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Part 1 – Why Diversity Efforts Fail: A Four-Part Series of Observations & Recommendations

Currently, the economy is strong but many companies are faced with how to “do more with less” in an environment that is fraught with peril, increasing complexity and globalization. Recently, I have seen a renewed focused on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) where organizations are looking to get the best out of ALL their employees in the hopes of increased engagement, retention and innovation.

Before I give my observations, it’s important to share my perspective about Diversity and Inclusion efforts in corporations. My view of D&I is an organizational effectiveness view and not a social justice/civil rights view. This means my thoughts are about how to engage the differences that matter (within all employees) in the company’s efforts to get work done. This may utilize some civil rights/social justice approaches but only as it allows each person to contribute to organizational goals. This is not about sit-ins or peaceful protests but how will the organization treat those with a skill, thought or style difference that will make the work product better. This can only happen if the corporate culture will allow everyone to bring their full self to work and leverage their differences to make a difference.

Based on my experience with Diversity and Inclusion over the last 25 years, I have noticed four common pitfalls that make organizations less than successful with their D&I efforts. First, I will discuss how D&I efforts are not linked to a business imperative.

Pitfall One

Diversity and Inclusion efforts not linked to a business imperative

Many times, a company will “do diversity” as a reaction to a legal action or as the result of low employee engagement survey results from key segments of their employees. This reason alone is not enough to sustain a diversity effort. It must also be linked to a business imperative such as a few of the following.

  • Will a diverse and inclusive environment help your company retain ALL parts of your employee population?
  • Will the infusion of different approaches to problems help you meet your customer’s needs?
  • Will a more valued and engaged workforce help you innovate new products and solutions for your customers?
  • How will people managers more effectively execute organizational strategy through those they lead?

Linking your D&I efforts to some business goal will move it from the “flavor of the month” to a long-lasting effort that will engage and unlock your workforce. Connecting the effort to a business imperative does not have to be a separate and different initiative. Often, there are efforts already underway to address an issue but if reviewed with a D&I lens could be leveraged for both D&I and the business.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Who is on the team?
  • What part of the organization do they come from?
  • Are they just from one part of the organization?
  • What level are they?
  • How close are they to the problem?
  • Do they have experience from other industries that might be useful?
  • What is their tenure with the organization? (A new person can bring a fresh perspective and a more tenured employee can bring experience and insight.)
  • What visible and invisible differences do they bring to the table? (demographic, skill and thought differences)

Here are some additional examples of how companies are linking their current diversity and inclusion efforts to business imperatives.

ERG’s (Employee Resource Groups)
  • Many times, from the membership of these groups a cross-functional team can be created to tackle a business issue and generate an innovative solution.
  • These groups are leveraged as internal focus groups for marketing efforts, targeting demographic groups and insights on consumers because many employees are consumers.
  • ERG’s are used to gain insight on employee engagement results and to develop solutions to the issues raised.
  • They also help companies understand their employer brand and not only why people are attracted to the company but also why they leave. From these discussions, solutions are generated and implemented.
Training Efforts

Training courses are a traditional D&I intervention that is used, however; I have seen that training is more effective if it is more experiential and interactive and less of a lecture format. This training encourages the participants to think differently, confront unconscious biases and leave with tools and strategies that help them work better with others that are different. I will share with you two experiences I have had with this kind of training.

One experience was a 2.5-hour web-based simulation in which 8-10 participants would engage in selecting a team for a task. Each team member was different in the following ways: demographically, skill sets, personality and tenure with the team. There were three rounds with tasks in each round. As the rounds progressed, the decision-making became more difficult. For each task, there was a script, which the participants read and then had to decide as a team on a response to the question or problem. Through this simulation, the following key D&I concepts were discussed and reinforced: intent versus impact, the platinum rule, choosing people right for the task instead of choosing people we liked or more easily got along with and how to give feedback to a team member to increase their engagement.

The second experience was an in-person training that lasted for four hours. This training had the participants engaged from the moment they entered the room until the last exercise. This session began with a broader definition of diversity to include both visible and invisible differences. This training involved exercises to highlight biases around trust, generational differences, communication styles and thinking preferences. Each participant left with tangible tools and strategies to help them work more effectively with others that have visible and invisible differences. An organization can yield great business results and outcomes when these tools are leveraged through coaching with each participant’s manager.

These kinds of training experiences can support your diversity effort by linking it to the business and helping people understand how to work with people (that have differences) to accomplish a work goal.

Lack of Candid Performance and Developmental Conversations

I will mention this briefly as the 2nd pitfall deals with this in more detail but this is where the rubber hits the road with diversity and inclusion. Organizations are looking to increase business results however are not giving honest, candid and behaviorally specific feedback to members of their teams. Leaders cannot expect for team members to “just get it” and “move the needle” especially when there is a need to work with a diverse spectrum of people. “Doing Diversity and Inclusion” means helping people work differently and work with people who are different from themselves that bring value to the business. When an employee receives effective coaching, development and performance feedback about how to work with others that have visible or invisible differences, your diversity efforts will gain greater traction and will impact your business goals.

Stay tuned for the second pitfall of lack of candid performance management conversations.

© Benton+Bradford Consulting