Thursday, June 25, 2015

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana: Working towards cultural competency and inclusion

Among the many indicators of client satisfaction is a project wrap-up lunch with those who have retained you for services.  The positive feedback that matches affirming evaluations is even better when the subject turns to them giving you humorous—and useful—advice about marriage! 

Personally, I am appreciative of the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana’s leadership team sharing the impact of the Progress Strategies+ Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Team’s Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development cultural competency training.  Furthermore, I took great acceptance of some pre-wedding advice!

In the last blog entry I introduced Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana’s mission of preparing people for meaningful work, wages and careers.  They are among the best in such work.  Furthermore, they have a brave willingness in transcending diversity and moving towards the complexity of cultural competency to effectively serve each other as colleagues and their clients.  Our human community is already diverse and will continue to grow in that diversity.  What we miss often is how the variety of cultural preferences, dimensions and hidden norms of diverse people connects or conflicts with the workplace and community.  Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana and the 52 staff participants are on a great path to ensure that they are not missing a thing.

Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana has been journeying with Progress Strategies+ to develop cultural competency awareness, cultural connection skills, cultural conflict mediation values and scenario approaches to effectively grow and manage cross-cultural relations with employees and their job-seeking clients.   The Progress Strategies+ Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Team has also benefited from adapting some approaches to their real-time issues.

Impressions and improvements

I received a great email from a staff member on the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana team immediately after one our first Unity of Purpose:  Facilitating Intercultural and Inclusion Development cultural competency sessions.  As Progress Strategies+ is a project management firm, I was pleased to hear how the staff member was excited about ‘the tools’ that they were given in Session One to first learn how to accept cultural differences.  When professionals accept and adapt to cultural difference (norms, etc.), it does not have to mean agreement— a first and great step to meeting and managing difference, communication and connection. 

Specifically, the staff member was excited with having a better concept of cultural competency tools to help them navigate the inevitable conflict that comes from authentic engagement with culturally diverse communities.  I agree with them that this removes and replaces the outdated memes of ‘tolerance.’  Here are some other impressions our team received that we appreciate seeing impact and growth in:

·         Know thyself:  Developing and defining an individual’s and/or institution’s culture is highly important and a must before that individual or institution prepares to engage and effectively connect with culturally diverse groups.  The team has been personally excited that individual staff members stepped into the vulnerability of learning ‘what they don’t know’ about their own culture or preferences. 

They will now be patient in the journey of how to better connect with others while learning and discovering their own backgrounds.  Finding ways to connect with others (in different communities, markets, etc.) starts with knowing the foundations of our individual or institutional culture. 

·         Conflict is inevitable—it should be embraced:  Through our models, scenario role plays and management tools we provided, staff members appreciated the invitation to embrace cultural conflict.  The intersection of difference and deep engagement with others of different backgrounds will produce the learning, growth and mistakes that are often labeled as ‘conflict.’ As long as learning, healing and understanding have taken place it is hard for me to term such occurrences as 'conflict.'

As long as ‘conflict’ comes through our planned steps of moving from unconscious ignorance to conscious ignorance (and devoid of intentional harm), any mistakes made such as miscommunicated words or comments should be met with learning experiences.  Therefore, our Change Opportunity Policytm with project management, cultural competency learning steps and restorative justice elements provide the foundations for organizations to help the so-called ‘offender’ learn about the cultural communication 'mishap' while journeying in understanding and perspective-learning with those who may have been slighted. 

Like all of us, many staff members want to benefit from a workplace environment where compliance-oriented correction is preceded by—or connected to---learning and lessons to overcome the inevitable mistakes made during the travels from unconscious ignorance and conscious ignorance to unconscious competence.  We all make mistakes.  In fact, our team shared our narratives of what those personal (and young!) cultural mistakes were and the specific strategies of how we improved.

Other direct feedback and staff goals shared as sentiments were staff members using our methods to “learn more and how important it is to incorporate this in the workplace” or “use this information and tools now to move forward into adaptation and then integration” based on their individual cultural competency briefs and progress movement steps.  As the Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana team prepares for more authentic cultural connections with others, it was satisfying to hear staff progress steps based on the values of “Change Opportunity Policy as a technique being effective in repairing harm in the workplace.”

We were also pleased to hear how these dedicated professionals are developing a heightened understanding of serving clients who are coming to them with different notions of work, time, communication and adherence to the ‘Hidden Rules’ that are often overlooked or ostracized.   We are not to make judgments of those preferences, rather we should make some adjustments to them.  Not only will these dedicated professionals accept those differences that are under-girded by culture, they will adapt to them for the benefit of the client, organization, community and job-market---a job-market that can itself benefit from many of those differences.

One thing I valued is that the aforementioned lessons and other outcomes were encompassed in the Progress Strategies+ approach of interactive equipping sessions and scenarios that staff participated in and followed.  There were some academy-award winning acting performances based the scripts we gave people!  Simply put, those sessions were fun and enjoyable---just like Michigan Works! Muskegon-Oceana  is to our team and work.  

Eric K. Foster, a social entrepreneur, is Principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management firm working with corporate and non-profit clients in five areas of Diversity and Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Policy and Advocacy, Grant Writing and Project Management, and Community Engagement Strategies for economic and social impact in communities.  In the midst of other impact movements and measurements to be attentive to in change work, he is going to devise a satisfaction and outcome indicator on “Fun.”  Seriously, fun just needs to be gathered and measured more everyday!