A quick look around the economy and there is only one thing that is constant: change. Global markets have been swinging wildly like an out of control pendulum. The one fuel to rule them all, oil, tripped into a pothole then fell off a cliff, and just when you think it might crawl out, it leaps into the abyss. China, an economy that was purported to be the leader of future growth, ended up being the horse that drags the global market chariot down a windy dangerous road.
Much treasured establishment players now are being challenged en masse by the anti-establishment crowd. Nowhere is this movement more evident than the US presidential elections. However, it is also being played out in tandem in our business landscape. Amazon overtakes the once undefeatable behemoth, Walmart, as the largest retailer. They also totally transform the long established book-buying industry (now controlling 80% of the book buying market) causing the big box store, Borders, to shut operations and putting Barnes and Noble on the same path. “Traditional” families are not the growth market for financial advisors. We are marrying less, different and later in life. Millennials, who lived with their parents through the foreclosure crisis, are trending towards not including home ownership in their life goals. Those nearing the traditional retirement age are deciding to work longer either because of a necessity or just because they want to be continually engaged.
As can be seen in any market downturn, companies that viewed diversity and inclusion (D&I) as the top of Maslow’s pyramid of higher needs (in other words, a luxury when basic needs are being fulfilled) are the first to cut the initiatives with the promise that they will get back to them when financial times are more promising. The irony is if you do not move forward with D&I efforts in the midst of hard times, you will never know how it can be leveraged to make you stronger. Perhaps D&I is not a higher level goal, but instead a basic, market survival need.
The world is not how it used to be and it never will be. It could be a time for alarm (bear) or excitement (bull). The market has not figured out which side to take yet. Change can translate into opportunity for those companies that have the ability to embrace diversity and inclusion as an opportunity to evolve. To ride this wild market wave and not wipe out, organizations need to keep these three inclusive practices close to their core mission.
1. Challenge Fit – Whether it is hiring a candidate, putting together a project team or determining your target market and portfolio of services, the word “fit” can act as a restraint to real growth. If you can, ban the word from your team’s vocabulary. Fit is based on what worked in the past, not in today’s volatile market. If you hear a leader say a candidate is “not a fit”, ask for specifics. A gut feeling is not acceptable. As a salesperson many years ago, I remember my manager telling me the lightbulb reseller I wanted to go after was just not a “fit” for our services. I thought otherwise and it ended up becoming one of our largest longstanding clients , to whom we sold a product that we did not see as a fit for our current client base. This very same product ended becoming the core offering of our first million dollar client. Remember that fit is a rearview mirror image. It can be blinding to a winning talent and market strategy.
2. Develop Leaders – It is far too easy to cut leadership development when times are uncertain and budgets are tight. However, in volatile markets you need to not only retain your best and brightest, but also to get more out of them. The last thing you need is a leader that cannot leverage the full team. Although there remains diversity challenges at the top of the house, most large corporations benefit from a very diverse individual contributor workforce. Being able to manage a diverse workforce is not an innate skill. The crux here is that if you do not develop leaders to work across differences, you will not have a fully leveraged team. If team members do not feel like a fully included member of the team, their productivity, morale and retention will all be decreased just when you need it the most. Invest in inclusive leadership development. The word ‘invest’ is specifically chosen here as it should be a strategy that pays out short and long term dividends. You would not invest in a new HRIS without a strategy that provides a future payout, would you? Don’t do it either with leadership development. Define metrics for success and expect a return.
3. Integrate Diversity and Inclusion – So often in organizations there is a “separate, but equal” approach to diversity and inclusion. It is all too frequently pigeonholed in the HR compliance field when it should be integrated into all aspects of the business. Marketing needs to better understand the demographics they are seeking to reach. Sales needs to be able to engage a dynamically changing market and develop relationships with more diverse decision makers. R&D is tasked with breaking the status quo and be truly innovative. Talent acquisition and management decisions need to be focused beyond likeness to a point of what is best for organization instead what may be the easiest decision at the time for the leader. In order to do all of the above, corporations cannot simply put D&I in HR, or in one training and development program a year. It needs to be integrated into orientation, high potential programs, core leadership development and woven within the very fiber of the organizational learning fabric. The same goes for the learning caged in Learning Management Systems. When we created our e-learning modules, they were constructed so they can interrupt learning where decisions are being made. For example, before you start your employee evaluations, watch a e-module on affinity bias. Or as you create your campus recruitment campaign, view the e-module on insider-outsider dynamics. Look at a module on the global business case for inclusion as your sales teams strategize how to best connect with clients. Whether it is in-person or e-learning, integrate D&I throughout the organization’s communication portals.
Times of change and challenge are times when are unconscious biases about people are the most exacerbated, as we look for safe and familiar ground. The insider-outsider dynamics that interfere with full inclusion are intensified during these times. The wrong message is sent or decision made, usually unintentionally. The future is undermined when better times return.
By leveraging these three inclusive practices, your company will be able to not only withstand the winds of change, but also harness them to move further ahead of your competition.