Vector Group clients call on us to intervene when there are significant organizational challenges. Oftentimes, those challenges include issues of employee relations, morale, conflict, management ineffectiveness or significant clash during cultural integration following an acquisition. An apparent common theme between all these factors is often around “respect” between people or more likely a lack thereof from our experience.
We look at the issue of respect even more fervently within a societal context. With an increasingly important stance with regard to differences between people (race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, and the rest), we often hear about the “lack of respect” and how it brings conflict in varying degrees. We see the most current manifestations surrounding respect in the fast food workers’ struggle to get $15 an hour, the numerous recent gang murders in Chicago, Denver and other places and even around the issues of gay marriage or the transgendered.
Fast food workers want respect. Gang members want respect. Gay and transgendered people want respect. People with particular religious or political views want respect. People of color want respect. Adolescents want respect from their parents and from their peers. The police want respect. The list goes on and on but in short, we all want respect for who we are, what we believe or even what we do. We need and want respect within our families, our schools, our workplaces and certainly within society as a whole. If we do not receive respect, we demand it in any number of ways. We see with increasing intensity, the need for respect can escalate to civil disobedience or even violence.
For our purposes here, however, people count on respect at the workplace and if it is not present, they become discouraged, demotivated, disengaged, or worse; they enter into open conflict or even leave the organization. Organizational members expect their opinions to count, their work to be recognized and generally gain appreciation as employees.
In short, respect is a needed thing.
Respect and Diversity in the Workplace
So what is respect anyway? Respect is about acceptance, esteem, appreciation, admiration, recognition, regard and consideration. We can pull from all kinds of sources and contexts but for those of us who remember Aretha Franklin and her 1967 rendition of the song, “Respect,” the refrain was “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” Respect does mean different things to different people. Employers in this case, need to find out exactly what it means and do something specific about it that addresses the need.
With the increasing diversity in the workplace, many businesses clambered onboard the diversity training bandwagon. “Sixty-seven percent of US organizations and 74 percent of Fortune 500 companies utilize diversity training programs.” (Esen, 2005, Kimley, 1997) Ideally, diversity training is about helping organizational members to become more aware of and more sensitive to other cultures and people. Oftentimes, it boils down to dealing with issues of race relations or gender issues. As with anything else, there are proponents and detractors of such training.
Proponents say diversity training is “the right thing to do.” They take the higher moral ground and certainly feel justified in their view that diversity training helps people gain understanding, get along better in the workplace and contribute toward respecting one another. Opponents contend that diversity training builds barriers between people, increases divergence and detracts from commonality. “A recent review of 74 studies examining diversity training programs between 1970 and 2008 found that almost a third of the studies showed null or negative effects of diversity training.” (Kulik & Roberson, 2008)
Jones, King, Nelson, Geller and Bowes-Sperry (2013) pointed out that “one explanation for resistance to diversity training is that the training is typically based on ‘the business case’ for diversity, where diversity is justified on the basis of its contribution to the organization’s bottom line (e.g., Avery & Thomas, 2004; Kaplan, 2006; Kidder et al., 2004; K. Weaver & Gingrich, 2005).
Moving Toward Valuing Others
Our contention is that diversity of people with diversity of thought and action do affect the bottom line (the “business case”) in a positive way. Their contributions help achieve success of the enterprise. There is strength in numbers insofar as innovation and creativity for example. In our systemic view, the whole is better than the sum of the parts. We would agree that diversity training is limited in its scope by only focusing on stages of awareness, tolerance, and acceptance moving toward a celebration of differences whatever they are.
Further, if we agree that respect for each other is an underpinning for employee engagement and satisfaction, we believe this to be an integral part of organizational culture. The degree to which employees, including management, have respect for each other directly relates to the collective behavior within the organization. Collective behavior based on values and beliefs including positive reward (reinforcement) or punishment can promote respect for others or detract from it.
Diversity training oftentimes falls short because we see it most often couched as an “add on” or some kind of a one off program. To organizational members, it has a sense of “being forced” upon them in a sort of artificial way. With that said, do some good things potentially come out of diversity training? Absolutely. Could there be something more gained organizationally in terms of respect? Again, absolutely.
Although respect is a certainly a positive thing and demonstrates an appreciation for others, it, too, is somewhat limited. We honor the concept of respect but ascend to valuing others because it connotes some degree of action. Respect tends to be more static and can be more intellectual than emotional but if we truly value something, we seek it out. If we value other people, we tend to seek them out. We move organizations toward valuing others in practice rather than just respecting them. A colleague provided a humorous quotation focusing on just that by saying, “I can demonstrate respect for my dog, but I don’t value his opinion.”
Valuing others has a place in leadership approaches, too. An essential part of leadership is to set high expectations and model appropriate behavior. We define valuing others as:
• Expecting and getting the best from each other
• Treating others as they wish to be treated
• Seeking out other people and soliciting what we value from them (opinions, perspectives, perceptions, knowledge, skills, leadership, etc.)
A truly effective organization is one in which all employees contribute towards the corporate effort. To achieve this, the organization needs to create a positive climate in which people feel encouraged to participate; where the organization not only values their views, ideas, contributions and efforts but also seeks them out for these things. To reiterate, people naturally seek out what they believe to be of value.
We can model valuing others in the way in which we behave towards them, specifically, behaving in a way that demonstrates respect for them as individuals, irrespective of titles, position or status.
There are two sides of respect that dovetail with valuing others. We can give respect and we can earn respect.
Demonstrating respect for others means behaving towards them in a way that assumes they have value, their differences stem from legitimate motives, and that people’s intentions are typically responsible. Unless they have clearly demonstrated otherwise, all people deserve at least that level of respect.
Respect of Differences: Even the most homogeneous organization will have people who differ in many ways – in habits and interests, temperaments, personal and work histories, expectation, and a host of other ways. When we respect those differences as legitimate, they can be an energizing force for the organization, as well as a source of innovation and flexibility. Lack of respect for differences can destroy an organization through mistrust and misunderstanding, or outright hostility. To support our position of “seeking out” things we value from others, we recommend seeking out those who are different and offer different perspectives. We make better collective decisions when we leverage all points-of-view.
The key to getting the most from differences lies in assuming that differences stem from legitimate motives, and taking the time to communicate around differences. When people disagree with you, ask why, rather than view it as an attack; they may see something you do not, or vice versa. When people behave differently from your expectations, find out why; they may be operating on a different set of assumptions about what is appropriate. Assuming that differences stem from legitimate motives is the first step in understanding them. Once we understand our differences, we can learn to work with them – and in many cases, to benefit from them.
Respect of Intent: Most people want and intend to behave responsibly and competently. When we respect that, and behave accordingly, we are likely to get responsible, competent behavior from others. All too often, management behavior signals lack of respect for people’s intentions. For example, when we set up overly restrictive and detailed expense control systems, we may signal an expectation that people will not behave responsibly without them. When we give overly detailed instructions for an ordinary task, we may signal an expectation that the person will otherwise make a mess of things.
There are times, of course, when controls are necessary and when people need detailed instructions. Those should be limited to special situation that clearly warrant it; they should not become standard operating procedure.
Demonstrating respect for others goes a long way toward earning it for you. Beyond that, maintaining and building respect for oneself means behaving with fairness, integrity, and forthrightness. We earn respect, for example, when people can see that we are trying to act fairly in our dealings with them; when we have the courage of our convictions; when we deal directly with problems and issues, rather than sweeping them under the rug. We earn respect if others see us as truly committed and trying to do a good job.
Often, a culture in which people are not usually treated with respect, is one in which it is difficult to earn respect. Treating people with respect helps give them the confidence to do the things they need to earn respect. People respect those who accomplish the things they feel are important, and those who are willing to take action on important issues. Some people behave consistently as “victims” – they see themselves as unable to make a difference, as prevented from making anything happen. As a result, they abdicate responsibility for anything. Moreover, some organizations encourage this behavior by severely limiting decision-making authority, for example.
The phrase “you have to be strong to be respected,” does not refer to physical strength, or even unusual strength of character. It means being willing to take action, to accept some risk, and to act as if you can make a difference.
Potential Problems in Maintaining Respect and Valuing Others
• Lack of understanding of others’ values and circumstances
• Lack of appreciation for how others see us
• Restrictive organizational systems that signal lack of respect
• Reacting to differences in a hostile or defensive manner
• Assuming what others may think or feel about a particular situation
• Behaving to support the confidence and self-esteem of others
• Resolving issues by problem-solving, rather than giving directives
• Behaving as though you expect others to do things right
• Recognizing that differences in view can stem from legitimate motives
• Providing direction in the form of guidelines rather than rules
• Treating irresponsible behavior as an exception rather than a signal to establish controls or sanctions
• Looking to expand rather than limit individual decision making
• Asking appropriate questions; taking time to learn cultural differences
Things to Avoid
• Talking about other individuals or groups behind their backs
• Treating commitments lightly
• Stereotyping or “labeling” others
• Communicating, directly or indirectly, a low opinion of others’ capabilities or contributions
• Taking decisions away from them
• Any appearance of condescension toward others
• Not engaging in healthy contention for fear of signaling any kind of disrespect
VALUING OTHERS: Practices and Tactics
For one of our UK clients a few years ago, we developed this partial list of behavioral practices and tactics to help them recognize what valuing others looks like. Many of the practices deal directly with giving and earning respect; others can make a substantial contribution to creating a climate in which people feel valued.
Demonstrate trust in the decisions and actions of others.
• Use control systems only when genuinely necessary; substitute feedback, joint reviews, or joint planning whenever possible.
• When apparent irresponsible behavior does occur, do not immediately institute controls.
• Avoid giving overly detailed directions.
• Standing up for others with your superiors, when you believe they are right.
Show respect for those who work with or for you.
• Make a list of the things you personally find offensive or disrespectful; check to see if you do any of those to others.
• Seek out the opinions of others as to what they find offensive or disrespectful; check to see if you do any of those to others.
• When others appear disrespectful, do not retaliate; confront them calmly.
• Treating others in a fair and equitable manner.
Work to enhance the confidence and self-esteem of others.
• When people run into problems, ask for their ideas whenever possible rather than solving it for them.
• Give people a little less direction than you think they need but let them know that it is OK to ask for more.
• Limit the use of detailed, systematic procedures to situations that absolutely require it.
• Find opportunities to stretch skills and increase the confidence of others.
• Recognizing others’ experience by involving them in areas that demand their expertise.
• Demonstrating awareness and concern for others’ needs.
Encourage people to feel free to raise any issues or concerns of importance to them.
• If you are in a position of power relative to others, actively encourage questions.
• Limit your use of overly strong terms – e.g., “that could be risky, because … ” rather than “only a fool would do it that way.”
• Create a climate where people can raise any questions, issues or concerns
• Model openness, accepting and respectful behavior
• Listening openly to people’s ideas, regardless of their position in the organization.
Von Bergen (2013) asserted, “Valuing diversity emphasizes the awareness, recognition, and appreciation of human differences and revolves around creating an inclusive environment in which everyone feels esteemed.” That sounds very good but he goes on to say that diversity training programs “attempt to improve interpersonal relationships among workers by asking participants to become more tolerant—generally understood today as an approval and acceptance of others’ practices and beliefs.”
Being tolerant of others to us seems to be a constraining behavior rather than a less inhibiting one. Our belief is that members of an organization can do better than just tolerate (synonyms include stand, endure, stomach, bear, etc.) each other. Wouldn’t you rather hear “I value you” instead of “I can stand you or just stomach you?”©Vector Group, Inc., 2015
Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure are aligned to achieve breakthrough success. Visit our website at http://www.vectorgroupinc.com or call us at (800) 566-0877.
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