This article is written by Brittany Whitmore, Director of Communications, Procurify
Today business is global. In order for companies take advantage of opportunities abroad, the same diversity should be reflected in the teams and companies that serve this global market.
However, diversity for diversity’s sake should never be the goal. Rather, the goal of leadership should be to foster a culture that values authenticity and teamwork, so the diversity of individuals can be harnessed for better decision-making and collaboration. A survey by Deloitte Australia of 300 multinational executives showed that 41% of business leaders identified the ‘failure to perceive the connection between diversity and business drivers’ as a barrier to developing and implementing a diversity strategy. Diversity initiatives often see a diverse team as an end in itself. This is a problem because the benefit of a diverse team is, in fact, that it is a means to an end – the end being an understanding of the bigger-picture, an expanded toolkit of skills and deeper, more diverse insights. This requires leadership to establish a culture in which individuals feel free to take risks.
The pitfall that companies face occurs when team members, facing divergent opinions and ideas seek to minimize conflict and choose to conform rather than sharing their different ideas about what strategies and tactics should be implemented. For a team to take advantage of its diversity, it is important that there is authentic collaboration where everyone feels confident to speak out and share ideas. Fostering such culture is a significant challenge for leadership.
The company I work with, Procurify, has been diverse since inception and has grown to serve more than 52 countries worldwide in its mere three years of existence. Procurify is a software as a service (SaaS) company that provides purchasing software for small and medium-sized businesses. The company is based in Vancouver, B.C., a city also acclaimed for its diversity.
Procurify’s three founders brought not only their ethnic and cultural diversity to the team, but complimentary skills as well: Aman Mann (CEO) had expertise in business and sales, Kenneth Loi (COO) had expertise in design and customer service, and Eugene Dong (CTO) had technical expertise. Mann, a Canadian, grew up surrounded by individuals from every imaginable ethnic and cultural background. Mann explains that, “Building a strong team requires a team of people willing to constantly learn and grow, and what easier way to learn than from the people around us by fearlessly sharing and exploring different ideas.” Loi was born in China and relocated to Canada as a child, Loi added, “I learned that a person can enter a foreign environment and thrive.” This is exactly what Procurify is doing abroad. Dong was born in Hong Kong and has family both there and in the U.K. Dong shared that, “With family abroad, I have always seen the world as connected and that we are all more similar than we are different.”
Building a team that reflects the user base of a product or service can enable that team to build a better, more relatable product. Teams providing SaaS solutions, such as Procurify, must be ready to work with customers from every imaginable culture. Procurify’s team of 29 already includes Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Indian, Caucasian, Latino and mixed employees, reflecting its global user-base.
When Procurify closed Prince Retail, a Philippine retail giant, the sales call was led by Procurify’s lead quality assurance officer, who grew up in the Philippines. He understood Filipino culture and could discuss idiosyncratic experiences that the rest of the team wouldn’t have been able to do. This kind of connection increased the lead’s level of comfort and responsiveness on a sales call.
Diversity means more than just the differences you see, it also includes the recognition of different experiences and what those experiences can bring to the table. Building a team of individuals with different worldviews, biases and predispositions can lead to questions that have never been asked before. When Procurify hired a chartered accountant to work in business development, the team gained a greater understanding of how to communicate Procurify’s value to this key customer segment. The team gained insight about which features would be best to develop first also about which features would have a greater impact on conversion rates. User-centric design and the user-experience is also a key aspect of Procurify’s value proposition, and this diverse point of view is a crucial component of the development of a product that truly satisfies these customers’ needs.
With a diverse team established, the leadership challenge then becomes how to maintain the integrity of diverse perspectives, while creating a unified team with a unified vision. This is particularly important in a startup environment such as Procurify’s, where every member of the team must take initiative and risks in order to learn fast and grow quickly. This requires a level of confidence on the individual level that, arguably, many people don’t just have right away.
Entering a new environment typically puts a person outside of their comfort zone and can diminish their tolerance for uncertainty and risk. This is a detriment because it is these opportunities that hold the greatest value for collaboration. I was the first non-technical female to join Procurify and, at that time, the only Caucasian on the team as well. This brought a new perspective for growth and customer acquisition to the team, including an increased awareness of untapped potential to make a greater emotional impact on opportunities in the pipeline. I took this insight and led a hand-written card and gift project which successfully revived a number of dead leads.
By building a culture focused on humility, passion, teamwork and finding a better way, Procurify has created an environment in which all members of the team feel welcome to share our unique opinions and insights. This has allowed the company to grow as rapidly as it has, in countries all over the world.
The first step for leadership is to nurture a culture that welcomes diversity, followed by an even more crucial step: encouraging the team to maintain their unique points of view when surrounded by divergent viewpoints and, finally, find the courage to take the risk to share ideas and act on them.