4 Keys to Unlock the Value of Diversity and Inclusion

Change in corporate diversity and inclusion has been slow because many leaders are not embracing the value of a diverse talent pool. Don’t leave intellectual capital on the table because employees don’t have the “right” background or don’t speak the “right” language. The pace of change is accelerating. Industry disruption is now commonplace, and the […]

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Change in corporate diversity and inclusion has been slow because many leaders are not embracing the value of a diverse talent pool. Don’t leave intellectual capital on the table because employees don’t have the “right” background or don’t speak the “right” language.

The pace of change is accelerating. Industry disruption is now commonplace, and the need for transformational thinking has never been greater.

To figure out how to operate in disruptive times we must be both open minded, and systemic in our efforts to capitalize on diverse perspectives and diverse talent. Importantly, organizations must create an inclusive workplace to maximize the value of employee input, or the value of diversity is lost.

Many organizations believe that success is all about creating the right service offering, having the best technology, top tier strategies, EBITDA, EPS and all the other key metrics.. Those things definitely matter, but what too many leaders fail to understand is that at the core of all of those things — at the root of all great success, value creation and ideas — is our people.

When you create an inclusive culture, people become the ultimate, sustainable, competitive advantage.

Looking back, creating an inclusive culture and work environment was critical to any success I had as CEO of Tribune Publishing. Many of the ideas we employed during one of the roughest patches in the company’s history would not have come to fruition had we not opened our minds and ears to employees outside of the senior management ranks.

I’ve seen the value in encouraging everyone to participate in developing solutions. By setting expectations, really listening to employees, and recognizing people’s contributions, many productivity and safety improvements were made at Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center. Because we didn’t limit ideation to the management team, we were able to identify solutions to drive performance beyond our expectations.

This took a bit of rewiring, especially for supervisors and managers. Rather than allowing people to dismiss employees if they weren’t like “us” or didn’t speak like “us,” we employed the “big ears, thick skin” approach to leadership. By listening and allowing people to point out our weak spots, we saw a significant increase in ideas and in team engagement.

To effectively mine your workforce for untapped innovation and efficiency, approach diversity and inclusion from a standpoint of humility, not one of privilege and power. I have humility and enough vulnerability to admit that I don’t know everything. I know that sometimes I have to get out of my own way, to challenge my own thinking, biases and preconceived notions. That’s why when the Chicago Tribune needed ideas to address disruption, I wanted to unleash all employees to participate. I needed ideas from the people in the roles who had the right know-how to get the job done.

Then, when we had the ideas and feathers got ruffled, I didn’t avoid the hard or uncomfortable conversations. People in powerful positions often do that, and it’s a mistake. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Discomfort can spark dialogue and creative tension, resulting in better ideas and collaborative solutions. As long as communication remains respectful, and open, there should be no fear of the repercussions of pointing out any elephants that may be lurking in the room.

In the past decade, organizational leaders in and outside of corporate America have focused on: outcomes, quotas, board seats, shiny objects, engagement surveys, and flavor of the week, one-off diversity and inclusion initiatives. Despite the work, effort and resources poured into strategies and programs, the results aren’t that impressive.Frankly, while there has been improvement, there hasn’t been meaningful change.

It goes back to one of the things I have learned the hard way: Incremental actions get you incremental results. We need widespread, systemic change in the diversity and inclusion arena.

There are many ways to address this lack of progress. I made the best hiring decision of my entire career at the Chicago Tribune when I hired a diverse professional into a key role on the operations team. Many may have thought it was a terrible move because he was in a corporate diversity role. But as I looked deeper into his background, I discovered a wealth of planning and operations experience. He was also an entrepreneur early in his career.

This experience and his diversity made him a perfect fit for the senior planning role we needed. Jeff Dorsey was an instant contributor, and his exceptional leadership skills provided a much needed boost to the leadership team. He also connected with our diverse employees in unique, impactful ways, and was able to share their ideas and input with us as an unofficial but extremely valuable spokesperson.

Ultimately, Jeff brought significant and tangible value to the business. Value we would have missed out on had we not looked past his “labels:” corporate guy, lack of production experience, etc.

I learned three meaningful lessons. One, it is critically important not to judge someone on a surface level. Two, there is power in diversifying at the senior management level, and three, it’s important to create opportunities for talented people. Jeff’s impact and influence created more value than I could have ever imagined.

Here are four suggestions on how you can drive diversity and inclusion in your organization:

  1. Constantly reevaluate your talk-to-action ratio. Everyone loves to talk about diversity and inclusion, but is talking all that you’re doing? It’s not about offering lip service or buying into a trend. Being fashionable won’t drive the innovation and change needed to thrive in today’s marketplace. So make sure your organization is doing more acting than talking.
  2. Establish BHAG’s … big hairy aggressive goals. Incremental changes get incremental results. Establish BHAG’s, stretch the organization, and launch new initiatives. Not all ideas will be winners. Test, measure and pivot as needed. Just fail fast, and move on. Don’t settle for the low hanging fruit.
  3. Break the plan into phases and get started. Use my “big ears, thick skin” motto. Listen hard, be ready to take constructive criticism, and react accordingly. Then, get a plan in place that incorporates the SMART goal framework and chip away.
  4. Find evangelists and executive champions. Find the department or area with the most employees, and share your ideas on the importance of diversity and inclusion. Build a coalition with the leader of that part of the organization. Share your concepts and ideas, and activate your executive champion’s voice. You’ll be positively surprised at the speed at which the results will occur.

This article was originally published on on 4/30/2020.

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