how to hack your culture | language

The second post in my series on hacking your culture.

Ask ten random peers in your organization the following questions:
1.)    What is diversity?
2.)    How is it valuable for your organization?
3.)    What is our organization doing to capture that value?
4.)    What is expected of you as an individual?
5.)    What is inclusion?
6.)    How is it valuable for your organization?
7.)    What is your organization doing to capture that value?
8.)    What is expected of you as an individual?

Maybe you will get different results than I do, but I have been playing with this quiz for a few years now, and this is what I get in response:
discomfort: The only thing everyone knows about diversity and inclusion is that they do not want to say something wrong. Simply talking about diversity and inclusion out loud and in public is nerve-wracking for a lot of folks. A problem worthy of its own post.
inconsistency: If I ask ten people these questions, I usually get ten different sets of answers.
incoherence: A lot of the responses don’t even make much sense. And this is true on the organizational level as well. It is not hard to find an organization with a beautiful and poetic four-paragraph definition of diversity on its website that sound wonderful, but does not actually mean anything real.

“Diversity” is one of those words that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And that’s cool. Diversity is a big and complex topic. It does not need to mean the same thing to everyone.

But if you are going to be serious about doing work around D&I in your organization, there has got to be a common language in place. If you do not have clear and concise definitions in place, you are being very reckless with your efforts, because you are building them on a faulty and shifting foundation. Math would not be of much value to any of us if things like 5, 145, + and = mean different things to each of us.

If you are going to have meaningful and actionable conversations related to diversity and inclusion they have got be built of common language.

“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”
-Dan and Chip Heath, Switch

How do you establish language and logic? There are a lot of different ways to approach this, and again I have to stress the importance of context – know the organization and know the industry and know their history. If you and your organization have some time and resources to invest, this is how I would approach it.

Put together a team. Not for choosing your language and logic, but for inquiry, facilitation and documentation of an organization-wide process. People who are organized and creative. They should be comfortable with a variety of group processes and methodologies and social media and technology.

Prime the pump. Bring information and ideas about diversity and inclusion into the organization (books, articles, white papers and speakers). Spend about six months stimulating thinking around diversity and inclusion in a variety of ways — letting people know in advance that this is to inform a decision-making and planning process.

Chat it up. Spend another six months having the conversation. Ask people what diversity should mean for the organization, what kinds of associated opportunities they see, etc. These efforts should include a wide variety of formats and platforms: 1:1 conversations, focus groups and broader conversations using social media. Continue to provide people with access to information in the form of writing and speaking and examples of what other organizations are doing.

Convene a gathering. I design and facilitate an interactive planning/decision-making process called a decision accelerator in which I bring together 60-70 diverse stakeholders for a one- to two-day shared experience. There are other formats and methodologies to accomplish this, but what you want is a fairly large group from a lot of different parts of the organization to come together for a well-facilitated process toward making some initial decisions. Provide these folks with access to a lot of documentation of the conversations that took place during steps 2 and 3 (quotes, video clips, focus group summaries, etc.) prior to and during the gathering. The deliverable for this process should be a draft version of:

  • What diversity and inclusion mean for your organization (and why they mean this)
  • What value diversity and inclusion represent to your organization (and why)
  • Identification of four to six of the bigger/more important opportunities for your organization to pursue that value

You now have a pretty valuable document in your hands that has been squeezed out of a robust and participatory process. Spend some time reviewing it, do any word-smithing that is required before submitting it for final approval. This document and the documentation of the process are your foundation. Now you can build something real.

Be good to each other.


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