Taking a change management approach to ED&I
By Dan Robertson on 28 February 2023
Making effective change happen is hard.
I’ve been working at making inclusive change happen for 20 plus years. Lesson number 1: It’s hard. What I’ve also learnt along the way is that to be an effective change-maker in the context of ED&I, professionals need to develop two key attributes: the first is having a ‘grit mindset’ defined by Angela Duckworth (co-founder and chief scientist at Character Lab), as balancing passion with perseverance. The second key attribute under-pinning ‘grit’, is aligning emotional energy (passion) with a strategic mindset and operation method for instigating, managing and embedding desired human behaviour and organisational outcomes.
Together with Rachel Osikoya, Head of Culture, Well-being & Inclusion at the London Stock Exchange Group and Dr Julie Humphreys, Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Reach plc, I recently hosted a workshop in partnership with d&i Leaders on the theme of ‘Taking a Strategic Approach to Achieving Lasting and Effective Change as ED&I Professionals‘. Our session was governed by a number of core questions:
- How do we take a change management approach to ED&I?
- What core skills do ED&I professionals need to influence and create lasting organisational change?
- What are the common barriers to change and how do we overcome these?
- How do we deal with the psychology (cognitive and emotional) of change?
- How do we build a strong coalition to maintain and embedded desired outcomes?
Taking a strategic approach
I often use a range of change management models when working with my global clients, but a foundation model that has lasted the test of time is McKinsey’s 7-S Framework. This framework consists of 7 core elements divided into what Mckinsey calls ‘hard’ elements and ‘soft’ elements. (I’m not sure the binary-ism has lasted so well, but we’ll stick with their definitions for now).
The hard elements consist of strategy, structure and systems.
The first core question here is, do you have a strategic vision for addressing inequity within your organisation that is supported by measurable diversity and inclusion outcomes? Too often organisations take what I call an events-based approach to inclusion management; but an events-based approach, while having some value for awareness raising does not drive strategic change.
An effective ED&I strategy should be underpinned by diversity data (data that presents a map of the diversity (representation) of your organisation together with inclusion data (measurements of bias, fairness, community, social connectivity, psychological safety and belonging). Data should be analysed through an intersectional lens and used to drive strategic organisational priorities covering the three core elements of change: reduction of social and organisational inequity, increase in representation (Diversity) increase in psychology safety (Inclusion). Each action should be assigned time-bound KPIs. Rachel Osikoya also, rightly, stressed the need for ED&I strategies to be connected to wider geo-political challenges that impact our sense of inclusion within an organisation; without such connectivity, we run the risk of developing an ‘island’ strategy disconnect from wider ‘mainland’ issues.
Structure consists of the Chain of Command and accountability. Within the element of structure, I would suggest that ED&I professionals focus on two essential areas:
- Organisational connectivity: It’s critical that we as ED&I professionals hold an influencing position within the organisation. Many colleagues often stress the need to have a direct line of communication to the CEO. In my experience, this is not always that most effective. CEO support is of course critical as a business advocate, but in terms of change the key influences are often embedded across the whole organisation.
- ERG structures: Here it is critical that ERGs and Employee Networks have connected power. Many organisations establish ERGs without considering base-line questions: What is their core role and purpose? How will ERGs be connected to organisational decision-making? What resources (human and financial) will be required to ensure they are enabled to assist with the change agenda?
Systems include the tools that organisations have at hand to help to operationalise their strategic vision. This includes HR systems that capture data. Many existing HR systems are inadequate when working in a global context as the data categories are often designed from a single country perspective. Dr Julie Humphreys stressed how in the early days of their ED&I strategy Reach plc had aligned leadership KPIs to reward and compensation systems and process, and this had proved to be an effective approach.
Additionally, ED&I professionals should consider the role of communications platforms. Being connected to the flow of information with internal comms teams as well as branding teams is central to motivational action within the change process.
The 4 soft elements under McKinsey’s 7-S framework are, Style, Staff, Skills and Shared Vision.
Shared Vision: In McKinsey’s original work, having a Shared Vision is the core value that governs an organisation’s health. In the context of ED&I this is a pre-requisite to success. As stressed by Rachel Osikoya, ED&I is about personal identity and our core values system as professionals within this space. Here change is not simply a process to be followed, but a life goal that is often driven by the need to reduce social conflict and a personal sense of exclusion. Do all stakeholders within your organisation hold a collective view of what the end game is? Are you tuned into the unwritten rules and cultural norms that will help or hinder your change agenda? Or, your organisational ‘drumbeat’, as stressed by Dr Julie Humphreys.
Style: This consists of the attitudes and behaviours of organisational leaders and managers. Do senior leaders live and breathe inclusive leadership principles and behaviours? Do they act as corporate role models and champion the work of ED&I professionals authentically? Are managers’ behaviours aligned to core values? How do leaders and managers show-up to support activities that impact the psychological safety of colleagues operating with their teams?
Rachel introduced the Kubler-Ross Change Curve model and stressed how a leaders’ motivation for change depends on where their mindset currently sits within the change curve. As ED&I provokes emotional reactions from leaders and managers it’s critical for us as ED&I professionals to be able to assess the root causes of these reactions if we are going to engage with them effectively. Again Rachel stressed how some leaders may feel a sense of frustration that results from not feeling that they have the right tools to engage in ED&I conversations. Thus rather then going into blame mode, we as ED&I professionals could perhaps lean-in with support, as this builds psychological safety and confidence, which in turn drives role modelling and action.
Staff: Key questions here include, Are all employees motivated to make inclusive change happen? Where are the pockets of resistance? Why is there resistance? Are you tuned into what frustrates majority and minority employees? Are staff members provided with the tools needed to challenge bias and to promote the principles of conscious inclusion?
Are you as an ED&I professional having your own uncomfortable conversations? Are you stepping out of your personal comfort zone, and reaching beyond your own ‘echo chambers’ to fully connect with voices of resistance? Are you ‘feeling’ their emotions?
Skills: After 20 plus years of leaning into work, I’m still learning and growing. The conversation is constantly shifting, and this requires a growth mindset to shift with the times, while also holding into timeless core values. As an ED&I professional you should reflect on where you need to grow personally? Are you tuned into wider organisational thinking and operational priorities? Are you skilling up others in bias mitigation strategies and effective ways to promote inclusion?
About the author
Dan Robertson is the founder and CEO of VERCIDA Consulting, the global inclusion company. Dan has over 25 years’ experience of working in the field of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Dan is currently the Chair of the Lord Mayor of London’s Power of Inclusion programme. His publications include: The Long Road to Inclusivity: Published in Beyond 2015, Shaping the Future of Equality, Human Rights and Social Justice. A Collection of Essays: Equality & Diversity Research Network. (2015). He is a contributor to the 3rd edition of the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook (2020).
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