Operations Officer of Epoch Education, Inc. Leader in Organizational & Structural Transformation. Expert Facilitator for ED&I.
No matter what industry you’re in, growing and scaling your business in today’s volatile world isn’t easy. Things like economic uncertainty, a tight labor market, wars and natural disasters create challenges for industries the world over.
The key to consistently growing in the face of obstacles: Create a customer base that (to use a well-known phrase) knows you, likes you and trusts you. A recent report by Kantar suggests that one of the best ways to do that is to ensure consumers see your brand as diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Building diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) into your organization is more doable than you might realize. The first step is to develop an antifragile culture where employees can come into true community with each other, so they can work through any triggers in a safe way without being belittled or shamed (and without belittling or shaming the person who triggered them). This will allow them to share differing and/or opposing views and discuss differences in an open and respectful manner.
Ultimately, building this kind of culture is crucial to fostering the DEI&B that is so important to today’s consumer—and, therefore, doing so can help ensure your organization has the customer support it needs to thrive in the face of upcoming challenges.
Cutting Through The Chaos
If the idea of creating a culture like this fills you with a sense of dread, you’re not alone. Many of the leaders I meet and work with hesitate to allow their people to engage in what might be perceived as “difficult” conversations. They fear the potential fallout from those conversations will disrupt productivity, decrease morale and cause potentially insurmountable problems between employees.
In fact, though, I’ve found that the opposite is true. Preventing people from discussing differences doesn’t mean those differences go away. In fact, all it means is an absence of psychological safety, which has been shown to be crucial for motivation, engagement and improvement.
When you build an antifragile organization, in essence, you acknowledge that chaos will inevitably come. Importantly, though, you also recognize that when chaos occurs, you have the capacity to intentionally identify and utilize the parts of it that can help your organization grow, progress and embrace DEI&B.
Have Your Employees Check In
So, how do you build this kind of organizational culture? Start by coaching your employees to check in with themselves anytime they feel triggered. Some helpful questions they can consider: How is their body reacting? What emotions are they feeling? What initial story are they telling themselves?
Make sure they give themselves the time and space needed to thoroughly work through this step. If they still feel triggered after asking themselves these questions, they may need to give their initial emotions more time to crest and subside.
Rushing this process often results in people reacting out of habit. Bottom line: If they tend to deal with problems by going on the offensive, chances are they’ll continue doing that. If they tend to shut down and/or withdraw, they may then default to that. By taking the time to regulate themselves, though, they can respond to what occurred in a thoughtful, measured and compassionate way, which is foundational for building the community so crucial to DEI&B.
Seek Deeper Understanding
Once your team feels more regulated, they can move to the next step: Interrupting.
Interrupting is an invitation to deeper conversation. It can come in the form of a question. For example: “The comment you just made doesn’t reflect my experience. Can you share more about what you meant so I can better understand where you’re coming from?” Sometimes, it’s about simply sharing how a statement or action impacted them.
No matter what approach the employee takes to interrupt, make sure they understand this step has two main goals: To address the behavior or comment and get to the root cause or issue. Accomplishing both is key to understanding the person they’re engaging with and building an open communication practice.
Done consistently, I am certain that engaging in these steps will help you build an organization that is truly diverse, equitable, inclusive and where everyone feels as if they belong—in other words, an organization that will resonate with modern consumers. Make no mistake, though: Things will get messy, at least at first.
Think about it: When you dig in the dirt, worms come up, right? At least, they do if you have healthy soil. If you’re gardening, you can’t ignore the worms, either. You need to decide if the worms might be harmful to your plants and (if necessary) take steps to get rid of them. That takes discernment and a willingness to dig in the first place.
The same holds true for this process. Be willing to dig in the dirt. Be willing to engage in the process of interrupting; that will allow you to discern what can stay and what needs to go. Even more importantly, it will equip your people with the tools they need to discern that information for themselves.
Trust The Process
Remember, your organization is a community with a shared goal. More open, honest communication fosters understanding and buy-in to that shared objective, both of which are key to collaboration. It also allows people to build the internal trust crucial for DEI&B, which they can then reflect to your customers. Just as important, this communication lets people deal with the problems and misunderstandings that inevitably arise in any community.
By utilizing the strategies shared here, your employees can begin to address differences in a safe and compassionate way so they can solve any simmering issues and move forward in safe and predictable ways. Best of all, they can repair the issues that might be getting in the way of true DEI&B.
So, anytime triggering behavior occurs, guide those within your business to practice regulating and interrupting. And make sure you model the same behavior yourself. That is how you build DEI&B into your organization and lay the groundwork for consumers to know, like and trust you.
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