Did we accidentally ask for diverse ethics?

Bob* had gone through four HR managers in ten years. When he talked about it, he slumped like a sack of potatoes, “Jack, I don’t get it. All I want is someone who will hire people who fit. I’ve spent most of my life building this company. We know we have a great culture. For the first thirty years, we never had a turnover problem, and for the last ten, that's been our biggest problem. I’m ready to sell if we can’t fix this.”

Me: What changed ten years ago?

"Man, I hate to say it, but there’s only one answer. Diversity."

(That was not what I expected to hear either.) Bob, how did diversity cause turnover?

Bob leaned in like he was telling me a secret, "Jack, these HR people keep telling me that diversity is the answer, and that we need more of it in our company. I say fine. Then they go out and hire people who can’t get the job done. For the last decade, we’ve diversified and steadily lost market share."

Okay, what’s the difference?

Bob sat up, "We constantly get bogged down in conflict, managers who yell and demand so much that they run off talent, and I’ve heard way too many complaints that our people tell customers whatever they want to hear instead of the truth."

Anyone watching could see the tension. I wanted to clarify, "Unresolved conflict, harsh management, and lying. Bob, those sound like ethical issues. Is it possible that you’re blaming the wrong measure?"

Diversity was not the problem, and we both saw the solution shortly after the initial exchange, which is often the case once we clarify the problem.

The positives of diversity far outweigh the negatives as long as we limit our definition of diversity to gender, race, and religion—the typical measures considered when one seeks a diverse population. Bob’s problem was not diversity in the standard sense; his problem was diverse ethical values.

Organizations only grow with shared ethics.

We may hire people from seven, forty-seven or forty-seven hundred different cultural backgrounds. As long as they share the ethical value of treating others as you want to be treated [or you could insert one of your core values], everyone will do fine. Our corporate ethics demand that we treat others as we want to be treated, and it’s not negotiable. If someone believes their needs outweigh others' needs, that’s fine, but our ethics don’t change. We value others, and to work for us, their ethics and behaviors must match ours. I bet it’s the same at your organization.

As an employer, you are paying people to adopt your ethics.

The Ethics Award questions:

  1. How much diversity on ethical issues do you allow?
  2. How are you communicating ethical expectations?
  3. How closely aligned are your expectations to easily observed organizational behaviors?
  4. What ethical challenges does a diverse workforce present?
  5. How do you overcome those challenges?

*names changed