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Part 1: Diversity Mediocrity:
             Who's To Blame, The CEO?

--By Terrence R. Simmons, Managing Partner,
Simmons Associates, Inc. of New Hope, PA


Who Is The Diversity Guru™?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a person who diversity practitioners could call upon to help solve the most complex problems our field presents and unequivocally answer all of our toughest questions? A "guru" whose answers and ideas were so fundamentally sound, that they cut through the haze of conventional wisdom in terms that were crystal clear, totally practical and intuitively obvious, once fully explained. Unfortunately, such a person does not exist. However, at Simmons Associates, Inc., with tongue in cheek, we have done our best to create this persona and will offer our best answers and ideas in a series of articles featuring an ongoing dialogue between our Managing Partner, Terry Simmons and the Diversity Guru™.

The Diversity Guru™ articles are intended to be a serious-minded, yet light-hearted way to explore the toughest and most fundamental of diversity topics. Much of what is presented in these articles will challenge how diversity is managed in some organizations and may be contrary to the methods used by some of the "experts" in the field. Of course, if every organization managed this topic well, there would be far fewer frustrated practitioners and no weekly headlines about discrimination suits. Hopefully, as with any "enlightenment," the ideas presented by the Diversity Guru™ will ring true once fully explained and serve as a practical tool kit for those valiantly working in the field to create productive change.

A Dialogue With The Diversity Guru™

TRS

It's so great to finally meet you. I've been traveling for many years to find you. How long have you been here?

DG

I've always been here for you, Turtle, and for others who seek my counsel. Let's face it, you've never truly believed I existed until now. You've been limited by your own imagination.

TRS

"Turtle?" ... I was sort of hoping you'd call me something else. Even "Grasshopper" is a little more dignified.

DG

My name for you is merely an accurate reflection of your mental acuity.

TRS

But I've always felt I was a little smarter than...

DG

Is there a question, Turtle?

TRS

Er, yes there is, Guru... In this diversity field, I keep hearing people complain about their lack of progress. So many seem so frustrated and not fully satisfied with their results.

DG

Some have succeeded. Look to them for answers.

TRS

That's not as simple as it seems, Guru. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between companies with great Public Affairs departments and those with great diversity results. When we benchmark to seek best practices, we find that organizations talk about one or two aspects of their process but have serious reservations about other aspects. Even at conferences, companies make presentations boasting about certain accomplishments in diversity, but almost always end the talk with a "but"...

DG

A "but," Turtle? Please explain.

TRS

A "but." Like, "...but, we've still got a long way to go."

DG 

That's a line from a very old song, Turtle.

TRS

Yes, Guru! And, I'm tired of hearing it.

"This year we've increased our entry level minority hiring, but..."

"We're doing pretty well for women, but..."

"Our training program has been well-received, but..."

"We have developed comprehensive measures for diversity, but..."

"Last year we increased diversity hiring among middle managers, but..."

DG

"But, we've still got a long way to go." That song goes back to the 1950's and so does the refrain when it comes to diversity and all of it's antecedents in organizations.

TRS

Yes!!! And, it's really getting old, Guru. Who is to blame for this diversity mediocrity?

DG

Who do you think, Turtle?

TRS

Well, you can probably blame lots of people, starting with those entrusted with the responsibility to get the job done: the Diversity Managers, the HR Departments, the Diversity Councils, the Task Teams...

DG

It is true that these practitioners have sometimes not risen to the challenge. However, most of them have been given a huge responsibility without the authority or resources to complete the task. Further, these people seldom control the key outcomes in diversity.

TRS

Key outcomes?

DG

Yes, Turtle. A Human Resources department can often control recruiting. However, they may not actually decide who gets hired. Diversity Councils may be asked to create a diversity strategy, but they can't control its implementation. They certainly don't decide who performs well on the job, who gets trained and developed, who receives which assignments, who is promoted or who is terminated. A Diversity Manager may offer advice, but sometimes those who need it most ignore it or never ask for it. Diversity Managers seldom determine what customers an organization serves or how well those customers are served. You are blaming the wrong people, Turtle.

TRS

Middle Managers control a lot of that and so do certain groups of Associates! Almost every organization points to people who just won't get on the bandwagon as presenting a major problem.

DG

The "Hard Core Unchangeables."

TRS

Right! And when there are too many of them, I guess the people trying to implement diversity eventually run out of steam. We need to blame these hard heads who just dig in, resist change and hope it goes away.

DG

Not so fast, Turtle. In the United States, the Unchangeables were the ones who resisted efforts to increase productivity in these same companies. They were also there, resisting, when a new approach to worker safety was needed. They resisted going global. They didn't want to use computers. However, in the long run, none of these changes were deterred by middle managers or "associates," as you call them. They either embraced the changes or were swept aside. Someone else is to blame. Please think, Turtle...think.

TRS

Is it us, Guru? The Consultants?

DG

Some consultants have done more harm than good by overselling their own abilities and by conducting the wrong kinds of training programs.

TRS

You mean "confrontational training," Guru?

DG

Confrontation is not the issue, Turtle. If the learner is to stay awake, confrontation is almost always necessary. It supports learning.

TRS

Then why the current controversy over confrontational vs. non-confrontational diversity training, Guru?

DG

It's the wrong argument, Turtle. The best diversity training confronts the issues, not the people in the session. When learners are confronted and polarized, they are frequently unable to move forward in positive ways after they leave the session.

TRS

But, Guru, I've heard other kinds of complaints about diversity training.

DG

Yes, Turtle. Teaching awareness versus teaching skills, polarizing versus pablum and other debates. But, this is a digression from your "who's to blame" question. Let's save the training questions for another day.

TRS

Okay, but if it is not the HR people, not the Unchangeables and not the consultants, who's left? We can't put the blame on the CEO, can we?

DG

Can't we?

TRS

But, most CEOs I've spoken with really seem to understand diversity. They're visionaries. Are you sure they're to blame?

DG

Certain.

TRS

But, I've seldom heard a CEO say the wrong thing about diversity. What mistakes are commonly made by CEOs?

DG

You're right, Turtle, CEOs seldom say the wrong thing or actually do the wrong thing.

TRS

I'm somewhat confused, Guru. If they don't actually say or do the wrong thing, how can you blame them when the diversity initiative doesn't succeed?

DG

Most of the causes of an ineffective initiative are not overt mistakes made by the CEO. Rather, they are sins of omission. It's what the CEO and the other members of an executive team don't do which leads directly to diversity mediocrity.

TRS

Can you give me just one example?

DG

I'll give you ten examples, Turtle. When an organization, over the years, repeatedly fails to achieve excellence in diversity, the CEO and the executive team are almost always to blame for one or more of the following reasons:

1. They don't create and communicate a diversity vision for their organizations.

2. They don't identify measurable long-term objectives which exemplify that vision.

3. They don't make it mandatory that virtually every person connected with the organization fully understands where the organization is going in diversity and what their role is in helping the organization get there.

4. They don't hold everyone accountable for what they are expected to do.

TRS

But, Guru, help me understand...

DG

I told you there were ten. No one interrupted Moses at number four. For once, Turtle, I must ask you to slow your brain down.

5. They fail to take reasonable risks to achieve this organizational change or to support and encourage others in taking such risks.

6. They do not lead by personal example.

7. They fail to establish diversity as a competitive advantage, a business issue which is not in conflict with other business priorities.

TRS

But Gu...

DG

Turtle, please listen.

8. They do not require that everyone receives the appropriate education to effectively achieve the required results.

9. They fail over time to sustain enough organizational awareness to recognize successes and follow through until the desired behaviors are part of the culture.

10. And, they fail to provide sufficient resources to get the job done.

TRS

(silence)

DG

I said there were ten, Turtle, not eleven. What are your questions?

TRS

Ah... well... I don't quite know where to start. But, let's begin at the beginning. Creating and articulating an organizational vision for diversity. I agree, if there's no vision, it's hard for the organization to know where it's going. But, why does the executive group have to create it? Why can't that be done by a Diversity Council or by HR or by a consultant like me?

DG

A vision belongs to whoever creates it. If the Diversity Council or a consultant creates the vision, those are the people who own it.

TRS

What if the executives approve that vision?

DG

That may appear at first to be a good sign, Turtle. When the CEO and the other executives approve the results of hard work done by others, it would seem to be a time for rejoicing. But in reality, it is usually an empty gesture and the first indication that the executives are ready to abdicate their leadership role. Few great leaders have passion for achieving a vision they had no part in creating. A few months later, when the going gets tough, it will become quite apparent that there are other things on the minds of those same executives.

TRS

You mentioned the accountability issue, Guru. Many companies have accountability for diversity in managers' performance appraisals. Is there something wrong with that process?

DG

Having it in the performance appraisal is not always the same as asking a manager to submit a plan which is both comprehensive and measurable, having his or her manager monitor progress against that plan and then follow through with appropriate feedback and rewards.

TRS

Guru, the CEOs I've met have all displayed exemplary personal behavior. Why is number 6, leading by example, on your list?

DG

Having good manners and even personal awareness is not the only example that needs to be set, Turtle. "Leading by example" also means being willing to spend the time to receive the education one needs on diversity. It means having diverse people on the teams and committees one interacts with and, of course, among one's own direct reports. It means challenging others who say or do inappropriate things. And much, much more.

TRS

Does the inclusion of number 10 indicate that most organizations under budget when it comes to diversity?

DG

Handled well, diversity can enhance every personal interaction in the business. Sales, marketing, customer relations, teamwork, problem solving, innovation and everyone's personal productivity are all affected. Is there another investment which has more potential for leverage on the bottom line?

Yet, budgets for diversity are frequently smaller than the cost of defending a single discrimination suit. In some cases, inadequate staffing is the problem. Instead of having a full-time staff working on this important issue, the day-to-day responsibility for managing diversity is frequently assigned to someone as an "additional duty," a part-time job.

TRS

Guru, if CEOs and executives follow through in the ten areas you have outlined is there a guarantee that others in the organization will do their part?

DG

Over a period of time Turtle, progress would certainly be made. A well-executed plan and accountability system and an eye toward continuous improvement will either stimulate high performance from the current people or force the organization to obtain people who will succeed.

TRS

I'm excited to apply what I've learned, Guru. I plan to assess the CEOs and executive teams of all our clients against your ten comm... ER, your ten behaviors. May I ask a few more questions, Guru? I need to learn how to launch and sequence a diversity initiative. And I need to ask more questions about diversity training. And how to help people follow through after training. And there's more to know about the executive role, isn't there?

DG

Yes, Turtle, there are many other diversity topics to cover. But, now is not a good time to continue. Return with a question in a few weeks.

TRS

Are you tired, Guru?

DG

No, Turtle, I do not get tired.

TRS

Then why can't we continue now?

DG

Despite your willingness to learn, Turtle, your capacity to effectively absorb information has already been challenged to its limits. Go and apply what we've discussed. Return with renewed capacity at another time.



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