Build the capabilities that will make your organization resilient and inclusive by challenging the structures, systems and processes that carry bad assumptions forward.
by Chris Worley
May 18, 2021
What do organizational resilience and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have in common? What might seem like two different ideas are actually connected and our actions during the COVID pandemic have shortchanged both.
If you said both resilience and DEI rely in part on an individual’s mindset, you are on the right path. It was a “can-do, let’s fight this thing out together” mindset during the early months of the pandemic that allowed organizations to pivot production to needed PPE and hand sanitizer, move to remote work, and accelerate their digital initiatives. It was a “can-do, this is not right” mindset that motivated organizations to create DEI dashboards, increase funding and support for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and mandate unconscious bias training following the demonstrations, violence and deaths this past summer.
Sadly, these well-intended responses – often sponsored or championed by Human Resources – will not give us the results we want. While necessity is the mother of invention and convenience is the mother of expedient responses, it is the organization’s design that is the mother of inclusion and resilience. Resilience and inclusion begin with mindset – the assumptions we carry with us about how to adapt, adjust and respond and the assumptions we carry with us about others who are not like us. But as David Hanna says, “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.” Real resilience and inclusion won’t happen until the policies, structures and practices that manifest those mindsets and govern day-to-day behavior are changed.
Rather than hoping people will return to work after the pandemic brimming with new ideas or believing that training will stop racism and sexism, I suggest a bolder move. Go beyond mindsets and assumptions to challenge and change the policies and practices that are holding you back. Here are three actionable places where your efforts will pay off in making real impact in resilience and inclusion.
Most people assume everyone should have a clear and well-specified job description. However, “it’s not in my job description” is not a resilient response and we shouldn’t be surprised when people are hesitant to go above and beyond. Be radical, throw out those old, industrial age job descriptions and try the capabilities spec or role description to get the flexibility you want. At the same time, check to make sure the descriptions and recruitment materials don’t contain language that signals discrimination. Text analyzers can find inappropriate terms and make suggestions. Just be sure to avoid Amazon’s mistakes of putting too much faith into an AI recruitment tool based on biased data.
No one wants to admit they believe their workers are lazy. But in our obsession over efficiency, that’s the logic in applying technology to monitor and surveil the workforce. It crushes flexibility and demeans people. Look at an Amazon warehouse or a Tyson chicken plant, where organizations stress metrics and output rather than the employee wellness. Such systems fail the equity test: Why are salaried employees more likely to get on-site fitness programs and other perks while the hourly workers do not? Turn it on its head. When we assume people care or that everyone contributes to success, we will measure customer satisfaction, project completion or learning – not keystrokes or minutes on a zoom call. You will get more flexibility and develop an inclusive community.
Do you assume the next six months will be the same as the last six months? Of course not. But too many organizations reward people, especially front-line workers who are more likely to be Black and Hispanic, for doing the same thing day in and day out. If we assume tomorrow will be different, think about paying people to build the skills required for the future or to prepare for the next disruption. When we believe the sales manager at a convention center adds more value than the catering staff who creates great client experiences, we lose flexibility and support a biased system. Think about creating a team based reward with bonuses for the team if the client returns.
A better way to build the capabilities that will make your organization resilient and inclusive is to challenge the structures, systems and processes that carry bad assumptions forward. It isn’t hard, but it does require time and effort. A consistent practice of challenging assumptions and putting in structural changes will better prepare you for the next disruption and will create a more socially just organization along the way.