Five Proven Strategies to Guarantee Your Diversity Initiative Produces Results

It’s not about doing the right thing, making others think you’re good people or keeping up with your competitors. Doing diversity right is about getting superior results.

Intent does not equal impact. Time and again I see organizations with good intentions embark on an enthusiastic endeavor to increase diversity in their workplace.

Time and time again I also see their nonexistent to negative impacts, from failure to create lasting positive change to crash-and-burn disasters rife with unproductive conflict. Often it’s because they didn’t follow one or more of these five proven strategies for diversity and inclusion success – the “new school” way. The good news is it’s never too late to learn and regroup, and a new year presents ripe opportunity for fresh starts!

Strategy No. 5: Hire an Excellent Training Partner. If you’ve invested lots of money in training but seen low to no meaningful results, or you’ve received feedback that D&I training has led to confusion or increased problems, you may have selected a training partner that was inadequate, or not a good fit for your organization’s culture. Not all diversity training or trainers are high quality, especially now that D&I is more common and sought-after than ever before. Engaging an inadequate training partner wastes scarce resources, and undermines the credibility of D&I efforts. Ensure you’re set up for success before making a game-changing investment by asking: (1) Do we need training? Sometimes leadership coaching, systems change, or data collection is a more appropriate intervention, and a true D&I professional will help you figure this out. (2) Do we need it now? Training usually yields a higher ROI after proper assessment or other interventions. (3) Who do we already have internally with expertise in organizational development, adult learning, instructional design and facilitation? Ask potential internal and external training partners strategic questions to determine expertise and fit.

Strategy No. 4: Measure the Meaningful Impact of Training … and Reinforce It. If your D&I training got rave reviews, but you’ve seen no-to-low meaningful outcomes in your culture, systems, or leadership, you may not have set training up for success back in the workplace. Not creating a robust plan for implementation and systems change following D&I training wastes resources. It’s a false belief, even among some training professionals, that the effects of training can’t be measured. This belief undermines the credibility of D&I, and reflects poor stewardship of an organization’s trust and investment of budget, time and talent. Before investing in training, ensure you’re set up for success by asking: (1) What are the specific goals or learning objectives for the training? (2) What is our baseline? In other words, where are we now in relation to our training goals? (3) How will we know whether this training was a success? What metrics will we track, and how will we measure it?

Strategy No. 3: Identify and Measure Meaningful Goals. If you don’t have D&I goals, or your goals are only to start employee resource groups or recruit/hire/promote more people of color or women, stop what you’re doing and focus here. Launching D&I efforts with no clear goals, or old-school goals that are limited to focusing on numbers devoid of meaningful strategy is the best way to ensure D&I stalls, fizzles or disappears. You can’t produce meaningful, measurable business-critical results without meaningful goals, and if you’re not producing meaningful, measurable results, you’re wasting time and money. Meaningful D&I goals address a current, pressing problem or take your organization from good to great. Tackling D&I without them adds tasks and stress to leaders’ and employees’ already-overflowing plates (thus reducing buy-in), and damages the credibility of D&I efforts.

Approaching your D&I initiative like a checklist of best practices from elsewhere without a solid business imperative that’s relevant and urgent to your organization’s success is just as ineffective as approaching any other strategic priority that way. Your goals, challenges and needs may not be the same as your competitors’, or the rest of your industry. You must do adequate assessment and gap analysis before taking action to get better-than-OK results. Start by asking: (1) How will a successful D&I initiative alleviate our existing pain points? (2) How will a successful D&I initiative move us from good to great in critical areas we already care about? (3) How will a successful D&I initiative help us avoid potential future pain points?

Strategy #2: Address Your Culture’s Toxicity to Excellence, Change and Inclusiveness. If you have meaningful, business-critical D&I goals, but you’re seeing low to no desired change or experiencing poor employee engagement, your organization may be too toxic for D&I to take healthy root. Also, if you don’t assess employee engagement in any formal, consistent way, haven’t reviewed your data for over three years or don’t cut your (engagement, turnover, promotion, hiring) data by strategic demographic groups, you’re flying blind. Your training program will fall flat and your investment is wasted if your culture doesn’t support healthy change, equity, inclusion or general excellence. Your core issue might not be about diversity and inclusiveness at all, but rather lack of accountability or effective leadership, which are creating or exacerbating diversity issues

Strategy #1: “Do Diversity” for the Results (Not Just Because It’s the Right Thing to Do). “Rightness and “goodness” are beliefs based on certain values. One’s beliefs and values may be precious but they aren’t facts or universal truth. They may not provide value, results or profit, which are important to organizations. Also, not everyone shares the same values. Expecting that everyone does is naïve, and believing everyone should actually reduces diversity and silences those who challenge or raise questions. Doing diversity based on notions of rightness is also unsustainable, because initiatives based only on beliefs and values are often viewed as nice-to-haves that get cut when leadership priorities shift, or resources become scarce. Believing that doing diversity is right or good isn’t required for it to work. Just as one doesn’t need to believe in internal combustion or the laws of physics to drive a car, the principles of diversity and inclusiveness work regardless of the belief systems of those involved.

Diversity plus inclusiveness gets superior results, as shown by multiple studies including from hard sciences like mathematics and economics. Doing diversity right isn’t about helping “them” (women, people of color, LGBT, people with disabilities, etc.). It’s not about doing the right thing, making others think you’re good people or keeping up with your competitors. Doing diversity right is about getting superior results in whatever critical, strategic priorities you already have. It’s about solving an urgent problem or going from good to great. That’s it. Diversity plus inclusiveness is an excellence multiplier. Don’t treat it as anything less by not implementing these five proven strategies to produce results that matter!


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