The hybrid workplace isn’t even a question any more. Hybrid is here to stay, supported by digital transformations like document digitization, and by well-documented productivity increases. But among those who study corporate cultures, big concerns remain, in particular the “proximity bias.”
Whether you call it face time, hallway moments, or watercooler time, informal in-person interactions were the traditional way managers kept tabs on employees’ engagement. Visible workers were considered productive workers. But in hybrid operations, in-person visibility is diminished and managers often struggle to evaluate and lead their teams without access to the usual in-person cues.
Many companies made strides in DEI policy implementation prior to hybrid operations. However, the proximity bias may be undermining DEI progress. In the absence of customary performance cues, managers unconsciously fall back on old outdated attitudes regarding the value and productivity of particular classes of employee.
Writing in FastCompany.com, leadership expert Amanda Xido discusses ways some businesses are combating the proximity bias. Some have standardized in-office days and times. Some are rotating who is in the office when, or letting collaborative teams establish in-office schedules. Still others rely on routine in-person check-ins between managers and employees. Any of these strategies helps to short-circuit the proximity bias.
Data can help reveal additional DEI shortcomings in the hybrid workplace. Xido points to analyses of communications and decision-making – for example, are men sending most of the Slack communications, even though women are the majority of employees? A McKinsey study showed a measurable preference for inclusivity in the hybrid workplace, in work-life support, team building, and mutual respect.
Moreover, the McKinsey study showed a clear competitive advantage for an inclusive culture in attracting and retaining top talent: a 47% increase in the likelihood of an employee staying with a hybrid organization if it is inclusive. Listening to employees – conducting surveys, requesting feedback – provides useful data to help build DEI initiatives.
The change to hybrid is a giant step in the evolution of the way we work. The logistics of transitioning from the traditional to the hybrid office is a lot to manage. However, if the leadership team keeps DEI central in its organizational re-formation, the results will always be good for the organization’s productivity, its profitability, and the customers it serves.
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Your business may be working hard to implement the changes outlined in your DEI policy. But change is rarely embraced wholeheartedly in any setting, from personal life to business life. Like most changes of habit, the road to corporate culture change is slow, long, and full of speed bumps, slippery slopes, and even brick walls.
Good news: There’s a way to lead by example and bypass some of those resistant roadblocks. While you’re moving toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive behaviors internally, your outward-facing activities should also reflect your commitment to DEI. Increasing your supplier diversity – an outward behavior – offers benefits that can change minds within your organization.
Take the evidence-based approach to DEI. Here are three easy steps to demonstrate your commitment to DEI in a way that has tangible, quantifiable benefits for your business:
- Collect current data – Dig into your current operations. What is the current cost of materials? What is the average turnaround for order approval, order placement, and order delivery? What percentage of minority businesses are on your vendor list?
- Increase supplier diversity – Using the data about your current vendors, set a goal to expand the percentage of purchases from minority businesses. Do your due diligence before buying, and monitor the supplier’s performance, just as you would with any other vendor.
- Collect new data and compare the numbers – After you hit your supplier-diversity goal, compare new data to the old. Have costs gone down? Is procurement more efficient? Is productivity up?
A recent report from Bain & Company shows a correlation between increased supplier diversity and lower procurement expenditures. Businesses that increased supplier diversity saved money. Moreover, procurement was more efficient, with higher use of electronic orders and faster order processing times. It all added up to a strong case for outward-facing DEI in the form of supplier diversity.
No business organization exists in a vacuum. Every day we look beyond the walls of our corporate operations. We buy from and sell to other organizations, and we team up with other enterprises to strengthen our mutual positions. It is this synergy that makes our business and our economy prosper. With quantifiable real-world results from supplier diversity initiatives, internal DEI resistance may just fade away in the glow of increased profits.
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Successful businesses are proactive businesses, always on the lookout for opportunities that give them a step up on the competition. Supplier diversity, as part of a DEI (Diversity/Equity/Inclusion) program, delivers a competitive advantage. When your organization institutes a procurement program that reaches out to minority-owned, veteran-owned, women-owned, or other diversity-related businesses, you’ll discover an array of benefits that directly or indirectly improve your bottom line.
Here’s how supplier diversity pays you back:
- Innovative solutions – Big suppliers are like big ships. They don’t move quickly. Minority-owned businesses tend to be smaller and more agile. They can offer alternate perspectives and quick-response solutions to your supply problems. This lets you respond to your customers faster, with more innovative options.
- Diverse suppliers drive brand awareness – Diverse businesses are proud of the companies they supply. Whether they name you on their website or as a referral, it’s free marketing for your business. And supplier diversity is a good look for your brand, now that many customers are looking to do business with companies whose values align with theirs.
- More competition, lower prices – When you expand your procurement pool, you create competition among the suppliers. Diverse businesses, often more nimble than the big suppliers, can pass their high-productivity cost savings along to you. In turn, you can more easily compete on your own customer pricing, or hit your internal cost-savings goals. Everyone wins.
More and more nowadays, public sector and private sector businesses are instituting supplier-diversity policies, recognizing the positive impact on the communities they serve. “Buy Local” or “Buy American” procurement policies can be challenging to achieve using large multi-national suppliers. Those goals are more easily accomplished by diversifying your suppliers to include American minority-owned businesses.
The Hackett Group recently published a study showing that companies that allocate 20% or more of their spend to diverse suppliers can attribute 10%–15% of their annual sales to supplier diversity programs. That’s a nice addition to any company’s revenues.
Supplier diversity costs little or nothing, and it provides a big payoff. So what are you waiting for?
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RFID – you know it as an inventory tool for the retail and logistics sectors, but this robust technology offers benefits to businesses in the service sectors, from finance and law to healthcare and education. If you think your enterprise couldn’t benefit from RFID, think again.
Here are a few of the ways RFID makes your professional practice, your hospital, or your educational institution function better, faster, and more cost-effectively:
- Asset Tracking – Ever notice how there are never enough chairs in the conference room? Furniture, laptops, and other work tools have a way of wandering from their assigned locations. RFID tags tracks the location of these roving items, as well as providing information on their age and condition. Office and facility managers can easily identify aging furnishings that need repairs or replacement, and pinpoint the location of every physical asset. Plus, when inventory time comes, the RFID system can deliver a customized report listing the assigned value of each item currently in the facility, making financial reporting quicker and simpler. What does it cost your business to update capital inventory records by hand?
- Personnel Tracking – In busy public settings like hospitals or schools, knowing the location of key personnel can save time, or even save a life. RFID-enabled personnel badges keep track of people’s movements and current whereabouts so no time is wasted when someone is urgently needed. RFID personnel badges work with an institution’s security system to manage access to restricted areas and maintain safety. And in emergency situations, an RFID system can tell first responders who is inside and where they are. What is the dollar value of that security and safety?
- Document Tracking – We always advocate converting paper documents to digital documents via a well-planned imaging program; imaged documents are secure, shareable with teams, and save the real estate costs of large file rooms. But in many offices there are documents that need to be retained as paper even if they have been imaged. Paper files are easy to lose or misplace (one of the advantages of imaging), but with the addition of small, inconspicuous RFID tags, the location of a file can be tracked throughout a facility. Doorway RFID readers monitor the movement of files from one room to another, and files can be located with a quick look at the tracking record. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates an average of 25 extra hours to recreate a lost document; how much would that cost your business?
Keep in mind that RFID, unlike bar codes, doesn’t require direct sight lines to record and track business assets carrying RFID tags. Once items or personnel are assigned their unique RFID tag, doorway readers track their movements automatically as they pass from one room to another. And inventory updates can be as simple as walking into a room and pressing a button on an RFID reader to collect data on all the capital assets the room contains; no need to look through cabinets and underneath furniture to find bar code IDs.
RFID systems come in many shapes and sizes, and can be scaled up or down to suit your organization’s needs. When you start adding up the costs of lost documents, lost equipment, and lost time, it’s clear that you shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of RFID.
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It’s a classic case of unstructured data: A hospital’s marketing team wanted to contact all the hospital’s patients who had asthma, to promote a new specialty. But most patients’ asthma status was noted only paper documents filled out during admission.
To build a new mailing list of asthmatic patients, the marketing staff would have to search by hand through each and every patient’s paper documents – weeks and weeks of labor, filled with human error and grumbling staffers (“Isn’t this the 21st century?!”). The project was abandoned.
And another opportunity was lost, simply because it was too hard to organize the data.
Unstructured data (data found only on paper, or in various incompatible databases) locks up information that could otherwise contribute to the bottom line. Structured data – a spreadsheet, for instance – is searchable and sortable with electronic speed. Searching and sorting unstructured data requires expensive time-consuming, error-prone manual efforts.
Document imaging is one of the ways that unstructured data is transformed into searchable, sortable structured data.
Don’t mistake imaging for a PDF, however. A PDF is essentially a picture of a document, and it’s no more searchable than the original paper. By contrast, an imaged document can be read by software. Text and numbers can be extracted, sorted, searched, and linked to other data.
With the speed of automation, the imaged information is compiled into a database. It becomes actionable business intel. Every department can access the data, make better decisions, and operate more productively.
Returning to our healthcare-marketing example above, picture a different outcome: Marketing collaborated with IT to spearhead a pilot project, transitioning to imaged patient-admission documents. As they assembled the now-usable data, they realized that they had a treasure trove of marketing information. They stopped missing opportunities to offer additional services to patients who could benefit from them. And they stopped missing additional revenue opportunities.
If your business has paper records, you have unstructured data. Transform it into structured data, via document imaging, and start monetizing the information.
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By now every successful business has learned the most important branding lesson: Relationships matter. A well-managed brand practices relationship selling. Its people support the brand when they provide customer service, when they work hard for customer success, when they communicate personally and add the human touch to organizations large and small.
It’s easier said than done, however, when everything from supply chain failures to personal difficulties seems to sabotage those all-important customer relationships. If you’re feeling that your business relationships are on shaky ground, start checking your 5:1 numbers.
The 5:1 ratio – 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction – was developed by researcher and interpersonal expert John Gottman, known for his ability to predict divorces with 90% accuracy. Decades of observation supported his theory that a healthy relationship could survive some conflicts as long as the positive behaviors outweighed the negative by a ratio of 5:1.
Gottman’s recommendations for positive interactions apply just as much in business as they do in marriages. His suggestions include:
- Be interested – Listen to your customers.
- Demonstrate they matter – Look for ways to show your customers they are valued.
- Intentional appreciation – When your customer does something noteworthy, compliment them.
- Empathize and apologize – Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. If they’re uncomfortable, apologize and make it right.
None of this is new, but you have to do enough of it – 5 times over – to make up for a negative experience.
And it’s always easier to keep up the number of positive interactions if you have taken steps to make those positive behaviors easy for everyone. For example, if you have added RFID to your inventory system, you can quickly and accurately assure a customer that their purchase is ready for pick-up. If you have digitized your paper documents, you can give a patient instant access to their medical records or other secure private documents.
Keep track of your 5:1 interactions, and use the technology that makes it easy to maintain the golden relationship ratio. Your business relationships (and your personal ones) will thrive.
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