In the wake of the killing of George Floyd two years ago, many organizations and companies made commitments to racial and social justice. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices were created and DEI officers were hired. But have they been given the resources they need to succeed? Have they been given the teams and leadership buy-in to make real change happen?
Nichole Thompson is working to help organizations reach the grand visions they have laid out as they relate to diversity, equity and inclusion. Thompson promotes “inclusive excellence,” a framework and approach for assessing your company and determining an action plan to improve your work culture. Inclusive excellence is rooted in the notion that if everyone in your organization understands where they stand, what value they deliver, and what their future in the company looks like, then the overall culture will improve. As we know, when organizations are inclusive, they have greater productivity, retention and profits. This model is well-established in academia (see, for example, this graphic from the University of Virginia).
Now, it’s time for American manufacturers to borrow from our universities. It’s time for us to move beyond simple operational excellence — making your processes as efficient and cost-effective as possible — and start thinking about inclusive excellence, which prioritizes people above products and profits. The inclusive excellence model has five aspects:
So, what’s the first step to inclusive excellence? Having an open, creative and adaptable mindset. “We have to work hard to have a broad perspective,” says Thompson. “If a leader isn’t open to new thoughts, it kills creativity. When leadership is closed to new ideas, inclusive excellence isn’t possible.”
Now that you’ve decided to approach inclusive excellence in a serious way, what are your next steps? Well, Thompson suggests you FOCUS, using this five-step process:
F – Find specific areas of weakness or need through one of the third-party assessments mentioned earlier.
O – Outline how best to affect near and long-term change.
C – Communicate areas of change to leadership and staff for buy-in.
U – Use current best practices, personnel and other resources.
S – Specify specific, systemic and sustainable changes you want to make.
In closing, Thompson advocates that servant leadership is no longer enough. Instead, we have to ensure that the employees and team members we’re serving bring a diversity of perspectives so we can create organizations capable of solving the complex challenges of our modern world. She quotes a piece of wisdom floating around on the internet: “Great achievements are not born from a single vision, but from the combination of many distinctive viewpoints. Diversity challenges assumptions, opens minds and unlocks our potential to solve any problems we may face.”