A culturally diverse workforce is an inevitable byproduct of today's global economy. Failing to recognize what makes people of different cultures and generations tick, however, only serves to limit productivity, says Amy Wallis, Ph.D.
The director of global initiatives and a professor of practice in the organizational behavior wing of the Wake Forest University School of Business, Wallis told a room of superintendents at the ninth annual Syngenta Business Institute that they would be better off trying to understand the differences between workers from different cultures and generations, rather than squashing them.
"As the world has opened up in terms of labor markets and where companies are doing business and the way people move in and out of countries, we need to understand global issues as leaders," Wallis told the group.
"We can't allow ourselves to fall into stereotyping and thinking there is some cookie-cutter approach to working across differences. Trends we see when we look at groups of people are going to help us interpret and understand behavior and differences in behavior."
In its ninth year, the Syngenta Business Institute is a 3 ½-day event held on the Wake Forest University campus in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is part of Syngenta's ongoing effort to grow the professional knowledge of golf course superintendents and assist them with managing their courses. Through a partnership with the Wake Forest University School of Business, the program provides graduate school-level instruction in financial management, human resource management, negotiating, managing across generations and cultural divides, impact hiring and other leadership- and professional-development skills.
Other than during SBI, golf course maintenance is not a market the Wake business school faculty typically deals with. But instructors in the program have worked hard to understand the nuances of the relationships that superintendents must manage, including those that go up the chain of command as well as those that go down.
"You work with some of the most diverse workforces I have ever seen, and you are trying to access some of the most diverse client groups I have ever seen," Wallis said, referring to a largely Hispanic workforce, and the golf industry's efforts to attract more women, minorities and people from younger generations into the game.
"When I leave after talking with a group of people, I know I have been successful if I leave them with more questions than answers. My success is that you walk away with a bunch of things to think about that you hadn't thought about before. That will get you to keep exploring and learning."
Such questions and uncertainties about issues so critical to the golf business are why Syngenta invests in educating two-dozen or so superintendents each year at Wake Forest.
"Superintendents have the opportunity many times a year to learn about agronomy. But what they don't get to hear about or understand is how to work with their teams and how each person in their team can be different," said Stephanie Schwenke, Syngenta's golf market manager. "That can be based on age. It can be based on gender. It can be based on culture, and it can be based on the the way they were brought up and what they were exposed to in their lives. So, I think the culture and the generations session opens everyone's eyes that everyone is not just like me, or not just like you. Not everybody grew up the same way I did with the same culture or the same skills set. So it's understandable that there are different motivational factors for their team if they can understand how to work with them."
Wallis compared cultural traits to an iceberg: Only part of the iceberg is above water, but there is a larger section beneath the surface that cannot be seen and is poorly understood.
"By failing to recognize the differences between different cultures and generations, we waste the opportunity to learn from them," she said.
Team building is a critical component to success for every turf operation, but, more often than not, superintendents who march through SBI each year admit the session reveals they don't have the skills to reach across cultural and generational lines to maximize productivity.
"The biggest take home for me has been dealing with cultural and generational issues and trying to understand that better," said SBI attendee David Groelle of Royal Melbourne Country Club in Long Grove, Illinois. "Understanding how people from the U.S. differ from people from other cultures - I think it would help with retention, and efficiency on the golf course and how they work and what is going through their heads vs. what is going through mine. I never really thought about it that way, but when i heard it, it made sense."
Carlos Arraya, superintendent at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis is both a millennial and a millenial, two groups noted for embracing team building vs. autonomy.
As such, he already adopts different tactics used by older colleagues.
"I am embracing my leadership style, it's a lot more collaborative," Arraya said. It's encouraged me to be more collaborative and embrace the cultural and generational differences we discussed and embrace my leadership style, continue the path i;m going and know that it's ok to be a little different."
For Syngenta, partnering with Wake Forest to bring up these questions and provide ways to address them strengthens the golf industry in general and individual teams specifically. To date, 234 superintendents have gone through the program.
"We want to provide superintendents with answers and solutions to negotiations and managing different generations and the workforce challenges they have," Schwenke said. "We want to be in this business long term and we want our customers to be in this business long term, and we know we have to go beyond providing solutions in a jug. We have to give them different skill sets."