Monthly Archives: July 2010

Change Matters

Growing up as a kid in East L.A., I had a lot of dreams. One was wanting to join the Boy Scouts. I remember spending hours browsing through a Scout manual I’d found one day on the street. I would imagine camping in the mountains, building a fire by rubbing sticks together, and eating the fish I’d caught from a roaring river. I’d use first aid tricks to mend someone’s twisted ankle with a brace I’d make from tree branches and a shoelace. Yes, I was a ready to be a Boy Scout!

It was a great imaginary world that would whisk me away from the busy and noisy city street just outside my bedroom window. When I heard a neighbor’s mother was organizing a Cub Scout troop, I joined. Eagerly, I awaited our first trek into the wilderness. And even though our first meeting only attracted four other kids, I knew we’d be eventually grow our troop to include many more participants. I remember the other three children were just learning to speak English so the troop mom would translate the Cub scout manual for them. I remember wondering why the manuals didn’t come in Spanish. In fact, I began to wonder why all the pictures of boys in the books didn’t resemble the kids in my troop. When I talked to other kids at school about joining, many had never heard of the Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts – and really had no desire to join anyway. I remember one kid telling me – “that’s only for White people anyway.” Eventually, our small troop disbanded and the dream was over.

These vivid memories were rekindled as a result of an article I read in the New York Times this morning. When I think about organizations that have resisted to change with the cultural and social environment of this country, I often think about the Boy Scouts of America. The article discusses some of the issues that have confronted the Boy Scouts over the years including a dwindling membership, a lack of diversity, and some legal battles. Ironically, the Boy Scouts is now making a big push to increase its membership by targeting young Hispanics around the country.   

Aside from their issues, the Boy Scouts is a perfect case study for organizations that resist change. Not because they weren’t paying attention but by choice. No organization is immune to its external environment – or change. Organizational change begins by questioning traditional frameworks and appreciating the growing importance of engaging the external environment. Many organizations choose NOT to change because they value their stable and conventional behavior –  they assume no unexpected surprises. Reliability is supplied by boundaries of responsibility, roles, and control. Individual behavior within the organization is directed by specific rules of engagement and interaction; there is no deviation from this narrow scope of expectations.

That many organizations still follow these “rules” can be unfortunate, and even today, they’re not hard to find.

The War for Talent

Today, I had the opportunity to attend the “The War for Talent in the Workplace: The Next 24 Months!” webcast sponsored by the Center for Hispanic Leadership (@HispanicTalent) and IBM. An excellent organization. Featured were Glenn Llopis, CEO for the Center for Hispanic Leadership, Andres Tapia (@AndresTTapia), Chief Diversity Office at Hewittt Associates,  and Andrea White, Chief Privacy Officer for Toyota Motor Sales.

The webcast included a lot of great information regarding the importance of leadership, talent, diversity, and Latinos in the workplace. Central to the discussion was the idea of the ‘new normal’ or what Andres Tapia termed an “upside down world.” To compete and survive in this new environment, panelists suggested organizations learn to solve new dilemmas with new approaches to thinking. Similar to what I suggested in a post yesterday regarding diversity of thought, organizations must be able to tap all their talent to succeed in business environment that is increasingly global and fluid.

Part of this transformation includes developing Hispanic talent. Unfortunately, it was apparent from the discussion that most organizations either are not doing so or don’t know how. Panelists stressed that organizations should leverage innate Hispanic cultural characteristics that make Hispanics excellent employees. By understanding and developing these traits, companies will not only foster the development of Hispanic talent but ultimately improve their bottom line.

If you’re interested in these topics and want to learn more, the Center of Hispanic Leadership is sponsoring The Leadership Summit: Embracing Innovation Through Diversity  September 18th in Los Angeles.

Leadership As Diversity of Thought

You’ve probably heard the phrase “crisis in leadership” thrown around a lot lately in business, politics, education, and a number of other environments. While I think there’s a constant need for better leaders, I wouldn’t define it as a crisis. In fact, I’m not sure I would say there is a crisis in leadership in the modern world. I think there are definitely some challenges facing organizations but certainly not a crisis. We’ve evolved in our leadership spanning thousands of years and we continue to learn and grow from the past. Often, we repeat the same mistakes, but I’m still certain that these are ‘blind spots’ say versus a ‘crisis.’ I believe there is money to be made arguing for a leadership crisis and often media-driven culture and some in academia may insist upon this premise.

Instead, the greatest challenges we face in organizational leadership is the lack of diversity.  I’m not simply talking about diversity in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age or disability; however, this challenge is increased when we don’t have leadership that reflects the composition of the community or the organization. I’m more inclined to argue it’s diversity of thought that organizations are lacking. Leaders are all around us. Organizations are simply not tapping this diverse talent effectively. This might be styles of leadership, philosophy, religion, culture or other unique perspectives that add richly to organizational tension and creativity. 

I believe that debate, dialogue and friction are very healthy.  It takes courage to successfully embrace the concepts of listening with an open mind and open heart. I think it’s necessary for organizational success.  As leaders, we sometimes surround ourselves with those we’re most comfortable with and who share similar backgrounds or personal values.  Ingenuity and innovation though will not come from those that agree. It comes from those that can see unique perspectives – different than our own. It comes from a dialogue of diverse voices, opinions, and viewpoints. By pursuing diversity in thought we’re able to overcome our biases and peer at the world through another’s eyes.

People & Organizations that Do

I’m always inspired by organizations and individuals that are focused on supporting Hispanics in education. Having traveled a very non-traditional path in my academic pursuits, I can attest that the help and inspiration given by these people meant a lot during my own journey. If someone had told me back in my high school days that I’d earn a doctorate in my lifetime, I’d say they were not well. Now it’s easy to look back and identify the key points in my life that made a difference.

Frankly, inspiration didn’t come from high school teachers; I was just too much of an unengaged student to understand their importance. Inspiration came from those that did – people that do. Those individuals by far held the most credibility with me early on. So when I read stories like this one , I still think it’s people that do that make a difference in other’s lives. The best advice I ever got was from my brother-in-laws father. During a visit to see my sister in New York one Spring Break he asked how my studies were progressing. ”I’m working and trying hard,” I responded. He looked me in the eyes, poked his finger into my chest, and said, “Don’t try. Do.” I did.

Organizations like the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) also make an impact but on a much larger scale. They do.  By supporting the efforts of Hispanic high school and college students, this organization is making a difference – daily – in the lives of thousands of future Hispanic leaders and talent. I attended a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and always heard the acronym HACU on campus: sponsoring workshops; organizing intern programs; and cultivating inspiration. Later working at a HSI career center, HACU was constantly working hard to change state funding policies and assure institutions like mine were awarded their fair share in order to help our Hispanic college student population. They did. HACU’s efforts have helped literally thousands of Hispanic college students that are in the workforce today – me included.

I sometimes forget that it takes a community to support the efforts of the community. Those of us that have benefitted from the support of individuals or organizations owe it to them to give something back – to share our stories of success, to be a mentor, and to always do.

The Hispanic Lag in Higher Ed

It’s one thing to argue that Hispanics are behind in educational achievement and quite another not to provide the needed institutional support systems to help them close the gap. Catching up on reading some articles from last week regarding the challenges and issues faced by Hispanic college students entering higher education. This  overview article in the the New York Times on what they call the ‘lag’ between Hispanic educational achievement and the policies provided to support their efforts. Some good insights as to the cultural (institutional and social) factors that create challenges for college-bound Hispanic students. Much of the points relate to my post on Friday regarding community colleges.

Building A Bridge to Somewhere

I’ve been working on presentation I’ll be giving next month focusing on Hispanic college students in the United States. There are many themes to address when it comes to this broad subject: access; financial aid; cultural influences; generational impact; language; and many others. All tie into developing Hispanic talent and the Hispanic workforce. Today an article shared by Education Week touches upon one of these themes – Hispanics and four-year college attendance.

It’s no secret that Hispanics are more inclined to attend community colleges on a part-time basis. Hispanics tend to choose community colleges because they offer more access, lower tuition rates, and flexible schedules – all of which are important factors for the many Hispanic college students that work at least part-time.  

Working and attending school on a part-time basis is a recipe for disappointment and frustration. I should know. As a recent high school graduate many years ago, I attended community colleges in Los Angeles (mostly part-time) while working full-time. Working and going to school was a prelude to dropping out of THREE community colleges within a matter of two years.

Only after I left home to attend a four-year institution in Texas was I able to complete my studies. However, most of my community college credits didn’t transfer to my new school – so I started from square one. There was little explanation as to why – only that “I had taken the wrong courses.”

I was fortunate. I completed a four-year degree in just over three years. The income I earned during my working years helped finance my education but only partially. I was unaware of the financial help available for students like me. Understanding the “financial aid ropes,” allowed me to attend school full-time while working on campus via a work-study grant.

While community colleges provide a valuable path to higher education, for many Hispanics it’s often a road that begins and ends there. It’s good to see that there are many organizations working hard to increase the transfer rates of community college students to four-year institutions. With the right kind of support, Hispanic four-year college attendance rates will most definitely increase.

Conformity: Diversity's Organizational Foe

I’ve long advocated via my blog that organizations prepared to meet the unique needs of Hispanic talent as well as  a more ethnically diverse workforce – “diversely-responsive” organizations – will attain a vital competitive advantage.  

And while I’ve always focused on visible factors such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, diversity is also important in non-discernible factors such as experiences, skills, values, and thinking style. The great advantage of diversity comes from leveraging ALL these differences. I think one of the biggest mistakes an organization can do is to have employees conform – follow one culture or norm. This essentially washes away all the unique benefits diversity has to offer – the good stuff.

The “global competitive future” we all talk about has arrived. It’s here. Organizations must be flexible, entrepreneurial, and global. It means they must be more diverse than ever before. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Watch this short video by Tom Peters on the power of diversity and how embracing it at ALL levels will leverage the variety of talents people bring to the workplace. (h/t to Trina Roach @360of Diversity for the video find!).

Rethinking Leadership

Recently, I had conversation with friend about leadership. I know what you’re thinking: everyone has a different view of ‘leadership.’ I would agree. Our conversation focused on how leadership is different than it was a generation ago.

Leaders of today have made significant changes in the way that they operate and serve their organizations. Today’s leaders are faced with more complexities, competition, and change than at any other time in history. To effectively cope and make significant change within and for the organization, leaders must be focused on ethics, social responsibility, collaboration, chaos, innovation, creativity, adaptation,  system thinking, relationships, and cultural differences. In most cases this means a dramatic shift in the “mindset” of the organization, but in particular it means rethinking leadership.

Fortunately for leaders, facing the daunting task of “reinventing” themselves, leadership is a topic that has been well addressed in the literature. Unfortunately, scholars and practitioners have been unable to develop a comprehensive, normative leadership theory and model that is relevant across all individuals and situations or particularly well suited to the enigmatic business environment of the 21st century. Many I think would agree that leadership and what constitutes a leader has changed dramatically – and will continue to do so.

Recharged and Ready

There’s nothing like sitting on a rocky beach watching the waves crash against huge boulders to recharge your mental batteries! As always, New England was gorgeous but glad to be home – and back with you on HTM! 

For me the second half of 2010 promises to be a busy one with teaching, writing, presenting, and other exciting projects. The last two weeks also provided an opportunity to reflect on the last year. As I shared in my earlier post below,  I started HTM as a way to contribute and join the discussion regarding Hispanics in the workforce and Hispanic leadership. If I had known a year ago what I know today, I would’ve done some things differently – but not many. One year later, HTM has become something more. It’s literally taken on a life of its own, and I often sit back and wonder how it happened! More importantly, I think about how HTM will continue to grow and be a resource for those that share my passion for increasing the representation of Hispanics in the workforce. So over the next few months, I’ll consider how to accomplish this goal and continue on this marvelous journey which has already given me so much.

Thanks for being part of this adventure – see you soon!