Adapting an Integrated Change Management Approach to Your D&I Efforts

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It’s not uncommon to find organisations taking an initiative led approach to their D&I efforts, often running multiple, disjointed activities and initiatives that fail to present a compelling case for change and which fail to gain any traction or momentum with leaders and employees to really shift the dial on D&I progress.

To overcome the multifaceted challenges that are hindering D&I progress and to drive a sustainable, results orientated and truly transformational D&I strategy, businesses should ensure that they are developing a strategic and systemic approach to D&I that is grounded within an integrated change management approach.

One of the most well-known models for change is Kotter’s 8 step process; below I have shared some practical insights, aligned to Kotter’s model, for how you can apply a holistic change approach to your D&I efforts:

Establish a sense of urgency

In developing a compelling case for D&I, there is a need to directly address and engage the ‘heads and hearts’ of employees across the business. The business case and facts about the benefits that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings about, on their own, are not always enough when mobilising a business on its D&I change journey. Leaders and employees can theoretically understand that having a more diverse management team will yield increased profits, or that engaging different perspectives increases innovation; yet it is that old adage coming to life again: we know that being sedentary or not drinking enough water has proven negative consequences, yet we may not always behave in ways which reflect this knowledge. Applied to diversity and inclusion, understanding its benefits does not consistently lead to supportive action. Emotions are also responsible for behaviour, therefore just a fact-based approach is insufficient. Consider how engaging perspectives about the moral case for D&I including fairness and equity as well as the role that alignment to organisation values and purpose has in engaging your employees emotionally to build buy in and present a compelling case for change.

Understand your starting point; you need to have a clear understanding of your current state in order to define where you want to go and how you will get there. A clear understanding of where you are now will also enable you to set clear baselines from which to measure and monitor progress, additionally, you will have a view of what is working well and so what to keep vs. what are the things that you need to rethink as a business that are not serving D&I progress and how might you go about changing these.

Create a guiding coalition

Create a guiding coalition that is inclusive – include multiple perspectives, leverage differences and engage others in the design of your D&I strategy. Ask yourself, who is not present around the decision-making table? What other views are out there that haven’t been considered?

Develop a change vision

Key to developing a change vision is ensuring that there is a shared understanding of what is wanting to be achieved. Diversity, equity and inclusion can sometimes feel like buzz words that are thrown around as if they are universally understood. Furthermore, defining what these terms mean and the vision for success as it specifically relates to your business context rather than repeating the boiler plate narrative for D&I will increase the authenticity of your D&I agenda and support alignment of the business towards a commonly understand goal.

Ensure that you set out clear steps for how the D&I vision will be achieved. We often see businesses define their D&I goals and set and communicate targets but without any consideration for how these will actually be achieved. There is an opportunity to engage leaders, bring them on the change journey and work with them to co-create action plans to support the achievement of your D&I goals. To build buy in and to support the credibility of the D&I strategy, there needs to be substance behind the ‘high level goals’, this can also be used to develop objectives for leaders that cascade to employees at all levels of the business; embedding D&I in objectives will also help employees align to the vision as they will be able to see how their day-to-day roles and outcomes contribute to the D&I vision.

Develop a D&I change vision that is inclusive of all employees; it is so important that in doing this work, we get the right balance of both the ‘D’ for diversity and ‘I’ for inclusion. We need to keep making progress on cultivating diverse workplaces but in doing so, we need to make sure that we are not alienating majority groups, and not being exclusionary in trying to be inclusive. It is key that all employees see and understand their role in contributing to the D&I vision and do not feel threatened by the D&I agenda.

Communicate the vision for buy-in

Bring the vision to life by connecting to personal why’s for leaders, connecting to the business purpose, to values and behaviours so that there is a multifaceted approach that employees can connect to. If you are a global business, recognise the need to understand local contexts and adapt messaging as appropriate. Simply translating like for like will not result in effective multicultural communication. Even thinking about something as small as the format of the date, localise your messaging so that the meaning is easily accessible to people with different cultural backgrounds.

Consider the accessibility of your communications – are your communications clear and inclusive of all your audiences? How are you engaging all employees in the D&I change journey and are you leveraging multiple communication channels to reach all employees? If you have operational employees or employees who do not have access to email or main lines of communication, how are you reaching them in a way that is inclusive and equitable to how you are engaging your other employees.

Make sure your D&I communications about events or initiatives connect back to the D&I vision so that employees understand the bigger picture that their efforts or what the event they are attending is contributing to.

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Often only when you start to think ‘how many more times can I communicate this’ is when people are only just starting to take notice and engage. Communicating about D&I, about the vision for change and how this will be achieved should not be a one and done. There needs to be a consistent drumbeat of communications; this will also build buy in across the business that D&I is not just ‘another annual initiative’ but very core to the success of the business.

Remove barriers and empower employees to take action

Everyone will be at a different stage in their individual D&I journey; it is key to meet your employees where they are and give them the tools and time to support them in progressing on their individual journeys. Work with change champions and employee resource groups to manage resistance to change and support the delivery of the D&I strategy, make sure that these groups are set up for success with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and the right sponsorship to remove barriers and enable action.

Empower leaders and employees to take action through investing in training and / or inclusive coaching. It is key that you instil the mindset in leaders and employees that they can influence change in their environments and that it is not about what ‘the business’ needs to do, after all, who is ‘the business’?

Generate short-term wins

Close feedback loops following D&I action to continue to build buy in to the strategy and show employees what their efforts have resulted in to support sustained commitment to D&I; for example, if you have asked your employees to participate in a D&I or culture and engagement survey, share the results of that survey and provide clarity on the ‘so whats’ and the next steps. Or, if you engage your ERG’s or employees in a working group to tackle a particular element of the strategy, make sure that you are providing these employees with visibility of the outcomes of their efforts, so that they remain positively engaged with the D&I agenda.

Consider who is being recognised and rewarded. Make sure you are giving consideration to how desired results are being achieved. Are these results ever at the expense of another individual or have they been achieved through non-inclusive behaviours which need to be called out and managed? Businesses that tolerate, or even reward non inclusive practice are at risk of damaging and undermining their D&I progress, or worse, creating the perception that certain behaviours are required to achieve success.

Build on the change

Take a continuous improvement approach to D&I, measuring and monitoring outcomes and refining your strategy as you go. Transparently report on progress, or perhaps a lack of progress as may sometimes be the case. Reporting and communicating on D&I progress should be done authentically and match the internal experience of employees; we sometimes see businesses proclaiming success of D&I efforts which does not match the reality of the business internally – this can be detrimental to D&I efforts and significantly undermine progress and buy in to the D&I strategy.

A continuous improvement approach will also support the development of a collective inclusive mindset and the shared accountability of D&I across the business – as employees, and customers see the sustained and continued evolution of D&I across the business they will start to take ownership over the active role they can play in supporting D&I progress.

As with a lot of change programmes, seeing tangible results takes time and sustained effort. Too often we expect instant results and so we put a stop to the work too soon when we don’t see immediate impact. It is key to maintain commitment to the D&I change journey and allow sufficient time to achieve the culture shift and benefits enabled by diversity and nurtured by inclusion.

Anchor changes into corporate culture

You want to get to the place where D&I is fully integrated into all ways of working across the business and across the employee lifecycle; where inclusion is a way of doing things, and it is no longer viewed as an ‘additional thing’ that managers and leaders need to think about or do on top of their day-jobs.

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