WHEN he was commander of the Pennsylvania State Police, Major Benjamin Brooks had an open-door policy at his workplace, but he noticed that no one ever came to see him.

When he tried to find out the reason, he discovered a startling reality. He was told that anyone who came to his door found it always closed.

It was a simply a case of sending out mixed messages. The closed door communicated to the employees that Maj Brooks was busy. In reality, he kept the door closed to ward off the noise in the office area. He immediately saw to it that it remained open thereafter.

What he realised was that though an open-door policy allowed an employee access to the manager, the employee had to be encouraged to utilise this procedure.

"Often, employees are reluctant to take advantage of this service because there's a discrepancy between what the managers say and what they do," he says.

"The biggest challenge for employers is to recognise that what worked in the past may no longer be appropriate, and that it's time to make a significant shift in how business is conducted. Employers in this new millennium require different coping skills in order to effectively connect with the different generations in the workplace."

Naturally, the employer who is aware of these changes, he says, will be able to compete better in the multicultural, global marketplace.

The next logical question is "how?"

Says Maj Brooks: "The best way for employers to handle these challenges is to recognise the demographic realities of the workplace."

By recognising the need to be culturally competent and culturally flexible, the employer will not allow superficial differences to impede organisational progress.

It will also make better business sense when the employer realises that the organisation's success will depend on the full utilisation of all of its available human resources, irrespective of their cultural or territorial differences.

In his career as a human resource (HR) consultant/presenter, Maj Brooks says he has spent a great deal of time on recruitment, retention and talent management, and by employing many of these strategies he was able to realise a greater return on investment in HR.

"This was measured by higher morale, and greater job satisfaction and as a result, realistic alignment of skill and job function. The biggest challenge was finally realising that we were in the people business. It was much easier to retain, develop, and manage our existing HR talents than to constantly hire new employees."

The best way for organisations to retain and manage valuable human resources is to ensure that positive inclusion is an organisational philosophy, rather than a programme.

The importance of inclusion, says Brooks, is critical in today's multicultural talent market more than ever before.

"It's important because it ensures that the organisation will become more competitive in a multicultural marketplace. When employees feel that they're an integral part of the organisation, morale is high, production increases and there's a greater return on the organisation's investment in its people," he asserts.

But where do employers start? The best way for employers to connect with the employee is to undertake this simple principle: the key to learning is listening.

An employer must be able to bond spiritually or emotionally with the employee. Adds Maj Brooks: "If the employer can connect with the employee, it will be able to impact the employee. If it is able to impact the employee, it will be able to influence the employee. If it is able to influence the employee, it'll be able to move the employee wherever it desires."

However, he is quick to clarify that this will only happen when the employer is able to positively connect with the employee through his words, deeds, philosophy and emotion.

Research shows that when an employee is hired, 90 per cent of the emphasis for selection is on his or her technical skills. However, when an employee is fired, in 90 per cent of the cases, it is due to the lack of people skills.

Consequently, employers must become more proficient in the art of emotional intelligence. "This challenge becomes more acute, particularly when bridging the gap between veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and Nexters in the multicultural work place," he explains.