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25 Sep. 2012 | Comments (0)

Being an effective Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) professional entails having the ability to continually influence individuals at all levels in an organization. Linked to other competencies, such as business acumen and political savoir faire, the ability to affectively influence others often requires sophisticated strategies.

However, where to focus our efforts is one of the most critical decisions we face. In diversity work, we often center our approaches on achieving a desired outcome, such as leveraging diversity to generate innovation, achieving gender balance at the executive level, and improving engagement and retention of local hires across cultures in a global organization.

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, and Ron McMillan in Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, explain that we might be more effective with our strategies if they were not focused on outcomes, but, instead, on adjusting specific behaviors. As we develop such strategies, the authors suggest that we start by asking: “In order to improve our existing situation, what must we do?”

For example, Talent Management research indicates that to achieve the outcome of raising performance across all employees, managers would be more effective if they  focused on the specific behavior of replacing punishment with rewarding positive performance. In this situation, while the desired outcome is improved performance, we can focus our efforts on influencing managers to use praise instead of punishment.

What might that look like in Diversity and Inclusion?  Consider the following examples:   

  1. 1. Desired Outcome:  Generate innovation by leveraging diversity.

Example Behavior Change:  In each meeting, pick a participant’s name from a hat, and assign that individual the task of telling you what you have missed.

Even when we have a diverse group of people working together, we do not always harvest diverse ideas toward innovation. In the Harvard Business Review blog, Collaboration by Difference, Duke University professor Cathy Davidson shares three tested approaches for inclusive collaboration in meetings.  One tip is to randomly select one participant in every meeting to answer the question, “What are we missing?”

This structured approach further engages outliers’ diverse perspectives, non-experts’ unique ideas, and non-leaders’ new ways of working.  It mitigates groupthink to enhance true collaborative innovation. How might making this a required meeting behavior help build an inclusive culture and leverage diversity for innovation in your organization?

  1. 2. Desired Outcome:  Achieve gender-balanced executive teams.

Example Behavior Change:  Plan and schedule adequate time to make thoughtful and fair recruitment decisions to support gender balance, as well as broader diverse representation in your executive ranks.

In The Value of Difference, Binna Kandola writes that time pressure is a key condition for producing bad decisions that can have inequitable impact. Enterprises invest heavily in recruitment by creating detailed job descriptions, preparing recruitment agencies, training interviewers, screening applicants, designing rigorous assessment centers, and interviewing candidates.  However, the selection decision itself, frequently at the end of a depleting day of interviewing, is often rather quick. 

Why do we give so little time to this critical part of the process? Kandola suggests that we consider this issue in the context of other important business decisions. Supposing if we had an annual salary of £25,000 ($USD 40,500) for five years, plus average overheads, a hiring investment would be £187,500 ($USD 303,600). Kandola points out that the equivalent IT investment decision would never be as rapid or informal as most recruitment decisions. 

Considering this: One specific method would be to plan and schedule adequate time to enable better, more fair and equitable hiring decisions to create a broader mix of talent at all levels. What if your executive recruitment and selection teams were required to change their strategy by scheduling one hour to carefully compare candidates with the job specifications before making a decision?

  1. 3. Desired Outcome:  Engage and retain local talent.

Example Behavior Change:  Schedule time with local nationals to find out how they prefer to be recognized, and tailor recognition accordingly.

When we recognize excellent performance, our efforts may be ineffective when we do not take local cultures, as well as personal styles and preferences, into account. If we reward an introvert in a large public venue and ask them to give a spontaneous speech in front of a crowd, we might create an experience that is more negative than positive. Similarly, if we give individual recognition and reward in a culture valuing collectivism over individualism, we may be doing more harm than good. What if managers replaced a universal approach to recognition with the behavior of asking each employee, “What is the best recognition you have ever received for a job well done?” By listening to local employees, global managers can consider cultural and personal preferences and design recognition that is truly suitable and successful. 

Behaviors alone will not achieve the whole systems change required for sustainable D&I outcomes, but understanding this behavior-focused influencing strategy can be helpful.  As we employ strategies focused on specific behaviors, it is critical to identify and focus on a few high-leverage actions that are vital to the D&I changes we seek.  Prioritizing a manageable number will help ensure that we execute the most important behaviors to create the required impact.   

What vital behaviors does your organization employ to improve your existing D&I strategies?

View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author: Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a senior fellow providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. She serves as program director for both the Diversity & Inclusion Executives and…

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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