Monday
Mar212011

From Melting Pot to Salad Bowl

Diversity at its Best
By John T. Hewitt
Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

 

[Fourth in a series of articles on managerial and company building successes by John Hewitt.]

 

Diversity in the workplace has been discussed by every business leader at some time or another, and certainly, it has long been a topic for authors and politicians. But, as much as it is bantered about, I often wonder if everyone really thinks about how diversity actually affects their leadership skills and the future view of their businesses.

For years, the U.S. has been known as “a melting pot”, typically singling out New York City as the main “melting pot of America” because it has drawn so many people from so many different cultures – all hoping to capture that American dream. We were comfortable with this description of “America” as it spoke to its population in terms of the many ingredients required to flavor a “melting pot”. But I doubt that anyone ever really thought about what a “melting pot” actually intimates. Think about it — one pot, with lots of individual flavors and ingredients, all “melted” together to create one color, one texture, and ultimately, one flavor. Frankly, this does not sound very appetizing to me. On the other hand, the new nomenclature of “salad bowl” when referring to our multicultural population is much more appealing, and in fact, is more realistic and even healthier, if you will, if you view the significance of this expression. In a “salad bowl”, each ingredient retains its flavor, color and texture, each complementing one another and enhancing its overall nutritional value. So should it be for diversity in the workplace. Companies that incorporate multicultural ideals into their business plans are always going to be the leaders in their field because they will be the recipients of ideas and influences that are more far reaching than those that are needed for status quo business environments. After all, the true meaning of diversity is quite conceptual in that it is, in reality, an exploration of differences that ultimately celebrates individuality, while embracing the unique experience it brings to the workplace and business in general.

In the past, our immigrants were expected to assimilate with their new world, which meant that they not only had to learn the language and customs, which I believe is vital for anyone living in any foreign country, but they often were expected to give up their culture as well. That is to say, clothing and holiday celebrations were expected to revert to that which is accepted as the norm in the U.S. They were expected to look, dress and even celebrate in synch with our Anglo-Saxon roots. Customs and values that were so intrinsic to their culture were literally expected to be moved aside and/or just disappear altogether. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, that large companies such as AT&T, Sears & Roebuck and yes, even Coca Cola started to view the makeup of America in a distinctly different way. They started to view their ethnic consumers in a new light and realized that the importance of understanding the psychographics of these important ethnic communities was going to be necessary if their companies were to remain leaders.

This realization brought to the forefront the commonsensical approach of using demographics to determine the attitudes and tastes of a particular segment of a population. While all of this high-level thinking is important, especially as it relates to consumer behavior and their buying power, companies still did not get the actual importance of what all of this was revealing. Very simply, companies needed to open their doors, and in some cases, their hearts to “other” cultures and realize that the makeup of their staff, as well as management teams, must also reflect that of the ever-changing makeup of our new business environment.

Our society is far more diverse today than it was in the heyday of mass marketing when the previously noted companies were scrambling to stylize their messaging to meet the cultural nuances of each diverse market segment. For this very reason, through my years of leading successful companies and keeping an eye on trends versus realistic opportunities to grow my business, it was of great importance to me that both of my companies, Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax Service be among the leaders in understanding and embracing diversity in the workplace, that our employees and Franchisees also be educated in this corporate culture, and most importantly, that we not just react to the need for diversity as an afterthought.

In today’s business environment, there is a great deal of lip service given to diversity efforts as proclaimed by many companies, both large and small. Unfortunately, very few of them do more than hire a few “minorities” and then label themselves as a diversity-sensitive company. Another aberration that I have noticed as of late, is that some companies go to great lengths to create a Diversity Department with the sincere goal of satisfying the importance of diversity in the workplace and community, yet they have a tendency to bring in leadership that in no way resembles the multicultural environment they are attempting to create or reach. In spite of the numerous articles and books written about diversity, many business leaders continue to confuse this extremely vital piece of a successful company’s strategy with the act of simply creating rules to eliminate discrimination and racism in the workplace. While I do not take light of any biases, and without hesitation can attest that neither of these attitudes will ever be tolerated at any time in any company I lead or have led, diversity in the workplace has gone far beyond these fundamental issues. Instead, successful leaders must make diversity an all-encompassing strategy that should be at the core of their internal intelligence practices.

For this reason, when we created the Diversity Programs Department at Liberty Tax Service, we researched the market segment that we believed most needed our direct attention in terms of our core expertise, and how we could utilize this to build new business for our Franchisees while also providing a valuable service to the community. We decided to focus on the Hispanic community since it is the fastest growing immigrant influence in the U.S. today; and these new immigrants are in desperate need of information that will help them successfully enter into our mainstream economy as productive and contributing individuals. Once this was decided, we set about defining leadership and staffing needs that would make the impact our business plan required. I wanted to ensure that Liberty’s program would speak to the Hispanic community properly, as failure in this important effort was simply not an option. That said, we went about building a leadership and team that includes numerous Hispanic ethnicities, all of them fluent in Spanish and all of them community-driven. But, it’s not just a language issue; it is understanding the culture that truly makes the difference. I can guarantee you that the Hispanic Services Team at Liberty can speak a great deal more effectively to the Latino community than I can because, since they are all Hispanics, they understand the culture and realize that things we say in English do not have the same impact if we simply translate them into Spanish. [More on Liberty’s unique Hispanic initiative in another article to come.] The key with any diversity effort is to understand the value and importance of a diverse group’s contribution as employees, and in my case, Franchisees included, as well as consumers.

According to a breakthrough study considered by many business leaders as the benchmark for future business thinkers, Workforce 2020: Work and Workers in the 21st Century, by Richard Judy and Carol Damico, they described diversity in the workplace as much more than just zoning in on male/female selection or the color of one’s skin. Diversity in the workplace has become a broader more inclusive practice that requires integration principles and collaboration of ideas. Successful companies are keen on this perspective and successful leaders have learned to celebrate the priceless dimensions contained within each individual regardless of race, creed, disability, gender or color. In other words, it’s not just about a “kumbaya moment”, it is about an inclusive corporate culture that will thrive if nurtured with the influences and collective intelligence that only a multicultural environment can produce.

Essentially, regardless of race or ethnicity, no culture is homogenous. Successful leaders realize this extremely important reality and have learned to work with these many different influences in order to pull the best of the best from each individual for the betterment of the company and the communities they serve. One thing, however, that all humankind has in common is our mutual need to be understood and respected!

Thursday
Mar172011

The Origin of Varieties

by Gene Stowe on Tuesday, 15 March 2011 at 23:51 

When I was the farm writer for The Charlotte Observer some 25 years ago, a turkey farmer told me of a breeding project gone bad: genetic engineers (the old-fashioned kind, who used sex or at least intraspecies cross-breeding) had aimed at expanding the popular white-meat turkey breast -- and succeeded so well that the bird couldn’t stand without snapping his legs. It was about that time that in any number of fields, people suddenly realized that the gene pool was going shallow, and the loss could have disastrous results. Heirloom tomatoes and vegetable seeds became the rage, and some people planted brown cotton that had almost gone extinct in the drive for dye-friendly white fiber. I still have a boll from my own crop somewhere.

 I think about that a lot these days, because I believe something has gone fundamentally wrong in our discourse – a simple, easily corrected error of metaphor that is wreaking havoc as it runs unchecked through our political, social, religious and other conversations. From Peter King’s hearings to Stanley Fish’s latest column on Kant, from the labeling of a 1970 tire commercial as “misogynistic” to the unquenchable otherizing of Barack Obama, the same mistake echoes. I believe we are confusing “species” and “variety.”

 The misclassification, as I see it, amounts to this: Differences between persons, between cultures, between religions, between economic schools of thought – pretty much all differences we encounter among human beings – are being treated as if the other were of a different species rather than simply another variety within our own. The positions therefore are as unreasonable as they are unreasoned, for we are, in fact, all of the same species. One example: Setting aside constitutional niceties that might apply, even if Barack Obama were a Kenyan Muslim Socialist, he is still a human being, a member of our species. Nation, religion and economics are only varieties within that species, and the common humanity must be the starting point for the discussion. He is not the aliens of Independence Day, and neither is Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck. The movie allusion is deliberate: The problems we face, like the fictional invasion, are too big for us to remain divided. We must approach economic meltdowns, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the suffering of whole populations (Libya, Gaza, etc.) as a united humanity. We are one species.

 But I believe the opposite danger is just as real. We are one species, but we must not become one variety, or we could wind up like the turkeys unable to walk. The danger often comes under the heading of “American exceptionalism,” meaning not merely that Americans are an especially healthy variety of human beings and human social/political organization, but in fact that they have achieved the singular good in all those fields, and the goal should be for the rest of the world to be like us. (Singularity is the enemy of variety; “the good,” biblically speaking for example, is not a simple form but a creation teeming with differences.) I am very happy to affirm what is good in America, just as Pope John Paul II did – our love of freedom, our respect for human dignity, etc. I am happy we are the variety we are. But for our own good, we should let other varieties flourish. We never know when we might need to transplant a gene of, say, rigorous education or curbs on hate speech or universal health care to keep our own system flourishing.  

 The emphasis on “universal human rights” deserves some special care as we approach this on a cultural level. Too often, I am afraid, Americans take it to mean “they should be like us.” I expect we can agree on fundamental rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that come intrinsic to every person, although they may not in every place imply the sort of radical individualism that has grown up around “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness” in America. Take what I hope is an easy example: Egypt, a traditionally Islamic (and tolerant) nation could become a democratic state without granting a right to sell alcohol in public. (I read after the revolution that the young people were discussing appropriate organization for themselves, such as, perhaps, private sales.) Other topics come with increasing difficulty.

 The line between universal human rights and the right to culture may be in a different place than we now think. For starters, equality does not mean sameness. Cultures, including states with cultural identities, have a right to organize their domestic institutions – marriage, inheritance, punishment for crime, gun possession, social welfare, for example – in ways significantly different from the American approach (outlawing, for example, Holocaust denial), just as Americans have a right to organize their own institutions (upholding, for example, the free speech of Westboro Baptist Church). While every innocent must be defended from actual physical harm, remaining in a culture is a tacit agreement to obey its laws, or, in the case of civil disobedience, to accept the consequences. Of course, the right to emigrate should be guaranteed. I believe that respect for a wide variety of approaches will lead to opportunities of cultural experimentation that can provide invigorating cross-pollination among cultures, in customs and practices if not in laws. Certain expressions of modesty in one culture, for example, might demonstrably reduce teenage pregnancy rates and provide a model for other cultures. The success of problem-posing education in one culture might free some others from their emphasis on rote learning, or some synthesis better than both might appear.

 I come at this, of course, as a person who has in the past year made a fundamental self-identification move, and it wasn’t speciation. Part of what I believe about this is explicit in my faith: God could have made all human beings alike if He had willed, and the fact that He didn’t should give us pause if we are tempted in that direction ourselves. Part of this comes from my personal experience of finding out that entire groups of people I once considered “them” turned out to be “us” as human beings, whatever the variety of expression. Having seen two durable, comprehensive, identity-producing systems from the inside, I have a hunch that the experience of us-ness would be replicated across other groups as well. Part of this, as most of you know, was already present in my understanding of justice, solidarity and common humanity.  Whatever else the buzzword “diversity” means, I hope it means respect for the variety of human beings and human cultures, and an end to viewing our brothers and sisters as belonging to a different species, like H.G. Wells’ Martians. Let’s keep the cultural gene pool deep.

 

Wednesday
Mar162011


USAFA National Character & Leadership Symposium Speech 
Charles V. Bush  
Diversity Is A Leadership Issue  

My speech to the three US Air Force Academy annual National Character & Leadership Symposium 2011(www.ncls2011.net) sessions on Diversity went well. I was received well, twice in a lecture hall(capacity ~100) and received a "standing O" in Auditorium D-1(capacity~300-400). My thanks to the audience--Visitors, Cadets, Alumni--Denny King '63--Sr Leaders--LtGen Gould, BGen Clark,BGen Born, Dr Vila--and Col Joe Sanders and Faculty and Staff.  
It has come to our attention that a number of normally well informed folks were unaware of the progress made in the area of diversity, i.e. the creation of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (http://mldc.whs.mil/) and recent progress in USAF and USAFA, until my speech. This speaks volumes about the state of our institutional communications. However, as a first step to remedy this deficiency, I am releasing my speech (attached) for limited distribution.   
I encourage USAFA African-American cadets and grads to join or renew their memberships in the USAFA Way of Life Alumni Group (http://usafaway.org/), in order to enhance our communications with USAFA and with one another.
 
                                                                              Chuck USAFA '63

 

Sunday
Mar062011

Transforming From Within

~ A Simple Survival Guide ~

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service


[Third in a series of articles on managerial and company building successes by John Hewitt.]


     We all know that change is inevitable. And we all know that human nature has a tendency to fight it. Status quo can be so comforting; and understandably since any change intimates having to deal with an “unknown”. While it does indeed take a certain type of personality to feel comfortable with change, the reality is that as a company leader, you do not have to do this alone. Speaking from experience, having led two successful franchise businesses, I can attest to the fact that successful corporate transformation must start first from within, before it can be appreciated by the market at large. That means that in order to be successful at transforming your company, you must first understand that this goal covers a broad spectrum of business activity aimed at improving performance, and of course, productivity. And I can guarantee that none of this will happen through one single person’s efforts. Just as it is said that “it takes a village to raise a child”, no successful company exists based on one individual’s activity. Granted there must be a leader, but a savvy leader also recognizes that corporate culture and stakeholder involvement is paramount to achieving successful organizational transformation. These are the fundamental anchors of my simple survival guide for corporate transformation.
     Having been a Franchiser for the majority of my professional life, specifically within the tax industry, one might think that it is pretty much a “cookie cutter” business model.  But this is far from fact. Just as technology changes, so does the client expectation and the business environment, as well as their demands on corporations. Realistically, those practices that might have been considered standard operating procedures at one time, now require internal evolution to meet the needs of this world-wide transformation. When I started Jackson Hewitt in 1982, the business climate was quite different than it was when I started Liberty Tax Service in 1997. Technologies had advanced, staffing profiles had changed, and even the tax industry and the IRS were morphing into a “brave new world”, so to speak. Along with these changes, the franchising model also had to transform in order to provide the best work environment for our employees, and the best business practices and opportunities for our franchisees, who in turn, would then be able to provide the best service to their clients.  
     It’s true that many companies approach transformation through downsizing, layoffs, shifts in assets and resources, or even a combination of these. However, the way in which an organization is transformed, and the way in which that transformation is managed, depends almost exclusively on the style of leadership and the culture of the organization. A leader must equally appreciate the task and the people on whom he/she is relying to achieve this task.  That is to say, success in leading a corporate transformation directly relates to a leader’s ability to balance these two intrinsically related dimensions.
With Liberty Tax Service, we have continued to grow and expand our offices and franchisees consistently, even during a time in which many consider our economy to be somewhat challenged. Our competitors, on the other hand, have proven to do the opposite. While they are closing offices, we are opening hundreds more a year. Why? Because, at Liberty, we have created a culture that strives to maintain clear corporate values and direction. Most importantly, we believe it is incumbent on us to share these values with employees and franchisees so they can properly engage in our internal transformation. Leaders must always remember that sustaining a culture of change requires consistency and personal investment. Without these, credibility is challenged resulting in constant organizational chaos. After all, there is a big difference between ‘transformation’ and ‘perpetual reorganization’.
Sometimes it’s tough to keep your entrepreneurial spirit at the forefront. And yes, sometimes it is easier to just make a day out of going through your email. Keeping your creativity levels high while keeping an eye on “what will happen and what will change” in your industry, and the effects these two intangibles might have on your company, is not only challenging, but it can be exhausting. But, buckle-up, because this is what you chose when you decided to become a successful leader!
     In our industry, we are always in transformation mode. Tax laws change yearly and restrictions abound in synch. So, a process that might have been successful one year, may easily prove to be inadequate the next. Successful leaders must always have a broad view of the business landscape so they can remain in tune with the needs of an ever changing environment. Diversity has played a major role in the transformation of businesses across the nation, and those companies that understand and embrace this emerging influence are going to rise to the top every time. (We’ll discuss this extremely vital piece of the transformation equation in another article.)
     Essentially, successful transformation requires that leaders build-in “unpredictability” into their strategic focus, and accept the reality that adapting at break-neck speed should become the norm within your company’s and your stakeholder’s processes. This does not mean forsaking planning; but it does mean that the spirit of experimentation should be integrated as part of your decision process. While you may occasionally make a mistake, you will also have learned exactly what went wrong. It is important to bear in mind that the most damaging property any leader can embrace is maintaining a steadfast allegiance to conventional thinking. By virtue of its definition, transformation often requires out-of-the-box strategies, and only leaders who ‘get it’ will be able to claim success in their industry.
     Bottom line –  every successful leader’s “transformation survival guide” should include the basics:  know the business you are in; apply your internal collective brainpower; and finally, extraordinary leaders stay imaginative and resourceful. Equally, boldness should be incorporated into a true leader’s DNA. This should not be confused with brashness. Instead, it means that “nothing is unreasonable to be thrown on the table for review and consideration”. Then, you bring in experience, expertise, knowledge, foresight and processes to create well-thought out implementation tactics.