The other day one of my clients got me thinking about our practice of Diversity and Inclusion. She was concerned about the fact that we don’t have one definition for Diversity that all practitioners consistently use. A few hours later I was still mulling this over and looking to other disciplines similar to Diversity to see just how they have “figured it out.” I thought about both the disciplines of Organizational Development and Leadership, disciplines in which I'm actively involved. Neither of them has just one sole definition that all of its practitioners rally behind. In fact in one of our Leadership courses we actually study various definitions of Leadership and look at the value of those diverse perspectives. So why then do we feel as though the discipline of Diversity needs just one definition? Likewise, why do we think we need to take time to state that definition before any D&I training? At first I thought, “Well, it’s just that many people still don’t have a shared understanding of what Diversity is.” Yet, I know that’s the case for Leadership and OD as well. I think the real difference is that the subject of Diversity still has a negative connotation for many. In fact in some workplaces, I think the word has a polarizing effect. Whether that is due to past experiences of bad Diversity training they’ve been mandated to attend or even personal misunderstandings across difference, it’s that bad rap that we as D&I practitioners need to acknowledge. It’s the elephant in the room that we try to address when we give our definition. Unfortunately, until we can shift that bad rap to a more complete understanding of the benefits of Diversity, we’re going to need to keep taking our time to define it.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a quote frequently attributed to Peter Drucker, sums up the recent fervor to focus on organizational culture. Yet, with all the talk, why do we see little action—few organizations that actually change their culture? Culture catches us because we typically don’t see it as something we can change, tweak, or improve. Instead, we show up everyday saying things like, “This place is crazy;” or “This is so frustrating. I wish we could do things differently.” When we talk about our workplace in this way, we’re not in control, our culture is. It is our culture that drives our environment and the way we do our work instead of us driving and shaping our culture. We become resigned to it as if it were some unruly, entity outside of us. While everyone in the workplace contributes to the culture on a daily basis, leaders have the most leverage to influence and change it. To do so, they must first understand what culture is. It’s the “way we do things around here.” It’s the unwritten rules of their workplace that shape the environment and behaviors. Then, leaders must be able to fully see all aspects of their organizational culture—are we, to name a few, risk-averse or risk-taking?; process-obsessed or process-indifferent?; hierarchical or egalitarian? Then comes the key question. Once leaders can fully describe their organizational culture with detail, they need to ask themselves: “Is this culture the culture that will best enable us to reach or organizational vision, mission, and strategy.” 99% of the time, the answer is no. That’s when leaders need to take charge and figure out what that ideal culture is. They need to drive and create the effective culture they need versus being driven by the ineffective culture they have.
In a recent article about the current movement in the Minnesota legislature to ban gay marriage by amending the state’s constitution, Sen. Warren Limmer, the author of the bill, asked an interesting question in relation to the LGBT community and civil rights protections:
“[Sen. Limmer] offered his view on civil rights based on sexual orientation versus those based on race. “Sexual orientation may be perceived as more of action [sic],” he told the committee. “Do you teach a person to be black?””
Can you “teach a person to be black?” I would say yes, absolutely—by your interactions with them. Even if they don’t necessarily consider themselves to be black. And of course we’ve had plenty of laws in the history of this country that helped support that particular education, laws that any legislator would now condemn.
What’s the long-term social impact on legislating identity? Again, if history teaches us anything, it’s that the need to define someone, even in counter-intuitive sense of removing their ability to claim a particular identity (as in reducing gay identity to an “action”) is a step towards a dangerous edge, an edge that, as a country, we’ve stepped over before—to our own detriment.
It’s time we learned our lesson.
Here’s my revised and updated definition of insanity for our industry: doing the same Leadership Development we’ve always done and expecting different results. Today’s Leadership Development needs to prepare leaders for today’s workplace, not for the workplace of the 20th Century. Seems obvious, right? Yet, how many of organizations offer up programs that are either in the same format or teach the same old leadership frameworks—ones that were created back in the 1950s? Too many. The real problem with this is that we can’t understand why we aren’t getting different results. To be effective, we know that both the how and the what of Leadership Development today need to be different.
First, the how needs to move outside of the classroom and into the daily lives of leaders. Call that “Action Learning,” “Applied Learning,” or “On-the-Job Training;” at deepSEE, we call it common sense. A recent article, "Real Leadership" in Twin Cities Business (May 2011) lays out the advantages of this approach and the best practices of the organizations that are using it. Essentially, today’s Leadership Development that makes a difference goes beyond training and includes real-life organizational projects, coaching, mentoring and targeted assessments and development plans. It allows leaders to practice and apply what they learn in the classroom for real results in the organization.
But it’s not just the how that needs to change. We also need to take a look at what we’re teaching today’s leaders. There’s no doubt that the current workplace is different than the workplace of even just a decade ago. It’s faster-paced, diverse, change-oriented and, thanks to our current economy, also more efficient. To lead in this dynamic environment calls for new and more refined competencies such as Change Management, Cultural Competence or Leadership of Remote Teams, to name a few. These competencies provide leaders with new lenses to SEE the burgeoning challenges of their workplace from a different perspective and then adapt to those challenges with more effective approaches that better meet the needs of their team and organization as a whole.
So, here’s to bringing sanity to our Leaders with Development that meets their realities and makes a difference in their organizations.
It’s time. After decades of striving and struggling to achieve Diversity in our organizations, it’s time to move on. Ask yourself: After these years of work, why have we yet to see significant progress? Why do organizations still have issues? Why do many say their workplace is still no better than it was years ago? Because we’ve been distracted by the wrong goal. We’ve missed the deeper, more transformational point and we’ve sought after the wrong finish line. While Diversity and Inclusion were exemplar goals to begin with, it’s time for a new aspiration, a new finish line. It’s time for a new evolution of Diversity and Inclusion work.
No, I’m not suggesting we move away for our efforts to ensure a diverse workforce. Instead, we must enhance our approach and focus.While 1.0 was Diversity and 2.0 was Inclusion, it’s now time for 3.0: Transformational Diversity.
I will be writing about this more in the coming weeks, and a full article is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; enter "Transformational Diversity" in the subject line.