies operating in Europe and vice versa), Indian companies take pride in adapting the promoter’s tradition.

    The idea of managing diversity is often times best achieved by giving clear guidelines to decision-making. I recall talking to a HR expert who worked with a German MNC in India, stating that some practices were rather ‘suprising and unexpected’ for her… The essential factor was the lack of proper guideline to decision-making. Most times, the goals are not clear and so, one tends to go by one’s culture… can be frustrating! This single factor (guidelines to dm) reflect in the outlook towards the boss, the transformation to a global approach and the communication.

    Political support is another critical factor in this exercise. That spans across team building, creativity, openness, etc. Any HR intervention must explicitly address this issue.

    Every other intervention, is probably a nice-to-have. For instance, conducting a party to celebrate together, doesn’t cause lesser attrition (a critical business factor)! Neither does it improve productivity. It only provides a forum for interaction, which is powerful for new organizations but is seldom used as the organization matures.

    Hope I am not too picky!