Diversity in the workplace is a topic that is on everyone’s minds. With so many changes happening in the world and so many ways to define the word, we reached out to Andre Nataf, SVP of Point of Sale for Heartland Payment Systems, to get his perspective on the value of a diversified team. He started with a story from his past.
At 15 years old, Andre stumbled into a West Los Angeles 7-Eleven convenience store that happened to be hiring. This store was owned by a man who left corporate 7-Eleven with hopes of building the best, most memorable convenience store in L.A.. As it turns out, he did. It wasn’t just by dumb luck, though. This owner set out to build a team with a mix of personalities and knowledge. What he came out with was much more than he had hoped for.
Just how different were these individuals? The team was a combination of an LGBT middle aged woman, a semi-retired male military vet who had been in and out of homelessness, two white college students - one male, one female, and a poor high school student who lied about his age to make money. Take a guess at who Andre was in this bunch!
When we asked Andre how this crew worked together so well, he said, “It was tough because there wasn’t much commonality.” However, his boss was intentional about allowing the team members to show up as their authentic selves. He believed in seeking the opinions of his workers when it came to store decisions and making those opinions matter. Andre says, “It allowed us to take ownership in what we did and what we accomplished as a team. He was really great at making each person feel like they were part of the solution.” This was a key factor in the growth of this location. “By being inclusive and not exclusive, people wanted to work harder for him. He made it more than just a job, he made it a vision that we all owned together. We felt like we could accomplish anything.”
When the challenge presented itself to increase our foot traffic and make every customer feel welcomed, the owner looked to us to build this atmosphere. He knew each of his employees held different perspectives that would allow them to see through the eyes of another and into the mind of the customers. It took time, curiosity and empathy for us to understand one another fully. Once we were able to see each other for our strengths, it gave us a better understanding of who our customers were and what their needs were. It gave everyone a safe place to visit, even if it was a convenience store.
Over time, this diverse team built one of the fastest growing 7-Eleven’s in the area. They built on both their diverse clientele and their own differences. Each individual team member valued one another for their differences and the values of each customer that walked through the doors. “We talked about the uniforms we were wearing. How we addressed the customers who came along, how we would respect the customers, and how we could respectfully serve the entire community. We looked and acted like a team and took pride in the company.” said Andre. Once they understood each other's values and their customers' needs, things started changing. People from all walks of life were showing up at the store and everyone felt welcome and comfortable at this 7-Eleven.
It was the best learning experience for Andre and one that he has taken with him into every position he’s been a part of. When we asked him about the diversity of his team at Heartland, Andre was excited to chat through this topic. He believes that every voice needs to be heard and we need to collectively align on values for the corporation. But first, we need to understand the values of one another.
“In diversity is power”
A successfully diversified team according to Andre is “...knowing what we share in common and what our differences are.” When asked about his team roster, Andre noted, , “The team is all so different in the sense that, I don’t want “yes people” I want people with diverse backgrounds to help me see the diamond for all its facets. And the key to this is we all respect each other, we value each other and we’re united in getting it right rather than being right. So once we fully consider each of these points, then moving in the same direction is the easy part.” Currently his direct reports are made up of a male MBA millennial, a baby-boomer male with sales education along with a degree, a caucasian woman and a woman of color, one of which is in her grandmothering years and the other still currently raising her family.
This team brings so much passion and excitement for the job that it’s impossible to ignore the great work they are bringing to Heartland. In diversity is power. And by this we mean, the different backgrounds that make each individual team member are what makes our company whole. It’s what makes any company successful. A team of differences with a common goal brings much more value than a team of clones.
We challenge each of you to dig into your teams and understand that when you start to see people for their strengths rather than their weaknesses, you realize your biases might not shine as true as you thought. By allowing your employees to be their most authentic selves, you might be shocked to see the positive changes that can happen within your business!