Monthly Archives: January 2014

Employee Resource Groups (not Affinity Groups)


Roughly 90% of Fortune 500 companies report having Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).  An ERG is the utilization of an organization’s own talent to serve as internal SMEs (subject matter experts), instead of using an external research company.  The resounding success of this design has ERGs emerging in various countries globally.   In the EU, women’s resource groups and multicultural groups have been particularly prevalent.


What is the Difference between ERGs and Affinity Groups?

While the two terms are often used interchangeably as synonyms, there is a distinction, based off of its own cultural evolution.  Its members may choose to be involved in the other group’s activities.

ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) are Business- / Market-facing groups.  They are optimized think-tank groups which offer specialized intelligence for accelerating business development activity, or expanding marketplace reach, and for providing solutions to meet corporate growth objectives.  They are executive advisory panels which offer diverse perspectives on marketing techniques and map organizational goals to business goals.  ERGs raise employee engagement, and lead to strengthening the leadership pipeline by identifying high-potentials.  An employee does not have to have the make-up or orientation of the ERG to be in that group.  For example, a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) male can be in the APac (Asia-Pacific) ERG.  

Here is an excerpt on Microsoft’s ERGs from its website:  “Members voluntarily work together to align with the Microsoft GD&I strategy and to improve Microsoft business in the global marketplace. They serve as internal resources to ensure that diverse perspectives are included in business operations, marketing, and product development activities.” 


Affinity Groups (aka Employee Networks) are inward-facing groupsThey are more of a safe haven for reinforcing cultural differences, and often serve as social clubs.  Peer mentoring is informally offered, so it becomes an opportunity to develop professionally, and network internally across functions and service lines.  They often extend a hand towards recruiting others much like themselves.  The strength of the bonds formed in these groups have led others outside of the Affinity group, yet within the company, to feel excluded (which is typically perception-based); while others within the Affinity group have explicitly asked newcomers who do not have the group’s make-up or orientation to find another Affinity group (which is deliberate, yet typically unintentional, reverse discrimination). 

This latter occurrence (i.e. exclusion) is what has contributed towards the development of the ERG.  Organizations can leverage the strength of the diverse perspective by providing it with a business focus.  This is essentially “keeping the baby and throwing out the bathwater” – the organization retains the elements that carry less risk of contributing towards political schisms.  On LinkedIn’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network, powered by Citi, there has been an emergence of the two, ERG & Affinity (* see below).  Some women have complained, “We need to focus on business issues just like the men do; not on sexism and harassment.”  Isn’t it rather challenging (for most of us women, anyhow) to focus on strategy with someone else’s hand on your knee?  Yes, there is a need AND a place for that type of conversation…and it belongs in the safe environs of an Affinity group.  When a group is not defined with its specific purpose &/or identity, it becomes a free-for-all, rendering those initially interested members with the decision to leave.


Common ERGs

The top 5 ERGs are the following:

  1. Women
  2. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender)
  3. Multicultural
  4. Veterans
  5. Disabilities

Other popular ERGs include: Generational, Religious Affiliations, Working Parents, Single Parents.


CORPORATE EXAMPLE:  PepsiCo’s Hispanic/Latino ERG (aka Adelante)

PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay subsidiary realized that the growing number Hispanic/Latino demographics in the USA meant that an untapped market of snack consumers with different palettes exists.  They created a group of its employees (with Hispanic/Latino heritage) and asked them what would be the ideal-flavored chip.  This is how the Guacamole (i.e. avocado flavor) chip was born.  Unlike the “cherry Coke” failure, this idea took off by storm.  Since its inception, other flavors were introduced by this group and have also been met with broad public acclaim and consumption.  They include: Chile Limón (i.e. chile & lemon), Tapatío (i.e. the tobacco sauce), Pico de Gallo (i.e. salsa flavor), Jalapeño, etc.


You are the product of your culture.  Leverage your competitive advantage.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 

* Similarly, Sheryl Sandberg’s online group,, defines itself more like an ERG, which is the premise of her book (namely, women must “lean in” at the conference table); however, one must scroll down to find Leadership & Management. The three main topics presented on the website are more Affinity-related: Kids & Teens, Parenting, and Partnership.  In this last category, there is an excruciatingly stereotypical (dare I say, 1950’s) and non-professional e-article on “How to Know He’s the One.” 



Connect: Professional Women’s Network, powered by Citi


Indians Working with Americans


India loses over $2 billion a year because of the emigration of physicians, computer experts, and other college-educated professionals to the U.S.  This is where Supply (i.e. Talent) meets Demand (i.e. Science expertise).  Since this trend can be viewed as a (cultural) Merger & (talent) Acquisition, let’s examine the some of the generalized differences between the two nationalities by way of metaphor.

Metaphor for American* Workstyle: (American) Football

Football is America’s most popular sport, rendering journalist George Will to declare it represents two of the worst aspects of the country: violence and committee meetings.  Social critic Camille Paglia suggested that women would be better off studying American football than attending feminist meetings, in order to compete effectively in the board room.  The elements involved in football represent how corporate leaders expect work to be carried out:

  • Speed (Beat the clock / 2-minute warning = Time is Money / Billable hours)
  • Agility / High Specialization (League = Specialists)
  • Constant Aggression / Competition (Linebackers / tackling = Dog eat dog / Merit increase)
  • Individualism (MVP/Most Valuable Player = CEO/Chief Executive Officer)

The Corporate America philosophy is often Social Darwinism, or survival of the fittest individual, where work becomes an ambitious and competitive climb to the top.  Professor Martin Gannon wrote, “Perhaps the best contemporary indication of this emphasis on individualism and competition can be found in the area of CEO compensation…a study of 13 industrial nations indicated that the disparity among incomes is much greater in the USA than in the other industrialized nations.”  In 1965, the average CEO made 20 times more than workers; whereas, in 2012, the average CEO made 273 times more than workers.


Metaphor for Indian Workstyle: the Dance of Shiva

Hindu philosophy is key to understanding India, because even though the Indian culture has had a number of religious influences, 80% of Indians are Hindu, resulting in an overwhelming majority of Indians as tradition-oriented.  While India has 300+ languages, Hindi is the official language of the country.  However, Hindi is the native tongue of less than half the population; so, English (the secondary official language) serves as the “link language,” thereby uniting the country linguistically.  It is worth noting that India is 1/3 the size of the USA geographically, but has 4X the population.

Shiva is one of the three most important gods in India (along with Brahma and Vishnu).  There are numerous gods in the Hindu religion, each one is a different manifestation of one Supreme Being.  The Dance of Shiva metaphorically represents the cyclical nature of Hindu philosophy, which includes creation, existence, destruction, and re-creation.

The elements involved in the “dance” cycle of social interaction represent how one’s role in corporate life is carried out:

  • Fluid Time – Time is more of a guide than a fixed point.
  • Being / Relationship – Spending time to getting to know a colleague on a personal level is critical.  This usually entails being together outside of work and meeting the spouse/family.
  • Hierarchy  – Yielding to authority, &/or age (senior) and gender (male).
  • Collectivism – Loyalty and precedence is granted towards family and friends.



American managers typically take on the role of a problem solver or facilitator and try to draw their subordinates to participate in meetings.  This is more of an egalitarian approach.  If the American manager uses this style with an Indian direct report, the Indian (if hierarchical) may wonder whether the manager is competent and may even hold him/her in contempt for not acting more autocratic.  This is the hierarchical viewpoint.

What to do?  This depends on a number of factors.  The old adage of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” may be applicable here if the manager is in India, which is for the American to switch styles and act more respectfully autocratic.  If the scenario takes place in the USA, then there is need for a private cultural dialogue where the manager can provide some mentoring that helps the direct report become aware of the local norms and expectations.

Play ball and dance!


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.

*The use of the term “American” refers to those born and raised in the USA.  The author acknowledges that there also exist other Americans, namely: Central Americans, South Americans, and other North Americans.


Martin J. Gannon, Professor of Strategy and International Management, Columbia University Graduate School of Business.  Understanding Global Cultures.  Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.  2001. Pg. 215.

©Rossina Gil, 2014

When CEO’s Sabotage the Organization


Since all breadcrumbs lead back to the CEO, it is imperative that a CEO establishes trust.  Trust is essential in order for the organization’s Talent to accept authority.  When this happens, what transpires is what historians, criminologists, economists, and other academics refer to as the Principle of Legitimacy.  For a CEO to not enact this principle is tantamount to sabotaging the organization s/he leads.


The Principle of Legitimacy

Legitimacy is based on three factors:

1.  Voice.  If employees speak up, they will be heard. 

SABOTAGE EXAMPLE:  The Employee Engagement Survey is typically conducted annually to determine which pockets within the organization can refine its processes.  This is an opportunity for Talent to express their concerns, usually anonymously.  If leaders are instructing Talent that a marked increase in the team, departmental, or organizational score is directly tied to their bonus, how does introducing a financial conflict of interest affect purposeful, strategic input?  Aside from monetary rewards, what other pressures on placed on Talent to not express transparently their concerns?  How can the organization’s health improve if this is the case?  Is there an OD practitioner who can move forward comments, concerns, and questions? 

2.  Predictability.  There has to be a reasonable expectation that tomorrow’s and today’s rules are roughly the same. 

SABOTAGE EXAMPLE:  Transparent Succession Planning is critical in talent retention.  With a communicated succession plan, employees gain a sense of where they are in terms of possible internal promotion, and understand which areas require development prior to advancement.  If one has been created and distributed, and promotions occur outside of the plan, then however elaborate the plan may be, there is no confidence instituted due to perceived or actual cronyism.  How does lack of predictability impact an ambitious Talent culture already poised to move with agility through today’s challenging economy and dynamic changes in technology? How can an organization retain its tracked Talent, if the Talent perceives bias and intentionally misleading communication?  How can an organization keep its attrition cost low from the fall-out of distrust and lack of respect for authority?  How is an organization building on its personal branding if it speaks out of both sides of its metaphorical mouth?  Furthermore, in highly structured organizations, how does the hierarchy make it possible to raise this as an issue?…How balanced is the process?

3.  Fairness.  All groups/individuals are treated the same. 

SABOTAGE EXAMPLE:  Professional Development Plans (PDP) are individualized charts created in tandem with supervisors.  When done correctly, the direct report understands the SMART goals and how to execute upon them, resulting in a winning team – much like NFL coach and player.  If the supervisor only assigns a PDP exercise to one direct report and not to the rest of the team, then inequitable treatment is in place.  If it is done with negative intent, then s/he would not advise the direct report nor undertake any aspect of the exercise.  This is also called a “micro-inequity” – when subtle behaviors are targeted towards one or certain individuals.  How does exclusion impact the organization’s overall performance?  More specifically, how empowered would you feel if this happened to you?  What are the policies &/or communication channels in place to activate fairness when unequal standards are applied?

It is the responsibility of the CEO to maintain and improve the organization’s health by practicing the Principle of Legitimacy.  S/He can accomplish this by providing a voice to its talent, and requiring predictability and fairness at all levels.  When sabotage occurs, there are Talent Managers in place who are more like administrators than innovators.

A legitimate CEO is one who is on top of this.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 



Malcolm Gladwell.  David and Goliath.  Little, Brown and Company: NY, NY.  2013. Pg 207.

Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer, Netflix.

The Rational Mind & the Emotional Mind


Why are Social Media mistakes so common?  Because, according to Daniel Goleman, “It takes the rational mind a moment or two longer to register and respond than it does the emotional mind.”  The first impulse is the heart’s, not the head’s.   Many successful leaders learn patience with experience, since they learn that a moment of impatience can lead to a lifetime of regret.  As such, experienced leaders are less likely to be reactionary than their younger, inexperienced successors, the Millennials/Gen Y.

However, older managers are not immune to the powers of the emotional mind if there exist unresolved issues.   As Sigmund Freud made clear, we often have feelings that do not always cross the threshold into awareness; these emotions shape our frame of reference (how we perceive reality) – and because we are unconscious to what has triggered them, we are typically unaware they are at work.

Self-Awareness & the Samurai

An old Japanese story tells of a samurai who challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of Heaven and Hell.  The monk scornfully and dismissively replied, “Why should I waste my time explaining that to such an intellectually inferior pig?!”  Enraged by the perceived attack on his honor, the samurai unsheathed his sword and yelled, “I could decapitate you for such disrespect!!”  With Zen-like calmness, the monk replied, “THAT is Hell.”  Struck with the truth, the Samurai instantly realized how he had surrendered his power to the grip of rage; he sheathed his sword, became calm, bowed deeply, and respectfully thanked the monk for the insight.  “And THAT,” the monk added, “is Heaven.”

Self-awareness does not get carried away by sudden anger.  It does not amplify what is perceived.  Rather, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflection even when emotions are turbulent.  It is the difference between, for example, stomping away flushed red from rage to having the self-reflexive thought “This is anger I’m feeling” even as you are enraged.


Effective leaders are human (not Vulcan), which means it is natural to experience emotions.  Moods, however, are private, subjective experiences of feeling; and anger is the mood people are worst at controlling.  This is because unlike sadness, anger is energizing.  Daniel Goleman wrote, “Anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions; the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it along fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting rage.”  Benjamin Franklin once said, “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.”  This is because the emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that symbolize a reality (which may be pure perception) or trigger a memory, to be the same as that reality.  And, what was once the case of ill-intent may no longer be.

If a colleague, boss, or peer believes him/herself to be victimized, so begins the emotional hijacking.  The rational mind is left in the cold because of the righteous indignation – which is the reactive anger to perceived mistreatment or insult.  Once these distressing thoughts are in play, they become unwavering beliefs and are self-confirming, which is a childlike mode.  Any evidence to the contrary is discounted.  The victim seeks out only the data that confirms his/her beliefs; any acts of kindness are arbitrary — it may even be perceived as false attempts to deny transgressions.


  1. Freeze Frame.  Reframing a situation (focus on the positive) can quell anger.  If there was no benefit from the immediate situation, then there typically was some positive exchange from the individual overall.  This is what some people refer to as an attitude of gratitude.  What gain was there?
  2. Yesterday’s Exam.  Effective leaders feel they gain more from their failures than from their successes and will attest that the past does not define them, rather it prepares them…it is a lesson from which to draw and guide others.
  3. Own Up.  Understanding our own accountability will typically minimize the feeling of victimhood, as the feeling of empowerment increases with the acknowledgement of choice.  Effective leaders know their role in failing to lead their personnel to succeed.
  4. Stay Attuned.  If you notice the physiological effects that anger creates in your system (e.g. heart palpitations, etc), it may distract you enough from the anger build to combat those symptoms.
  5. Choice.  Decide that you will no longer feel this way.  Eleanor Roosevelt wisely stated:  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  You can change or you can leave; don’t deflect.
  6. Avoid Repression.  The feelings must be resolved, or else they will re-surface in other ways.  Naturally, the self-perceived victim may need to go beyond Executive Coaching or, Organization Development consultation, to psychotherapy if the following defense mechanisms continue to occur:
    1. Projection– the process in which we attribute something about ourselves onto someone else.  Example:  “He is a liar!” when the colleague him/herself does not practice authenticity.
    2. Transference- As with the Samurai, the colleague relates to his/her peer in a way that is reflective of an earlier unresolved relationship.  It’s a distortion of the real relationship and interaction between work colleagues.
    3. Countertransference- This is when your “stuff” and the other person’s “stuff” collide.  When the “victim” out of righteous indignation either intentionally or unintentionally acts out at you or against you, it pushes your buttons and sets off your emotional mind to be reactive.

Effective leaders know how to practice Emotional Intelligence, which is a meld of the Rational and the Emotional Mind.  This is how Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock made such a dynamic team on Star Trek.  Mr. Spock:  “I am pleased to see that we are different.  May we together become greater than the sum of both of us.”

Go forth and prosper!

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.



Goleman, Daniel.  Emotional Intelligence.  New York, NY: Bantam Books.  1995. Pp. 59; 293.