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Neglecting diversity makes you an outdated mastodon

Editorial staff Cegal want to build a stellar nextgen tech company that enables a more sustainable future, and shape the digital future by turning complex IT into digital success stories.
03/15/2020 |

Econa’s business magazine Magma has interviewed SYSCO’s CEO Dagfinn Ringås about diversity. Here you can read an excerpt from the interview: From the head office at Lysaker, he leads SYSCO, a company with well over 240 employees from 22 different countries. The tech company was established in Haugesund 16 years ago, and currently has eight offices in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.  

The SYSCO CEO has management experience from several global groups, including the French tech giant Schneider Electric.  

“For a period at Schneider, I had seven different nationalities in my management group. Although incredibly exciting and educational, it was also tiring. One message often had to be conveyed in seven different ways”, Ringås says.   

He emphasizes the importance of being very careful about generalizing cultures but adds that: “You will not get a Norwegian on board without involvement, whereas the French often expect you to dictate more as a manager.”  

“Norwegians will likely perceive me as dictatorial if I decide all the time. The French, on the contrary, may see me as weak and unknowledgeable if I do not make more decisions myself”, Ringås exemplifies.  

The perfect diversity mix  

“Diversity is like a Gaussian curve. Too little diversity is destructive for a company as you lose dynamism, creativity, and innovation. Too much is not good, either. Somewhere between the extremes is the sweet spot”, Ringås says. 

He does not know exactly where the apex is, but he lists the five elements that must be included for the perfect diversity mix. 

“The golden diversity mix involves differences in gender, age, experience, culture and personality. If you have that, the foundation has been laid for a dynamic and positive way of working.” 

SYSCO has employees from countries that have historically conflicted with each other, such as Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia.  

“This is a nonissue, in my experience. The employees are passionate about technology. They distance themselves from their respective nations’ conflicts and work well together”, says Ringås.  

However, he still warns against various conflicts that may arise due to cultural differences.  

Diverse leadership  

“There are quite big differences in terms of how different cultures relate to leadership. I have had employees who have been very nice and charming towards people like me upwards in the hierarchy, and simultaneously very dominant towards employees below them in the hierarchy. It has been like two different personalities in the same person.” 

What is required of a good diversity leader?  

“The core of management is about how to get the most out of your team. Without understanding the meaning of diversity, you will not be able to maximize every individual’s potential. I think many managers goes on without considering diversity”, Ringås says while highlighting the importance of tailoring your managing style for the different cultures:  

“In some cultures, you do not act until your manager provides you clear instructions. The lack of such may lead to the employees losing respect for me as a manager. In other cultures, involvement in decision-making is expected, and a lack of involvement will likely lead to a drop in motivation.”  

Diverse million deal 

“SYSCO’s target is to build a legendary company where people want to work. People do not desire to work in a company where all employees are like me. Without diversity, we lose the best technologists, the sharpest economists, the brightest management talents. Without diversity, you become an outdated mastodon”, Ringås explains enthusiastically.   

He provides an example of how diversity resulted in a million-dollar profit related to a large tender at a big, old-fashioned company. The tender team was led by a structured women that was “extremely conscious for us not to just slide into the meeting”. The team consisted of both juniors and seniors.  

“The client meeting was well prepared, and the juniors took charge and demonstrated the solutions, while the seniors contributed with experience, input and depth. Our unique approach of good preparations and juniors at the forefront won us the contract worth millions.”  

Dagfinn Ringås 

Diversity can be demanding  

CEO Dagfinn Ringås warns that diversity can create cultural conflicts in three areas in particular:  

  1. Hierarchy: Some cultures require more leadership and control; others require more involvement and decision power. 
  1. Masculinity vs femininity: Cultures that have a more masculine appearance can be perceived as frightening or harassing for women without that necessarily being the intention.  
  1. Collectivism vs individualism: Some cultures pull the load together, while others build on competition-based incentive models. Norwegians can quickly become critical if there is too much individual competition at a workplace, while Americans win’t understand a thing if they are not rewarded based on individual efforts.  
     

“Diversity will demand more from the leader, no matter how you look at it. To reap business related benefits from diversity, you must lead in a diverse way. A 25-year-old graduate needs a different type of management than a 45-year-old senior. An employee coming from a hierarchical culture needs and expects a different type of management than one coming from a more individual culture” 

Dagfinn Ringås 

Differences and similarities between the US, France and Norway  

Based on his own experiences, Dagfinn Ringås lists the differences in managing styles and business dynamics between the US, France and Norway. 

“Remember that one country’s model is not necessarily better than the other. Although being fundamentally different, they have unique advantages.” 

USA: Very competitive and result oriented with a focus on KPI achievements and individualism. Americans think big. Up-scaling is always on their minds. If world domination is out of reach, they would rather not pursue it. Americans are by far the best at thinking big in the world of business.  

France: Very hierarchical with many stakeholders and a lot of politics. Networking and knowing the right people are paramount to get things done. It can be a tedious process to get everyone on board. Very good at structure, processes, routines and systems. More collective than the Americans.  

Norway: Where the Americans excel in up-scaling and the French in terms of structure, Norwegians have none of those. We are a nation with promising inventors, but we usually lack an end-game thinking of getting the products available for the rest of the world. We are not always very targeted in our endeavors either. In my opinion, the strength of Norwegian culture lies in its bottom-up philosophy and involvement. Smart and capable people from the entire organization are involved with the possibility to affect decisions. It is a definite strength, as it is a fundamental weakness that the manager decides everything, in my opinion.  

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