New Years resolution for businesses

January 11, 2010
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Historically, New Year’s is a time to make resolutions that drive positive change. Given the state of our local economy, business leaders must resolve to work together to improve our markets and turn adversity into opportunity.

Where do we begin? As many of you are painfully aware, our state has the highest unemployment rate in the country. In times like these, we must spur innovation and seek out creative approaches to foster growth, which will ultimately lead to new jobs. One of the best approaches to make this happen is by placing diversity at the top of an organization’s strategic priorities list. To be clear, by diversity I don’t only mean fair hiring practices or enhancing an organization’s image as a good citizen. I mean diversity in its broadest sense: diversity of thought, opinion and experience. In fact, research shows that diverse organizations enjoy quantifiable business benefits that homogeneous firms do not.

During these challenging times, however, many companies tend to place the so-called softer business issues, like diversity and inclusiveness, on the back burner. They are making a huge mistake. Studies show that organizations that truly value diversity and foster inclusiveness outperform others with respect to innovation, growth and efficiencies. Therefore, as we begin to emerge from the worst economic crisis in decades and aim to thrive in a complex global economy, our businesses require greater flexibility, varying perspectives and imagination. That is why I believe it is time for West Michigan businesses to resolve to increase their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. It will prove vital to the sustainability of businesses in Michigan and across the globe.

Any strategy can backfire if not executed properly. Yet when managed as other social, political or business issues, diversity can deliver remarkably positive results.

Be specific about what you are going to do in the short and long term with regard to increasing the diversity of perspectives and ideas in your business. In the near term, it might be as simple as adding five new colleges or universities with a higher percentage of minority students to your recruitment pool. Then, commit to reviewing a diverse slate of qualified candidates for every opening. In the longer term, initiate training for your managers that develops their ability to be inclusive leaders — those who can maximize the performance of diverse teams and viewpoints.

Be realistic in your goals. Look inside your organization first. Is there a broad range of experience, age and ethnicity reflected in your key decision-making committees? How can you immediately increase the diversity of opinion in those groups? How can you encourage all to speak up and feel comfortable sharing their ideas?

Remember, any change in behavior takes planning and commitment. But the more people you tell about your resolutions, the more support you will have in achieving them. So take the time now to clearly define your diversity resolution, and then share it with your organization.

If West Michigan’s business leaders collectively make diversity a priority within their organizations, we may see positive and significant change. The strength of our local economy depends on it.

Dave Hoogendoorn is the managing partner of Ernst & Young LLP’s Grand Rapids office.

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