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Reprise: Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior in Starbucks

In a letter that Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman of Starbucks, published in today's New York Times, he describes what his stores and offices will be doing this afternoon to address the problem of racial bias in the company:  

More than 175,000 Starbucks partners (that's what we call our employees) will be sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong - because they do. This conversation will continue at our company and become part of how we train all of our partners.

Again, I commend Starbucks for attacking the problem but I continue to have my doubts about the long term effects of their approach. On April 19, 2018, I wrote about these concerns. That blog post is repeated here:

 

In response to a racially charged incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia that resulted in the unnecessary Clem-onojeghuo-228522-unsplash arrests of two black males waiting for a friend, the company has announced that it will “…close more than 8,000 of its stores on May 29 to conduct anti-racial bias training for nearly 175,000 employees.”

While this response is commendable, if that’s all Starbucks does to eliminate racism among its staff, it will be a significant waste of time, money, and effort. I understand, putting all of their employees through training is good optics for the company and might provide some protection from lawsuits. But change in the culture requires so much more.

In the wake of the Starbucks incident, The New York Times asks the question, “Can Training Eliminate Biases?” The answer is “no”. Diversity and inclusion in companies is not achieved through a workshop. That’s not how people change behavior. Only culture change can eliminate biases. Training might be a good first step in raising awareness for some, but attitudes and actions must be supported consistently by the entire organization over time. Diversity and inclusion must be rooted in the processes and life of the organization.

As I wrote in a blog post on May 31, 2008 titled, From Diversity to Inclusion and Engagement:

Third Sector New England has, from its nearly five decades of experience, identified the following as key drivers of successful diversity initiatives:

  • A diversity committee/task force, representing all levels of the organization, that regularly communicates with the entire organization
  • Unflinching commitment by the CEO to convey the benefits of organizational diversity to the organization’s mission, vision and values
  • An organization-wide assessment or cultural audit to determine major challenges and barriers
  • Prioritizing those challenges
  • A clear designation of key participants, action steps and timelines to address challenges
  • Skill-building for moving beyond differences to develop an organizational language and culture of inclusiveness
  • Alignment of diversity planning with the organization’s strategic plan, so the former includes an assessment of funding and other resources needed to support the effort
  • A consultant to facilitate developing and implementing a diversity plan
  • Evaluation of progress at regular intervals
  • Reassessment of priorities as needed

In addition to these elements of comprehensive planning, an organizataion has to make some fundamental changes in how it works. Employees need to hear their senior managers talking frequently about diversity and inclusion. It’s not enough that the value of diversity and inclusion is listed on a laminated poster in the employee lounge. This value must be visible in the day-to-day actions of the company. Employees must see diversity in hiring and promotions, as well as among Board members and executives. The ability to accept differences must be in the criteria for hiring. Employees must see evidence that their company partners only with other companies that make a sincere effort at improving diversity and inclusion and eliminating racism. Managers need to step up and take responsibility for creating a welcoming and supportive culture in every part of the organization.  

Managers must recognize that not everyone has the same receptivity to change and act accordingly. Amber Madison has identified four archetypes of diversity and inclusion: the champion; the newbie; the bigot; and the bystander. She suggests that managers address each type differently. I recommend hiring "champions" and "newbies" and avoiding hiring "bigots" and "bystanders" as much as possible.

As we argue in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, managers must help to develop the people around them. And this means eliminating the discrimination that contributes to a hostile work environment. Racism is bad enough, but if there is racism, then there is sexism and antisemitism and antimuslimism and every other kind of discrimination. In addition to the immorality of that kind of workplace, that environment is not conducive to learning and people doing their best work, whether you’re a barista in a store or CEO of the company.

In fairness to Starbucks, a company that I admire, let me say that they are facing the same kind of racism that all companies face and is ingrained in our society. With over 27,000 locations worldwide, it's surprising more incidences of racial bias haven't been reported. But that's not an excuse and the company must do more to ensure that diversity and inclusion permeate its culture. However, training is not the answer.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Training Will Not Eliminate Racist Behavior In Starbucks

In response to a racially charged incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia that resulted in the unnecessary arrests of two black males waiting for a friend, the company has announced that it will “…close more than Clem-onojeghuo-228522-unsplash 8,000 of its stores on May 29 to conduct anti-racial bias training for nearly 175,000 employees.”

While this response is commendable, if that’s all Starbucks does to eliminate racism among its staff, it will be a significant waste of time, money, and effort. I understand, putting all of their employees through training is good optics for the company and might provide some protection from lawsuits. But change in the culture requires so much more.

In the wake of the Starbucks incident, The New York Times asks the question, “Can Training Eliminate Biases?” The answer is “no”. Diversity and inclusion in companies is not achieved through a workshop. That’s not how people change behavior. Only culture change can eliminate biases. Training might be a good first step in raising awareness for some, but attitudes and actions must be supported consistently by the entire organization over time. Diversity and inclusion must be rooted in the processes and life of the organization.

As I wrote in a blog post on May 31, 2008 titled, From Diversity to Inclusion and Engagement:

Third Sector New England has, from its nearly five decades of experience, identified the following as key drivers of successful diversity initiatives:

  • A diversity committee/task force, representing all levels of the organization, that regularly communicates with the entire organization
  • Unflinching commitment by the CEO to convey the benefits of organizational diversity to the organization’s mission, vision and values
  • An organization-wide assessment or cultural audit to determine major challenges and barriers
  • Prioritizing those challenges
  • A clear designation of key participants, action steps and timelines to address challenges
  • Skill-building for moving beyond differences to develop an organizational language and culture of inclusiveness
  • Alignment of diversity planning with the organization’s strategic plan, so the former includes an assessment of funding and other resources needed to support the effort
  • A consultant to facilitate developing and implementing a diversity plan
  • Evaluation of progress at regular intervals
  • Reassessment of priorities as needed

In addition to these elements of comprehensive planning, an organizataion has to make some fundamental changes in how it works. Employees need to hear their senior managers talking frequently about diversity and inclusion. It’s not enough that the value of diversity and inclusion is listed on a laminated poster in the employee lounge. This value must be visible in the day-to-day actions of the company. Employees must see diversity in hiring and promotions, as well as among Board members and executives. The ability to accept differences must be in the criteria for hiring. Employees must see evidence that their company partners only with other companies that make a sincere effort at improving diversity and inclusion and eliminating racism. Managers need to step up and take responsibility for creating a welcoming and supportive culture in every part of the organization.  

Managers must recognize that not everyone has the same receptivity to change and act accordingly. Amber Madison has identified four archetypes of diversity and inclusion: the champion; the newbie; the bigot; and the bystander. She suggests that managers address each type differently. I recommend hiring "champions" and "newbies" and avoiding hiring "bigots" and "bystanders" as much as possible.

As we argue in our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, managers must help to develop the people around them. And this means eliminating the discrimination that contributes to a hostile work environment. Racism is bad enough, but if there is racism, then there is sexism and antisemitism and antimuslimism and every other kind of discrimination. In addition to the immorality of that kind of workplace, that environment is not conducive to learning and people doing their best work, whether you’re a barista in a store or CEO of the company.

In fairness to Starbucks, a company that I admire, let me say that they are facing the same kind of racism that all companies face and is ingrained in our society. With over 27,000 locations worldwide, it's surprising more incidences of racial bias haven't been reported. But that's not an excuse and the company must do more to ensure that diversity and inclusion permeate its culture. However, training is not the answer.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Year In Review - 2017

As I usually do at this time of year, I’ve selected five blog posts from the past year that seem to have had the most interest from readers. With the publication of my new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, I have continued to focus my blog posts on a manager’s role in supporting continuous Newyearfireworks learning for all employees in the workplace. And I have examined an employee’s responsibility for continuous learning in the Knowledge Economy. But I have also been influenced by current events and what a hostile work environment does to individuals, teams, and organizations. Here are the five blog posts I've selected with a short piece from each:

The Future of Learning is Not Training – January 25, 2017

The future is no longer about looking for continuity with the past and choosing shinier versions of existing technologies and trends. Sometimes there needs to be a disruptive idea that lights up the crystal ball and makes us look at the future in a new way. We believe that future starts with a simple prediction: We will transition training and learning from a managing hands world to one in which we are managing minds. And managers will be at the center.

Becoming a Learning Culture: Competing in an Age of Disruption – February 17, 2017

The only thing holding companies back from learning at the speed of change is their organizational culture which, for many, is a barrier to learning. Most companies have a training culture, not a learning culture. This emphasis on formal training is a barrier to learning and change. In a training culture, responsibility for employee learning resides with instructors and training managers. In that kind of culture, trainers (under the direction of a CLO) drive learning…Whereas in a learning culture, responsibility for learning resides with each employee, each team, and each manager. In that kind of culture, employees, with the help of their managers, seek out the knowledge and skills they need, when and where that knowledge and those skills are needed.

Hire Learners for the Knowledge Economy – July 6, 2017

Companies today need learners. In the Agricultural Economy, a strong back was enough. In the Industrial Economy, a set of good hands was enough. But in the Knowledge Economy, companies need people who can develop their minds…The Knowledge Economy needs people who are self-directed learners, who know how to get the information and skills they need when and where they need them, who can think critically in terms of evaluating the accuracy and usefulness of this information, and who can learn from both successes and failures.

Closing the Skills Gap by Improving Corporate Culture – July 20, 2017

Why would people want to work in an organization and do their best in an organization where they are not respected, where they are not trusted, where they do not have an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills for which they thought they were hired, where there is little opportunity to learn and grow, where the performance goals are not clear, where they are chastised for trying something new when it doesn’t work out, where they are discouraged from collaborating with people in other units of the company, where they receive feedback only once a year at a perfunctory performance review meeting, and where pay and benefits are awarded unfairly?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sexual Harassment Has No Place in the Knowledge Economy – October 27, 2017

Creating and maintaining a harassment-free work culture is not easy given that the default behavior in most organizations is to marginalize and exclude women from power and from the central decision-making processes of the business. Requiring employees to complete a course in diversity does little to change that culture. Leaders (men and women) must model respectful behavior throughout each day, coach people in this behavior on a continuous basis, and discipline people who choose to be disrespectful. Managing for success in the modern workplace means creating and maintaining an environment of inclusion, collaboration, cooperation, and, most of all, mutual respect.

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Training Isn't the Answer

Every day, it seems, another high profile case of sexual harassment comes to light. And then there are the many workplace complaints of sexual harassment that are no less harmful to women but, perpetrated by RosietheRivetermid-level managers, don’t get the same attention as the one’s involving celebrities and CEOs. The experience of women working in Ford Motor factories, as reported by Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn in The New York Times, makes us aware that a hostile workplace is not unusual and can be created by managers at all levels of an organization. Clearly, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment are a pervasive problem.

However, the answer to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace and creating a climate supportive of all employees regardless of gender, race, age, background, etc. is not more training. Most companies have been offering training since the 1990s, primarily in order to manage their risk of liability. A ruling by the Supreme Court in 1998 lent support to the widely held belief that offering training to educate employees about sexual harassment and providing a grievance procedure would shield companies from liability.

Training alone will not and cannot create a fearless work environment nor can training prevent sexual harassment. First of all, formal training programs have never had much impact on behavior in the workplace. On average, less than 20% of participants in training programs apply learning back on the job. There are many reasons for this, such as: poor training; lack of preparation for training; unreasonable expectations; forgetting content; lack of support from managers; lack of opportunity to apply new knowledge and skills in the short term; and little or no support from the CEO.

Secondly, even if the individual learner has changed in some significant way during training, the workplace culture is still the same. A hostile work environment with a long history of demeaning talk, threatening actions, and violence toward women will undermine learning from even the most outstanding training program. If people attend the training without a clear understanding of how the information relates to their jobs and they have low expectations, a manager that doesn’t care, no opportunity to apply what they know, and no accountability for their behavior and improving the work environment, then we can’t expect them to change.

Without getting into all of the psychological and social reasons why men behave badly, let’s just say that companies need to create a culture of respect and dignity for every single human being in the workplace. This is not only the right thing to do (that should be enough reason) but it’s also essential for business success.

Employees in the past, industrial economy only knew command-and-control leadership. They were expected to do what they were told and discouraged from thinking. These organizations were all about control and power and loyalty. Those values at the top of the hierarchy get translated into managers and co-workers exerting power over the most vulnerable employees throughout the pyramid.

In the current, knowledge economy, this kind of management no longer works. Given the rapid change due to technology, globalization, diversity in the workforce, and hyper-competition, people have to be continually learning, collaborating with others, working in teams, and being creative and innovative. Nobody can do this in a hostile work environment. If you come to work every day fearful of how you will be treated and simply trying to endure, you will not be able to contribute to creating the kind of company that will survive and thrive in the 21rst Century. Employees deserve better!

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sexual Harassment Has No Place In the Knowledge Economy

The explosion in sexual harassment charges against company executives is a symptom of the dramatic change that is going on in the workplace. This is about much more than a few courageous women standing up to a few misogynist men. We are witnessing a sea change in the way employees relate to their leaders and to each other. The command-and-control, hierarchical, do-as-I-say work environment of the 20th Century industrial economy is giving way to the communication and collaboration workplace of the 21rst Century knowledge economy. Companies will never be the same.

Rapid change due to technology, globalization, competition, and diversity is bringing to light the many failings of traditional workplaces. Disrespecting women—or anyone--has never been right, but the demands of the modern organization are now making this behavior intolerable. 

In our forthcoming book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy, David Grebow and Cover 3D I contrast organizations stuck in the “managing hands” environment of the industrial economy with organizations that have a 21rst century, “managing minds” environment. We write:

Companies that are learning to manage minds are focused on being open, transparent organizations in which collaboration and communica­tion are basic operating principles. They believe that sharing knowledge is power, and continuous learning is the key to successfully meeting the challenges of the knowledge economy. Failures are to be learned from and not hidden. Opposing viewpoints and ideas are valued and listened to by everyone in the company. Conversations are open and honest. The hierarchy of roles, and the secrecy and compartmentalization that go with it, has been replaced by the hierarchy of ideas, in which openness is a prerequisite.

In the managing minds workplace, there is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind — whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion, or age.  You must insist that your employees live these values not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it creates a workplace that is happier, more collaborative, and more productive.

Creating and maintaining a harassment-free work culture is not easy given that the default behavior in most organizations is to marginalize and exclude women from power and from the central decision-making processes of the business. Requiring employees to complete a course in diversity does little to change that culture. Leaders (men and women) must model respectful behavior throughout each day, coach people in this behavior on a continuous basis, and discipline people who choose to be disrespectful. Managing for success in the modern workplace means creating and maintaining an environment of inclusion, collaboration, cooperation, and, most of all, mutual respect.

David Grebow and I have written Minds at Work to explain why organizations cannot succeed unless they commit to giving up behaviors that date back a hundred years with ones that are better suited to today’s business realities.

To succeed in the knowledge economy you need the intelligence, commitment, skills, and talents of every one of your employees. You cannot attain that goal if you have female employees working in an environment where they may be intimidated, embarrassed, shamed, or made to believe that their employment is conditional on providing sexual favors.

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Learning Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

“We’re no longer asking everybody to do the next thing right; but to do the next right thing.”                   -Dov Seidman

Ethical behavior in the workplace has never been more important, yet companies continue to act as if a workshop or elearning program during onboarding is all an employee needs in order to behave ethically. That Rightwrong might meet the requirements of a regulatory agency, but don’t expect your employees to learn “…to do the next right thing.” A training event, classroom or virtual, is no way to develop ethical behavior in a workforce.

BP’s oil spill. GM’s faulty ignition switches. Takata’s airbag ruptures. Volkswagen’s emissions fraud. Simplicity’s crib deaths. Samsung’s phone fires. Wells Fargo’s customer deception. In each of these cases, somebody knew about the ethical violations long before lives were affected significantly, but company culture at the time either discouraged those individuals from speaking up or motivated leaders to sell products even with the knowledge that the risk of failure and criminal negligence was high. They chose sales and profit over doing the right thing.

I’m sure all of those companies include ethics in their employee training programs and list ethical behavior among the values in their employee handbooks. The problem is not with training compliance; it’s with the way people learn about ethical behavior and the way that behavior is supported by the culture of their companies.

Companies that make ethics a priority, need to be managing minds, not hands. It’s not about getting the task done; it’s about doing the task with integrity. You don’t learn this in a training program, even a highly interactive and gamified program. This means that managers must become facilitators of that learning. People need to learn ethical behavior in the workplace, with all of its ambiguity, tension, pressures, and consequences. People need to be faced with an ethical dilemma and learn from working through that problem in a real life situation, and receive feedback from their managers during the process.

Doing “the next right thing” is also dependent on having a learning culture that supports development of an ethical employee. This is a culture in which managers have the support of corporate leaders who make ethics not only a marketing tag line but also model this value in everything that they do. If leaders are condoning behavior that crosses the line, whether explicitly stated or not, employees will interpret that as permission to behave badly. If the only measure of success is number and amount of sales at the end of the month, people will do whatever they can, ethical or not, to hit those targets. If employees see their male bosses treating women like second-class citizens, they are likely to do the same. We need managers to show employees that ethical behavior in what they say and do every day is an essential aspect of being a successful, respected, 21rst Century company.

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Invisible Gorilla Strikes Again

This time it’s radiologists. In a study reported by NPR, 83%of radiologists failed to see the image of a MP900178759 gorilla on slides that they were reviewing for signs of cancer.  The conclusion by reporter Alix Spiegel is:

… what we're thinking about — what we're focused on — filters the world around us so aggressively that it literally shapes what we see. So, [the researcher] says, we need to think carefully about the instructions we give to professional searchers like radiologists or people looking for terrorist activity, because what we tell them to look for will in part determine what they see and don't see.

This phenomenon of selective attention permeates our society. Drivers don’t see approaching bicycles and motorcycles. Police can’t always determine who’s the victim and who’s the perpetrator in a violent situation. Soldiers responding in a conflict don’t always see the innocent bystanders in their line of sight. Teachers don’t always notice when a student for whom there are low expectations suddenly does something extraordinary.

When I was a teenager, I along with others observed a socio-drama as part of a lesson in tolerance. In this theatrical event, a crime was committed. We were asked to say who committed the crime. To us it was obvious. When the action was repeated it wasn’t so obvious and we learned about how our prejudices and perceptions influence our judgment, especially in quickly evolving situations.

And I wonder about leaders of large, complex organizations.  Do they sometimes display "selective attention"? Do they look at but not see the signs of a failing business model? Do they look at but not see the signs of a recessionary economy? Do they look at but not see managers who are not doing their jobs effectively? Do they look at but not see customers who are dissatisfied and looking elsewhere. Maybe it’s denial, but it also might be an inability to see something that is unexpected. 

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Barriers to Learning in Organizations

Continuous acquisition and application of knowledge, skills, and beliefs by individuals, teams, and the GreatWallPicture1 whole enterprise is an essential aspect of high performance organizations. However, barriers to this learning are common in organizations. These barriers must be overcome in order for organizations to have long term success. Twelve of these common barriers are:

  1. Program focus – new programs and services are evaluated in isolation rather than as interdependent parts of the whole organization, e.g., a diversity workshop is evaluated by the participants at the end of the workshop, not by everyone in the organization weeks and months after the workshop
  2. Limited resources – learning is not given adequate funding and support, e.g., staff are not given resources to experiment with new ideas before risking large scale implementation
  3. Work-learning dichotomy – producing and selling things is valued whereas learning is merely tolerated, e.g., little involvement of supervisors in the training of their direct-reports
  4. Passive leadership – leaders don’t ask themselves the hard questions and their boards and co-workers don’t question their actions, e.g., a hospital CEO continues to push for hospital expansion while nobody asks, “Is expansion in the best interests of patients, employees, doctors, and the community?”
  5. Non-learning culture – organizational values, assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, and norms do not support learning, e.g., recognizing (praise, reward, promotion, etc.) individual success but not recognizing team success
  6. Resistance to change – trying new ways of doing things is not encouraged, e.g., individuals are told to be creative and innovative but not allowed to implement their ideas
  7. Not discussing the un-discussable – everyone has a shared but un-spoken understanding that certain issues are not to be confronted and resolved, e.g., one employee’s negative attitudes are bringing down morale of the organization but nobody will talk about this problem for fear of retribution
  8. Need for control – managers intentionally and unintentionally use organization charts, policy manuals, rules and regulations, performance evaluation, compensation, budget and expense monitoring, security systems, and work-space arrangements to constrain and limit sharing and applying knowledge, e.g., lines of communication are enforced within an organization to the point that a manager in one department may not talk to a manager in another department
  9. Focus on short-term, simple solutions – managers taking the most expedient course of action without solving the long term problems within their organizations, e.g., doing multi-person layoffs to reduce costs when the real problem is not offering products and services that customers want
  10. Skilled incompetence – the tendency of managers to avoid embarrassing or threatening interactions, place blame on others, and not accept responsibility for problems, e.g., the leader of a team that failed to complete an assignment avoids asking himself, “What is it about what I am doing or saying that contributes to other people behaving in ineffective and destructive ways?”
  11. Blame, not gain language – employees tend to use mostly language that is judgmental and punitive rather than language that facilitates learning, e.g., when something goes wrong, the first words out of a manager’s mouth are, “Who is responsible for this problem?”
  12. Selective attention – not seeing (literally) and, therefore, not learning from unexpected events, e.g., two employees attend the same presentation by their CEO but understand the new organizational direction in very different ways

What additional barriers to learning have you observed in organizations?

 

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The Leader Effect

As leaders, we often don’t realize (or choose to ignore) the effect that we have on people in our organizations. Our actions and inactions almost invariably have unintended consequences. Bernie Donkerbrook, writing in the Center for Creative Leadership’s July 2011 newsletter, makes this point:

Everything you do (or do not do) is observed, analyzed and discussed by your people. What you talk about, include on an agenda and get personally involved with - as well as what you choose to avoid or delegate — sends powerful messages. Your employees then draw conclusions and implications about "what it meant" — whether you meant it that way or not!

Everyting a leader does has an effect on others, often unintended. When I do assessments of organizational culture or employee engagement, I find that employee attitudes toward their organizations are heavily affected by the stories they tell themselves about top leaders. I hear comments such as,

  • “He meets with Sally’s department a lot but rarely comes and talks to us; Sally must have the inside track for promotion.”
  • “I sent Bill an email about the problem and he didn’t respond; I guess he doesn’t want to do anything about it.”
  • “They haven’t filled the director’s position; my department must not be a high priority in this organization.”

According to Donkerbrook, three aspects of leader behavior affect the attitudes of employees: 1) what they say; 2) what they do; and 3) what they pay attention to. See his model.

Leaders Impact graphic

Of course, managers can never fully know how every behavior is interpreted… or misinterpreted. However, we need to be sensitive to our actions and constantly be checking on their impact. I find this is to be especially true for email and text messages. Receivers of these messages are looking at what is written and what is missing and, like a Rorschach test, read into the statements whatever emotion and meaning they want to project onto those words. Leaders need to choose their e-words carefully and not assume that the reader is going to hear the emotion (joy, appreciation, frustration, anger, etc.) or absence of emotion that they are trying to convey.

Donkerbrook’s article reminds me of the Zulu concept of “Ubuntu”, which I learned in a workshop on diversity that I was evaluating. One meaning of this term is to acknowledge the existence and humanity of another person. If a manager doesn’t greet someone who is in proximity or doesn’t show caring and compassion for that employee or simply looks away, that employee will feel diminished by the communication. We all need to feel respected by our leaders. Leaders must find ways to show respect for everyone in the organization, from front-line hourly workers to top-level executives. Otherwise, employees will tell themselves stories about leaders that may or may not be true.

 

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Seeing the Gorilla in Program Evaluation

Organizations often evaluate their own programs, as wellthey should. But, in doing so they should be aware that they are probably failing to observe some very important factors. It’s the nature of human beings. We suffer from selective attention. This finding is supported by the research of Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris who study our ability to see unexpected events.  In their new book, The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, they report on 10 years of showing videos to people all over the world who failed (including this blogger) to see something unexpected while trying to complete an observation task. Test yourself on their latest video:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQmdoK_ZfY&hl=en_US&fs=1?rel=0&w=380&h=238]

The same phenomenon happens when managers of programs and services (e.g., training, customer service, process improvement) examine the effectiveness of their own interventions. They measure pre-determined attitudes and behaviors. When they do this they are likely to miss unexpected events. For example, in evaluating a diversity program for a client, I found that several managers who had participated in the program later retained employees who they had been intending to fire. A greater understanding and sensitivity to the individual needs of these employees, that they developed in the diversity training, made the difference. This finding was not expected. A study of the usually expected outcomes of diversity programs, such as hiring and promoting more women and minorities, would not have discovered this other very important behavior change. This is not to say that managers should never evaluate their own programs. It's just that when they do they need to be open to the unexpected.

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Stereotyping Affects Learning and Performance

If you need additional evidence that expectations of selfand others shape how well people perform on tasks, just read Claude Steele’s new book, “Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us.”  In an interview by NPR “Talk of the Nation” host Neal Conan, Steele answers questions about how his 20 years of research reported in the book shows that when a math task is important to women, their performance is affected by the stereotype that all women are poor at math. He says:

…if you're a woman, and you don't care about doing well with math, your life is on another path,Listening to Vivaldi book   then the prospect of confirming such a stereotype about your group's ability… isn't as upsetting to you because you're not invested in that area, but when you've really invested yourself, then the prospect of that stereotype being true or its being seen to be true and you being treated accordingly, that has considerable impact. It scares you, and that fear can directly interfere with your functioning.

Steele calls this phenomenon the “stereotype threat.” When asked about the alternative theory, that low performance is caused by innate limits on ability, Steele counters that argument by saying:

…that theory would predict that nothing you did in the situation would change. If you give them difficult math, women are always going to under-perform. If you give difficult problems, African-American students are always going to under-perform. Well, they don't when you do things in those situations to reduce stereotype threat and that is probably the principal evidence [on] behalf of this argument.

Stereotyping threatens the performance of employees in organizations. In our book, “The 5As Framework”, Sean Murray and I write about the effect that expectations have on learning and performance. We call this “anticipation”. Stereotyping is a negative expectation that causes learners and others in the organization to anticipate an inability to learn and failure to achieve business goals. As a counter to stereotyping, organizations need leaders and managers who are always expecting both high levels of learning and high performance from every employee every day.

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Measuring Results of Diversity Programs

In an article titled, “Diversity Plans Tough to Measure”that appears in the latest issue of Human Resource Executive Online, Jared Shelly writes that although many companies want diversity programs (according to a study by i4cp), most have not defined what they mean by “diversity” and most don’t measure the ROI of these programs. It is my experience that for many companies, having a diversity program is simply a way to protect themselves against EEOC complaints and lawsuits. They don’t care about quality and results of these programs.

For others, who care about impact on their organizations, their HR leaders believe that it is too difficult and too costly to measure the return on their investment in diversity initiatives. If by ROI they mean a dollars and cents calculation of cost savings and revenue increase, they might be right. However, evaluating the impact of diversity programs should not be difficult nor should it be costly. The first step is to define diversity in the organization. Does it mean:

  • complying with EEOC guidelines?
  • recruiting a diverse pool of candidates for a job opening?
  • promoting women and minorities to senior level positions?
  • working effectively in diverse teams?
  • effectively managing a diverse workforce?
  • being personally aware of one’s own stereotyping?
  • something else? 

We can’t develop useful measures of diversity until we know which of these definitions is being used and, therefore, what are the indicators of success.

I have written previously about measuring the results of one particular diversity program (including measuring ROI). The purpose of that program was  “… to improve leadership skills for middle and senior managers by providing information, tools and processes for them to become more effective at managing and leading diverse teams to deliver exceptional customer service.” To achieve this goal the company put employees through an intense, three-day leadership development and team building workshop followed by informal coaching. One cohort of participants were surveyed several months after the workshop to determine who was applying what they learned and who was achieving business results related to the diversity program. Those who reported gains were interviewed. From these interviews, the company discovered that the program had a profound effect on the attitudes and behavior of some managers. Positive actions that were attributable to the diversity program were documented and, in some cases, cost savings (e.g., retained worker) and revenue increases (e.g., successfully negotiated contract) were calculated. From this study, HR leaders discovered the strengths and weaknesses of the program and its potential for success. This study was neither difficult nor expensive and the results were vital to the company and its employees.

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Matthew Effect Hits the Glass Ceiling

Women are not filling the executive ranks at the same rate as men and the reasons appear to be arbitrary and unrelated to performance. DDI’s Center for Applied Behavioral Research conducted a study of women executives and summarized findings in the report, “Holding Women Back: Troubling Discoveries and Best Practices for Helping Female Leaders Succeed.” They write:

…a review of the demographic data revealed that organizations were not evenhanded in their treatment of male and female leaders. The women—more than one-third of the global sample of over 12,800 leaders—had not progressed nearly as far up the management ladder as the men. This discrepancy isn’t a surprise; it has been reported frequently in popular media. What caught our attention was how the deck is stacked against women from the start of their management careers.

Structural discrimination starts early. Men are more likely than women to be considered management material. Far more men in line management positions receive the coveted but often secret designation, high potential (HiPo). The HiPos receive more encouragement, sometimes being directed into special training and multi-national management experiences. As these managers move up the ranks, the gap between the percentage of men and women at each level continues to increase. Women who are promoted without the grooming that HiPos receive are set up for failure.

This is the “Matthew Effect” first identified by the sociologist Robert Merton and explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, “Outliers.”  (To paraphrase Gospel of Matthew 25:29:  the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.) Gladwell uses the example of many young Canadian hockey players who are unlikely to achieve stardom simply because of having the misfortune of a late-in-the-year birth date. So too, many talented women managers will not break through the glass ceiling simply because they had a boss who did not consider them high potential at the beginning of their careers.  

What should companies do to correct this situation?

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Diversity Training...Does It Work?

The record for diversity training programs is not good. In a T+D article titled, “Why Diversity Training Doesn’t Work…Right Now,” Aparna Nancherla concludes:

Various studies have shown that diversity training is ineffective. It’s not always just the training itself that is flawed. Sometimes it’s also the program’s context and delivery. Some of the major shortcomings include limited understanding of the scope of the issue, coverage of only legal and compliance aspects, and lack of buy-in from senior leadership.

However, before indicting all diversity training, we need to make distinctions among the different types of programs and their purposes. It’s one thing to spend two hours on explaining harassment to a group of managers; it’s quite another thing to spend three days trying to make employees more tolerant and accepting of each other. Both are considered diversity training but they are apples and oranges.

If the intent is creating teams of mutually trusting and highly engaged employees, we have evidence that this can be done. I had the opportunity to interview employees who had been through a three-day, diversity training workshop intended to achieve this goal. My interest was in the impact of the workshop on business results. I heard a story from a manager about how, prior to the workshop, he would fire any employee who showed the slightest bit of negativity in the workplace. One employee, in particular, was very close to being let go. After the workshop, he met with this employee and talked with her about her situation and what she needed to do to be more successful at work. She became one of his best workers. We can calculate the value of that learning to the company. It's substantial.

Another story I heard was from a manager who, prior to the workshop, was losing money on a contract he had with a partner company in another country. The partner company did not appear to be fulfilling its responsibilities in the agreement. The manager had just assumed that employees of the other company understood his expectations and assumptions about contracts. After the workshop, this manager decided to have a conversation with the partner and discovered that they viewed contracts differently due to culture and language. This resulted in a new working relationship and a new agreement that became profitable for both companies. We can calculate the value of that learning to the company. It's substantial.

We know how to make training work. To do so we need to be clear about intended outcomes, align the training with those outcomes, create a context in which that learning is supported and valued, and follow-up to measure impact. This is true of any training, but even more so when we are trying to influence deep seated values and prejudices.

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