The diversity and agility of talent

August 31, 2021 | By Maretha Prinsloo


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The concepts of “diversity and inclusion” and/or “learning agility” are currently in vogue in Talent Management. The aims are to optimally accommodate varied and changing employee populations due to migration, remote work, educational, cultural, and political factors as well as to capitalise on continuously evolving business challenges.

Diversity and agility initiatives are normally implemented to create organisational cultures which reflect the values of acceptance of individual and group differences, independent mindedness, creativity, adaptability, impartiality, tolerance, and the like.

However, political directives often dictate and legalise very specific interpretations of these concepts in terms of crude criteria which may result in incompetence, centralisation, and collectivism in the work environment. Enforced compliance to quota systems, for example, often necessitates ‘window-dressing’ which causes frustration, misunderstanding and informal group biases as opposed to job effectiveness and innovation. Rigidly imposed solutions may therefore stifle the very essence of what is intended by the concepts of diversity and agility.

Demands for compliance in this regard also do not bode well for the long-term survival of corporates. In a world where the annual revenues of giant corporations dwarf the economies of many countries, the possible implosion of corporate culture poses an imminent risk to societies.

The work of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, whose 12-volume tour de force analysis (1934 - 1961) of 23 civilisations, their emergence and demise, throws some light on the situation.

According to Toynbee’s stage model, civilizations or societies move through the stages of genesis, to growth, to new challenges, universal states, and finally to disintegration. According to Toynbee, civilisations arise from responses to challenges on which cultures are ultimately based, and not in response to external factors such as race and environment.

He ascribes the emergence and growth of societies and civilizations primarily to innovation by “creative minorities” who inspire others. He also explains that the disintegration of civilisations and societies does not lie in the loss of control or attacks from outside, but in the loss of creativity and the emergence of a “dominant minority” which enforces previously effective solutions that no longer meet new challenges. Their efforts to preserve power and influence invariably result in resentment, followed by discord in society, detachment, decay and finally transcendence to new possibilities and solutions.

Therefore, HR is wise to keep the big picture in mind when addressing organisational challenges. The concepts of diversity and adaptability which have emerged from a universal realisation of the discrepancies within modern society indeed need to be capitalised upon as they offer significant opportunities. The question is how?

When it comes to diversity and agility within organizations, it is obvious that more than biographical characteristics need to be considered. Solutions are to be based upon an understanding of what is actually involved. Consequently, a theoretical framework is required which explains the building blocks and dynamics of consciousness, psychological and societal functioning, cultural frames of reference as well as the issues of learning and complexity, all of which lie at the heart of diversity and adaptability.

This is where the Spiral Dynamics (SD) model of Clare Graves is of critical significance and importance. It addresses all aspects of individual and societal consciousness within an elegant, holonic, developmental framework of ever emerging levels of awareness of which eight such currently active orientations, worldviews or cultural memes are described. The model also integrates the contributions of developmental psychologists like Piaget, Perry, Loevinger, Kohlberg; social philosophers such as Gebser; consciousness theorists including Wilber and May; as well as the Christian, Hindu and Hebrew spiritual traditions. An understanding of this model of consciousness contextualises the meaning of diversity and agility and enables us to make the most of human talent.

It may be useful to capture some of our own observations over time in the practical application of the SD model. To ensure that potentially diverse contributions are best utilised towards organisational creativity and adaptability, the following principles seem to apply:

  • The concept of “altitude” inherent to the holonic SD model (in which higher level valuing systems integrate and transcend preceding systems), offers solutions to many organisational challenges. This aspect can be leveraged to fine tune internal and external communications, resolve conflict (from higher level valuing systems than those which caused the conflict), capitalise on and integrate differences in opinion, adapt to new contextual challenges; and so on – all of which may contribute to organisational agility.
  • Effective leadership in all categories and levels of work is required. This means that the leader’s values and capacity to manage complexity should be appropriate to the contextual challenges involved plus, they should resonate with and exceed that of followers in terms of the holonic SD model.
  • The value orientations of top leadership, or the executive, normally permeates the organisational culture and sets the stage for its functioning. To leverage this aspect, in-depth understanding of the SD profile of the leadership team and the implications involved is required.
  • The more complex an organisation and/or industry’s functioning is, the more diverse its value orientation composition should be to allow for resilience through rich and varied responses – but this resilience can only be achieved through integrative leadership.
  • Everyone within the organisation should understand the organisational values and strategic direction as well as the industry requirements in terms of the SD model.
  • The values, worldviews and cognitive capabilities of employees should be carefully matched to their job requirements so that the “right people are in the right jobs”, as this is perhaps one of the most powerful talent management strategies to leverage diversity and enhance employee engagement, performance, and development.
  • Everyone, both leaders and followers, should also understand their own and others’ value orientations so as to ensure collaboration based on interpersonal understanding and appreciation of differences. That understanding is facilitated by an organisation-wide acceptance of a common model or road map indicating the benefits of various approaches.

The value orientations as specified by the Spiral Dynamics model can be assessed using Cognadev’s Value Orientations (VO).