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The purpose of this assignment is to critically discuss the benefits and challenges of adopting a diversity management approach with regard managing a multi-cultural sales team within the pharmaceutical sales environment. In doing so the assignment will explore the challenges and benefits of managing a multi-cultural sales team using information sourced from various journals, articles and websites. The discussion will highlight issues around dealing with cultural diversity and the implementation of a diversity management framework. Finally the assignment will aim to identify components of the diversity management framework that will complement the strategy to broaden the appeal of the organisation to the broader, multicultural population of potential employees for the field force.


Diversity Management as defined by the U.S. Department of Security is “The emphasis of a structured management geared toward diversity is understanding, valuing and managing differences and similarities to obtain enhanced communication and increased productivity in any environment where human interaction is a relevant factor” (US Dept. of Security, 2014). This definition is an appropriate one to use in relation to the issue of managing a multicultural sales team, particularly when considering the importance of communication and productivity within sales teams (Conger, 2004). Conger’s assertion that teams who communicate frequently are evidenced to be more successful than other who do not highlights advantages around enhanced communication for business success and focusses on one of the obvious issues for a culturally diverse team. (Brett, 2006).

The team that is the subject of the assignment is made up of eight members possessing a variety of ethnic backgrounds. These being Malaysian, Chinese, Egyptian, Australian, Greek, Mexican and Indian. Managing this group of sales people can present challenges as a result of that diversification. Whilst the team is bonded by the organisational culture of the organisation, it is the ability to allow 100% of their cultural background into the organisation that will result in the most positive outcomes (Kahl et al., 2010). The flip side to that argument is that bringing 100% of their cultural values to the workplace there is also the potential to exaggerate problems as a result of cultural clashes (Brett, et al., 2006). The organisational culture is based on four pillars of behaviors that fit under a banner of ‘Lead and Learn’ (Appendix 1). These pillars list Being Connected, Taking Initiative, Getting

Results and Growing Together as the four areas the entire organisation should be aligned with to be culturally cohesive. In practice, these behaviors form a strong basis from recruitment to performance management to ensure individuals are aligned and operating in ways that clearly demonstrate their alignment. Being as prominent as they are, measurement is commonly made against these behaviors and there may be an issue as to the universality of the definitions and therefore how each individual interprets the demonstration of these behaviors. The question then arises, “is a diversity management approach a positive or is it a negative particularly when trying to align a diverse group with common (arguably western) cultural behaviors?”

The main reason for the move to a multicultural sales team is better understood when consideration is given to the customer base the sales team visits. Over 50% of General Practitioners consulting in Australia are now born overseas (ABS, 2011). Additionally, the ethic mix of these GP’s is largely split between the UK, India, Malaysia and China with a growing number from the Middle East (ABS, 2011). It is part of the strategy to have a team of diverse sales representatives to engage with a diverse population of customers. Clancy (East, 2010) reports on an influx of overseas doctors continuing to enter Australia so this would indicate a continuing need to develop a sales team that can engage and service this customer base.

The purpose of developing such a team aside, the characteristics of the diversity issue that need management are primarily involved with the continuing recruitment of sales representatives, the continued career path opportunities for the group and communication challenges as previously indicated.


The benefits to managing diversity are not always obvious although there are many articles, journals and advisors who have vast opinions on the matter (e.g., Bowers, Pharmer, & Salas, 2000; Joshi & Roh, 2009; Webber & Donahue, 2001). If you take a resource based view, an organisation’s competitive advantage and growth are reliant on its unique group of functions that is has and uses (Carpenter, Sanders and Gergerson, 2001). Growing a diverse employee base accentuates that uniqueness and can create competitive advantage in areas such as

innovation (Raatikainen, 2002). Building a case to support business diversity is difficult when you consider it in contrast to other business propositions because the impact on the organisational bottom line is not clear (Robinson and Dechant, 1997). As a sales manager a key benefit of managing diversity of my team is to maximize the effectiveness of each individual resulting in a maximized performance of the collective team. Individually, careers are judged on sales performance and team performance so there is an obvious benefit to the individual with regard to managing diversity within the team as managing to the employees differences will assist each member achieve the results personally that will highlight their career prospects.

A major benefit of a clear diversity management strategy is increased access to the industry’s limited talent pool. Demonstrating a solid diversity management program can help sustain a competitive advantage when competing for this talent (Robinson and Dechant, 1997). How can it do this? By being seen as an organisation that values skills first and foremost. This will attract talent as they will invest in an organisation they perceive to be fair and just and rewarding skills over other aspects.

Our business is focused on customer’s needs. In the competitive environment we operate in, a clear understanding of their needs, both professional and cultural create opportunities. Recruiting culturally diverse Doctors to educational events can be compromised by religious beliefs, other Doctors may not be comfortable answering the probing questions of a sales representative, there may be power distance issues with regard to GP-Specialist relationships meaning Doctors are unlikely to contradict a perceived superior Specialist opinion regardless of their belief. Ozbilgin and Tatli (2008) cite advantages in being able to mirror your customer base such as discussed above with an example of a US firm employing diversity management strategies in their headquarters. They were able to use their diverse knowledge of international markets and customers in their launch programs targeting the specific cultural norms as part of the strategy.

Understanding these and employing a sales team that reflects the cultures we service brings benefits and potential competitive advantage to our organisation. It is what Thomas and Ely (1996) termed “The Emerging Paradigm: Connecting Diversity to Work Perspectives” (p.48) This paradigm takes advantage of the differences creating An environemt5 where workers can say “We are on the same team, with our differences-not despite them (Ely and Thomas, p.51)”. The critical side of diversity is it can be seen as means to an end in achieving a legal

requirement and not a tool for fairness and inclusion (Shen et al., 2009). Managing diversity this way potentially can become exclusive as particular cultures are targeted for recruitment. Also, there is a real difficulty in identifying a bottom line incentive for managing diversity and funds used to do so may be easily accounted for in other areas (Robinson and Deshant, 1997). As indicated previously, cultural differences bring about the greatest potential to derail effectiveness of team interactions because culture has dictated the norms for individuals to expect when interacting and these can differ greatly (Raatikainen, 2002) creating frustration at best. Finally, Cultural values and norms are often well hidden and difficult to identify and as a result of this they usually hinder any smooth interaction of a team until uncovered (Di Stefano and Mastieski, 2000).

Previously we spoke of the uniqueness benefits that managing diversity can bring and there are different dynamics that provide that advantage such as written about by Seymen (2006):

“Many surveys reveal that teams and a general workforce composed of individuals coming from different cultures can present more effective resolutions for the business problems. They show excellent performance in the long term and carry out their duties efficiently when compared to homogeneous employee groups. It can be said that this difference partially derives from the perspectives, views and experiences increasing creativity and novelty in multicultural teams (Seymen, 2006, p302).”

These advantages are highly sought in the industry the team operates within, a heavily regulated industry that can benefit from creative and unique ideas in serving customers and their needs, providing support for targeting diversity. Cultural diversity within work teams is shown to lead to process losses as a result of task conflict and disjointed social integration however it also leads to process gains through the increase in creativity and team satisfaction (Stahl et al., 2009)

In managing the differences of the individuals in the group, the first step is to understand them and this is where reference to Hofstede’s framework (Hofstede and Bond, 1984) can be helpful. As indicated, the behavioral framework within this organisation uses the lead and learn pillars to demonstrate cultural alignment and a main issue is whether or not the interpretation of these pillars is the same for each individual member. Hofstede’s framework can provide a background from a cultural perspective as to what may be impacting the interpretation of these pillars. It is important to note the study was based more on a countries cultural bias as opposed to an individuals, so it is important the results are not taking into

account individual personality traits that may impact (Chiang, 2005). It is useful though in understanding the building blocks of individual’s experiences and how they may interpret things as a result.

In their current environment, the sales team need to be autonomous and aligned with a cultural trait of taking initiative. Taking Initiative lists decision making and taking ownership of the situation as some key attributes. When you consider a team as diverse as the one being referred to the issues around power distance, which impacts the distribution of power, can be identified. For example, Hofstede ranks Mexico as a country with a very high power distance rating (Hofstede and Bond, 1984), meaning that the decision making and problem solving is likely to be seen as a management role not a worker role. If we translate that onto sales team it may have implications around how individuals from Mexico interpret the term initiative and therefore affect the perceptions of their performance given it is generally being judged by someone from a low power distance country, Australia. This flows back to communication issues as well when communicating with a group. The challenge is to ensure that any relevant Mexican influence on this sales rep is understood and strategies are in place to have the representative understand what displaying initiative in this setting looks like whilst having an understanding of their potential discomfort around this and incorporate that into the review process.

Citing this example potentially identifies a criticism of diversity management being that all employees want fairness and the perception of fairness may not be apparent to all. Providing a different framework around measuring the adaption of the organisation values may cause discomfort form within the group and lead back to what (Di Stefano & Mastieski, 2000) identified as a hindrance to smooth performance of diversified teams. Underlying this criticism would be the ability of the leadership to articulate the diversification strategy and provide a clear understanding to all of the organisation how this strategy benefits every employee and the overall business performance.

This culturally diverse team is also coupled with a gender split of 50/50. That is judging gender through a biological definition. The cultural roles of females and males can give rise to other challenges. Within the team what considerations would need to be given to employees with families who culturally accept the role of primary caregiver to extended family members? Is the organisation set up in such a way to accommodate the flexibility needed to accommodate such requirements? Whilst legally the organisation may well be able

to accommodate the situation, where does it stand in relation to true diversity management? According to Hofstede, Portugal is ranked as a predominately feminine slanted culture (Hofstede and Bond, 1984). Does this have relevance for the organisation as it recruits new employees to be aware of what needs may be required if a Portuguese mother was recruited?

Finally the challenges in managing diversity from the point of view of the individual is one of inclusion and exclusion. A main challenge that surfaces is that by specifically managing issues for the diversified individual am I compromising the inclusiveness of all other individuals? Embracing the differences needed for a truly diverse workgroup is a challenge in itself. Interestingly, an issue within the workplace surfaced around the Easter public holidays, a Christian celebration where two days public holidays are observed by all regardless of denomination. Having Greek members of staff, the challenge was to incorporate their needs for Greek Easter Good Friday which followed a week later. This was seen as simple for management to offer an additional day off to observe the festivities, however other staff made noise and were questioning the appropriateness of this in light of the previous public holidays made available to all questioning the fairness of the decision. Having the culturally diverse sales team does present unforeseen issues at time such as this.


Implementing a diversity management framework within the organisation to facilitate the continued focus of providing a multicultural field force has implications across the business. The motivation for diversity in recruitment, or even recruitment policies is sometimes not aligned with commercial goals but legal compliance (Shen et al., 2009). The opportunity for this organisation is to take advantage of the prospects a culturally diverse sales team present and sharing the responsibility of the framework potentially creates a more cohesive framework.

To be successful, diversity management is heavily reliant on line manager’s ability to implement. Spreading the burden of responsibility for people management is a key theme of diversity management (Kandola and Fullerton 1994). Sanglin-Grant and Schneider (2000) identified line manager’s implementation of corporate policy on ethnic equality is sometimes at odds with employees’ views of the actual practice. For example, do they believe the best

person is being awarded a role or it is an affirmative action initiative that is being satisfied? It makes for good practice then that line management be involved more in the human resource decision making process so as to completely understand and effectively implement diversity management strategies.

Strategic Human Resource Management practices that address issues such as inequality in recruiting, performance reviews, promotions and rewards have the potential to improve equal employment opportunities, inclusiveness and amplify creativity in the diverse workforce (Burbridge, Diaz, Odendahl and Shaw 2002). The proposed framework (Figure 1) identified by Shen et al.(2009) is an appropriate model for the organisation moving forward to enhance its already strong diversity record and assist to ensure the benefits of the diverse workforce.

person is being awarded a role or it is an affirmative action initiative that is being

Figure 1. A framework of HR diversity management (Shen et al., 2009 p.245)

The strategic intent is to create workable diversified teams of representatives that mirror our client base and create opportunities for the organisation. One of the difficulties is the sporadic nature of field force recruitment. It is not always the case that multiple positions are offered and this means that identifying the best candidate may not always align with a culturally diverse candidate (unless that is part of a criteria, which may create its own issues of exclusion).

However, the organisation is currently embracing a culturally diverse field force and the framework will ensure there are measures and opportunities going forward to provide engagement and career path for the entire field force regardless of their cultural differences. Secondly, the framework plays a role in amplifying the benefits of the culturally diverse field by providing actions that will feed into the overall aims of the diversity management objectives. The benefit of this framework is that it can satisfy both commercial and legislative objectives.

The focus on recruitment and selection is obviously critical. Perlman (1992) cites employees and managers who regard diversity management as the same as every person having an equal opportunity to enter the business, as a result seeing growing numbers of organisation’s diversifying their employee base to successfully connect with customers. Equally important is the development and training of the employees post recruitment. By having the training and development focus in the framework the organisation is better placed to avoid the pitfalls of those companies that do not involve it in their thinking. (Goodman et al. 2003) found managers in organizations where there is a lack of effective HR diversity polices are likely to promote or rate highly subordinates who have similar cultural backgrounds and experience to themselves which works in contrast to the overall objective.

The framework involves the strategic, tactical and operational levels which allows a wider scope for involvement of the entire organisation. Training programs and strategies that communicate and educate will help in developing and nurturing the diverse needs of the sales teams and also, by way of line management involvement, create ownership and accountability.

In summary, the framework will support the completion of identified goals such as high organisational performance and measurement of innovation. It can directly drive the understanding of the Lead and Learn principles within the organisation through the establishment of strategies at the operational level such as education, communication and support functions. In doing so, the framework will help continue the drive to maintain a strong and successful diversified sales team.


The benefits of diversification are worth pursuing even with the considered negatives. Reflecting the needs of the customer base are a critical aspect for our sales team as we strive to deliver a service that is relevant and preferred when compared to our competitor offerings. Diversity Management approaches help facilitate the goals of diversification rather than just letting them evolve on their own. What gets measured gets managed and by way of this a true desire to embrace the need for diversification in our sales team will be achieved with a framework that provides ownership and accountability, allowing measurement against set objectives.

Appendix 1.

About Lead and Learn (Source: BI international intranet)

Appendix 1. About Lead and Learn (Source: BI international intranet) REFERENCES 11


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