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Part 3 – Why Diversity Efforts Fail – A Four Part Series of Observations and Recommendations

Lack of a change management approach for diversity and inclusion efforts

Many times, the company just wants to “do something” by “training people” when the case for a diverse and inclusive environment has not been made or adopted by the culture. Diversity and Inclusion efforts, much like change management, requires both an individual and organizational perspective to be successful. My perspective is informed by the Prosci/ADKAR change management philosophy. As a bit of background, Prosci/ADKAR is a research-based, organizational and individual change model that represents the milestones and processes an individual and organizations must go through in order to change successfully. I am viewing their disciplined process through a diversity and inclusion lens and submit it as an approach to thinking about diversity and inclusion as change management from an individual and organizational perspective.

Individual change management with a diversity and inclusion effort means understanding how one person can make a change in their behavior. Organizations don’t undergo change, individuals do. So, making your diversity and inclusion effort sustainable has everything to do with how effective the effort is in getting people to change the way they work and interact. Diversity efforts are usually large organizational undertakings and the success of the efforts lie with each employee interacting differently and doing their work differently. This is multiplied across all employees, functions and divisions impacted by the change. Just like an effective change management effort requires an understanding of how one person makes a change so does a diversity and inclusion effort. Without an individual perspective, we are left with activities but no idea of the goal or outcome that we are trying to achieve. Often a D&I effort is a check list type of activity to be started and completed but the organization is left wondering how to drive the change further and sustain it.

An individual change management perspective is rooted in ADKAR. ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) is a research-based, individual change model that represents the five milestones an individual must achieve to change successfully. ADKAR creates a language for change and gives leaders a framework for helping people embrace and adopt changes.

Organizational change management with a diversity and inclusion effort means understanding what tools, practices, processes and polices are available to help people interact with others differently and more effectively. While a diversity and inclusion effort happens one person at a time, there are processes and tools that can help facilitate this change across groups and organizations. Without a structured approach, diversity and inclusion (not unlike change management) tools can be limited to only communication and training and this is what is typically thought of when thinking of a D&I effort. When there is an organizational change management perspective for your diversity effort, a process emerges for how to scale D&I activities and how to use the complete set of tools available for diversity project leaders and business managers.

In preparing for a D&I initiative a disciplined approach and methodology helps the effort and project teams prepare for designing their change management plans. It helps to understand how much change management is needed, who is impacted by the change, how are they impacted and what sponsors are needed to make the initiative successful.

Phase One

The first phase provides the organizational awareness that is critical for creating an effective diversity effort. The outputs of this phase are understanding the:

  • Diversity and inclusion change characteristics profile. This provides insight into the behavioral change the organization wants to see, its size, scope and impact.
  • Organizational attributes profile. This gives a view of the organization and groups that are being impacted and any specific attributes (or cultural barriers) that may contribute to challenges when changing.
  • Diversity and Inclusion change team structure. This structure defines how many D&I people resources are needed for the effort and where they are positioned in relationship to the project team and project sponsor
  • Sponsor assessment, structure and roles. This provides an understanding of the leaders across the organization who will need to act as sponsors of the change. In this phase it is also important to identify possible challenges with certain leaders and start to formulate plans to get those leaders on board and actively sponsoring the change.
  • Diversity and Inclusion impact assessment. This assessment identifies the groups of individuals being impacted by the change, in what ways they are being impacted, and unique challenges you may face with this group in the project.
  • Diversity and inclusion change management strategy. Based on the assessments in this phase, a strategy that scales the effort to align with the type and size of the change is articulated.

Phase Two

The second phase focuses on creating plans that will integrate with the D&I plan. These change management plans articulate the steps that you can take to support the individual people being impacted by the project. This is what people typically think of when they talk about change management and its importance. Based on Prosci’s research, there are five plans that help individuals moving through the ADKAR Model:

  • Communication plan. Communications are a critical part of the D&I change process. This plan articulates key messages that need to go to various impacted audience. It also accounts for who will send the messages and when, ensuring employees are hearing messages about the change at the right time from the people with whom have credibility.
  • Sponsor roadmap. The sponsor roadmap outlines the actions needed from the D&I’s primary sponsor and the coalition of sponsors across the business. To help executives be active and visible sponsors of the D&I effort, the roadmap will provide details on when and where leaders need to be present, what communications they should send, and which peers across the coalition they need to align with to support the effort.
  • Training plan. Diversity training is a required part of the organization’s attempt to change how people work together and is critical to help people build the knowledge and ability they need to work and leverage the differences in each other in a new way. The training plan identifies who will need what training and when. It is important that the training plan be sequenced in a way that allows for awareness and desire building before they are sent to training.
  • Coaching plan. The coaching plan outlines how you will engage with and equip managers and people leaders to lead the diversity and inclusion effort with their own teams. Managers can play a significant role in aiding the effort, but they need to be engaged as employees themselves first and allowed to work through their own change process. Then you can give them the information and tools to lead the same process with their own teams.
  • Resistance management plan. The resistance management plan provides a strategy for both proactively and reactively addressing resistance. At the outset of a diversity and inclusion effort, anticipated areas of resistance can be identified and proactively planned for: specific activities targeted at potentially resistant groups. This can head off resistance before it becomes a problem. The resistance management plan should also include the process and plan for identifying, understanding, and addressing resistance that comes up throughout the life of the project.

Phase Three

With most diversity and inclusion interventions a large portion of the effort is in getting off the ground but little care is given to how to sustain the effort. The third phase creates specific action plans for ensuring that the D&I effort is sustained. In this phase, project and D&I teams develop measures and mechanisms to measure how well the effort is being adopted, to the see if employees are doing their jobs and interacting in a new way, to identify and correct gaps and to celebrate success. This includes:

  1. Measuring changes in behavior
    As the D&I effort is being implemented and the solution of the project is going live, it is important to establish measures to see if people are doing their jobs and behaving in a new way. These measures will be unique to each project and based on what new behaviors are required of employees in the changed state. In some cases, you can adapt current measures of your employee’s engagement to see if your effort is successful and you can also look at the exit surveys and why people left.
  1. Corrective action plans
    If gaps are identified and people are not fully adopting to working with each other in new ways, the D&I and project team must act to correct those gaps. It is important to remember ADKAR in this phase and identify accurately why people may not be embracing the change and address the root cause of the gap.
  1. Reinforcement mechanisms
    Because people are physiologically wired for habit, it is common that even though people may change successfully, they will revert to their old habits unless there are specific measures in place to prevent them from doing so. Reinforcement mechanisms can include ongoing training, coaching and development.
  1. Individual and group recognition approaches
    It is vitally important to recognize the hard work people have put in to embracing change. Every person and organization is different, so it is important to look for means of recognition that will resonate with the individuals.
  1. Success celebrations
    In addition to recognizing the achievements of individuals and groups who have changed successfully, it is important to publicly highlight the success of the initiative and provide opportunity to celebrate the hard work that went into getting to a new future state.
  1. After-action review
    As is common in project management, an after-action review of the D&I efforts helps to identify strengths of the change effort to be replicated in future projects, as well as areas where different action should be taken next time to drive a more successful outcome.

When these two disciplined approaches at the individual and organizational level are applied to a diversity and inclusion effort, it can be sustained with tangible results.

This graphic shows the integration of successful change (D&I) effort with a dual path of individual (ADKAR) and organizational change.

In my experience, I have seen where organizations have moved quickly to “doing something” whether it be hiring, community outreach, training, or an employee resource group without considering how these changes will impact an individual or the organization. This is where I have heard the term “Diversity Fatigue”. Organizations move through cycles of effort and seem to end up with little or suboptimal results given the amount of energy expended. They have recruited new employees only to see these new employees lack engagement, produce no innovative products and then leave the organization. When they leave, they are quick to report their experience, which in some instances is less than favorable, either during exit interviews or to Glassdoor. If a disciplined and thoughtful approach is applied to diversity efforts, many of the promises of diversity can be kept and leveraged for the benefit of the organization and those that work for the organization.

Now that we have discussed diversity efforts, in terms of links to a business initiative, candid feedback to improve behavior and using a Prosci change management model we turn our attention to the final observation about who these diversity efforts should be focused on.

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