Failing at Diversity? Try This.
If you know diversity is important, you’re already in the process of trying to create a more diverse work environment. Chances are, you’re doing all the right things: tracking hiring data, measuring turnover, taking training courses. Still, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the most out of your focus on diversity. And it certainly doesn’t mean that people will want to stay at your organization.
Tracking hiring data, measuring turnover, taking training courses doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the most out of your focus on diversity.
Here’s the real news about diversity: no person of color wants to be hired to “create a more diverse work environment.” If you want to keep the diverse people you’ve hired, you need to give them more decision-making responsibility and accountability. Put another way, your diversity efforts ultimately won’t work until you are willing to change the nature of how your organization works.
If you want to keep the diverse people you’ve hired, you need to give them more decision-making responsibility and accountability.
This may seem like a tall order, so let’s take a step back and walk you through it. Hiring new people from outside your majority culture is a good first step. It’s a great step. But it’s not the only step if the organizational structures aren’t in place to capitalize on the skills and talent of these new hires.
Scott Page, in his excellent book Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, elegantly cites a vast amount of research that proves how more diverse teams make better decisions.
But the key to this power is sincerely and fully engaging different voices. So, if you want to engage the voices of the new people you are bringing in, you have to give them a bigger say in how your organization decides, acts, and solves the problems it’s facing. The best way to do this is make these people decision-makers, and make them responsible for key aspects of your business.
The key to the power of diversity is sincerely and fully engaging different voices. To engage the voices of the new people you are bringing in, you have to give them a bigger say in how your organization decides, acts, and solves the problems it’s facing.
What does this mean practically? It means doing some things that may at first seem counterintuitive. In The CEO Paradox, we talk about the challenge of newly hired CEOs who are under lots of pressure and need to make strategic achievements fast.
Because the pressure is on for these new leaders, they tend to narrow focus and limit the people who can make decisions to only a small circle of a trusted few. This is a totally natural response. It’s a strategic mistake, however, if the goal is to catalyze large-scale transformation in the organization, and hit new targets quickly using the resources that already exist.
In the same way, the same counter-move is at play with new employees. When we suggest that executive teams push decision-making down in the organization, and give new people more decision-making power…it sounds a little ludicrous. What? These people are new. How do you know you can trust them?
Trust is a big issue. This is why you don’t give people decision-making power without accountability structures in place. And you don’t attempt to change your decision-making processes in your company without a shared vocabulary—so everyone is clear on who has what.
When we suggest that executive teams push decision-making down in the organization, and give new people more decision-making power…it sounds a little ludicrous.
Still, by approaching your decision-making more inclusively, you can tap the latent talent that you already have and you create the kind of engagement that makes people want to stay, contribute, and give their best. It’s a chicken and egg thing. The act of including new voices creates the kind of commitment you want to see.
It’s a chicken and egg thing. The act of including new voices creates the kind of commitment you want to see.
Still, it’s not difficult to start thinking about transforming your organization and asking some key questions about how diversity is actually working in your organization. Here’s an exercise you can do to check the pulse of the state of decision-making in your organization right now:
1. Think about the top 10 decisions made in your organization in the last year. Write them down.
2. Then take a moment to think about who made these decisions.
a) How diverse were the decision-makers for these decisions?
b) Where these decisions made by the majority culture? More diverse people? A mix?
c) If teams of people coalesced around these decisions, how diverse were the teams?
3. What do you notice about who routinely makes decisions in your organization from a diversity lens?
It’s not difficult to start asking some key questions about how diversity is actually working in your organization.
If you’re like most organizations, you may find these questions illuminating. If not, this is good news. The point here is that you can’t just “bolt on” a new diversity lens to an existing decision-making structure…and expect it to produce something dramatic and new. This is especially true if that structure is run by people who are from the same economic strata, are educated the same way, share similar perspectives, similar approaches, and look like each other.
Most executive teams we work with want to create more diversity in their organizations, but don’t know exactly how to approach it. The good news is that it’s not at complex as it seems if you understand this one key idea: If you want to keep new talent, and capitalize on the many valuable benefits of diversity, you must UTILIZE your talent in a more systematic and empowering way.
And the best way to do that is through decision-making and accountability structures that take in diverse voices. Otherwise, get prepared for organizational churn, high recruiting costs, and a less-empowered team.