What does success look like for business post-Covid? Can talent acquisition and diversity play an important role?
There are many opinions on what a post-covid environment looks like for Australian small businesses. This is becoming especially relevant as the Australian Government winds down the financial support schemes that it has offered and SMBs begin the nervous trek towards operating and innovating in a “new normal”. I know for me, as a small business owner, forecasting revenue and planning resources has never been harder.
While exploring expert opinions across the internet, a paper that has caught my attention is the Macquarie 2021 Technology Pulse Check report. While the report surveyed more than 130 SMEs in the technology sector, the insights highlighted what those businesses believed success in a post-covid era would look like for their business. Interestingly, the respondents highlighted a growing focus on attracting new talent in the year ahead, compared to previous focuses on raising capital from angels, venture capital funds and from institutional investors.
…growing focus on attracting new talent in the year ahead, compared to previous focuses on raising capital from angels, venture capital funds and from institutional investors.
The paper showed encouraging signs that businesses were beginning to place more emphasis on employing a wider and more diverse range of people. 93 per cent of businesses reported that they now had a diversity strategy in place and drew attention to how diversity could enhance their problem-solving abilities and stimulate innovation. This is where it becomes an interesting and relevant conversation for all businesses, including those operating outside of the technology sector.
William Page, entrepreneur and co-founder of one of the largest VOD platforms for international and independent films, who is also an innovation coach, highlights how we have immersed ourselves in entertainment that somewhat publicises the importance of raising capital from investors over a focus on company development. We see this showcased in popular reality TV shows like Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den, where the focus is almost exclusively on getting investors. As a result, we’ve come to romanticise the dollar value that is associated with raising money from venture capital funds, identifying it as a key success metric, rather than other more traditional metrics such as revenues or profits. Has the fixation with capital raising distracted entrepreneurs from more important and fundamental business metrics? Should we instead be focused on metrics that can create, sustain and grow a business’ core activities, such as the launching of products, and increasing customer engagement?
With Covid-19 disrupting commerce around the world and creating uncertainty, investors and business owners alike, have pulled back on new investments and kept their focus on ensuring existing portfolios have the capital that would be required to survive the pandemic. As a result, many of us have returned our focuses to the fundamentals of business such as measuring customer satisfaction, product market fit and operational efficiency. William Page discusses how the effects of pandemic has allowed businesses to reflect on how much money they ‘actually’ need; in order to establish a viable product and sustain core operations.
So how does shifting focus to core business objectives correlate with recruitment and diversity? Macquarie’s report provides an interesting perspective on how innovation and creative problem solving can be achieved through diversity. These are two fundamental skills that will be required if you are going to be able to grow your businesses in a world of Covid and post-pandemic. Whilst it is encouraging to see the value placed on diversity in talent, I don’t believe having a diversity plan as part of recruitment is enough. There are natural and unconscious biases that take place when we are undergoing recruitment and more often than not, we are looking for candidates who (outside of skill) are also aligned to the culture of the organisation. This generally means, looking for people who we are comfortable with. Those who think and value the same things as those within the organisation and the current collection of talent. Whilst adding diversity into the recruitment process is a great first step, it can also mean we are simply welcoming people who look and sound different but are ultimately the same.
Macquarie’s report provides an interesting perspective on how innovation and creative problem solving can be achieved through diversity. These are two fundamental skills that will be required if you are going to be able to grow your businesses in a world of Covid and post-pandemic.
A great example of the problem faced in achieving true diversity is explained by Jesse Oey, senior growth marketer and diversity advocate. Jesse explains the process of ethnic eraser that occurs when culturally diverse talent begins their journey seeking employment, or community acceptance, in a place less aligned to their origins (for example in a new country). In this example, achieving social acceptance within a western society often includes eraser of their differences. This helps them appear more familiar and less foreign to others, therefore more welcomed into the new community as their differences do not provoke any potential fear of the unknown. However, when diverse talent erases a part of their nature to fit into the more common nature, it becomes harder to achieve the benefits of diversity. Instead, we achieve diversity in its most basic and superficial form but this doesn’t achieve the outcome we had hoped for. It is different ways of thinking that allow us to push the barriers of creative problem solving that lead to innovation.
So how do we overcome the social issues associated with achieving diversity? As leaders and business owners, we need to enable diversity in our mindset by accepting the discomfort that comes from conversations with people who don’t see the world, the way we do. We need to encourage differences instead of looking for comfort in similarities and we need to welcome difficult conversations. We also need to place a greater emphasis on appreciating, understanding and utilizing the benefits that these differences can bring to a company, whether it is in new approaches to work, a change in mindset, product development or enabling our company to better understand our customers or to potentially target new customers. It is when we realise the differences brought forward from diversity (such as age, gender, race, locality, sexuality etc) can provide insights, that we can open our business to new opportunities.
As leaders and business owners, we need to enable diversity in our mindset by accepting the discomfort that comes from conversations with people who don’t see the world, the way we do. We need to encourage differences instead of looking for comfort in similarities and we need to welcome difficult conversations.
So the next time you’re recruiting rather than welcoming talent that looks and sounds different but is culturally and behaviorally the same, as business owners and leaders need to take the next step and welcome talent that is culturally and behaviorally different. We should not seek comfort in familiarity. Rather we should view it as an opportunity to open up the company to new insights and new mindsets through placing a greater emphasis on having diversity rather than chasing capital to employ people who look and think in the same way that we do. Not only will this push your leadership skills to the next level, it will also open your team into seeing problems from a new perspective. And more importantly, it’ll solve problems more creatively.
[Listen to the Podcast episode and discussion with William Page and Jesse Oey on the Start Up Reality show, bought to you by Proto Innovation.]