Written by CultureCon Guest Blogger, Caleb Campbell
Ahhh, a new year. The perfect time to set personal development goals, get your health back on track, tighten up your finances…and launch new culture initiatives that will take your workplace and team to the next level.
Maybe this is the year you redefine your organizational values or formally take on that work-life balance thing your team keeps talking about. Perhaps now is the time to overhaul ineffective hierarchies, crush communication barriers, and improve how your team collaborates. And just maybe 2019 is the right time to address those elephants that have been taking up way too much space in your group’s room.
Regardless of your specific focus, how do you ensure your culture initiative takes off as you envision? And better yet, that it sticks? At Bluetree, we’ve seen some things succeed and others do a good ole crash-and-burn. While we don’t have all the answers, here are some lessons we’ve learned from one recent focus area: Diversity and Inclusion (d&i). Perhaps something here can help your next culture adventure as well.
1. Know the why.
There are (not quite) a million initiatives you could tackle this year, and most of them will require people, time, and money. What stands out about the initiative you’ve chosen?
We launched our d&i initiative in 2018 for two reasons:
We are convinced creating a diverse team and inclusive environment is simply the right thing to do for our customers, our team members, and Bluetree.
We've realized cultivating that type of workforce and workplace will enhance the depth, innovation, and quality of services we offer.
Since starting our initiative, we've shared several updates and threads of work with the company. But everything ties back to the why -- this is the right thing to do, and it will make us a more productive and successful team.
Your why might vary, but make sure you understand it and can articulate it to others. Along with being critical to your launch, it could be what keeps your initiative moving when competing priorities inevitably rear their ugly heads. Regardless of how hectic their schedules and full their plates, people tend to find time and energy for things they believe in.
2. Get leadership behind it.
Our 2018 d&i initiative had its genesis when our CEO, Jeremy, walked into a senior leadership meeting, stated the above why, and announced it as a strategic priority. We formally kicked off the initiative with a personal video from Jeremy to the company, and we made its launch a marquee item on a quarterly all-company meeting.
Everyone owns culture, and many cultural successes originate from grass roots efforts. Still, people pay attention when company and team leaders mobilize behind something. Before you tackle your next big culture to-do, spend time getting your organization's leadership on board with the why and how. That could mean anything from group presentations to 1-1 conversations tailored to what individual leaders care about. Any effort will more than pay for itself later.
3. Identify ownership.
The first thing Jeremy did after saying d&i should become a companywide priority was put my name in the “owner” box. Whatever your initiative, you need to know who is accountable for it.
I know, it seems obvious, but too many times we take the easy way out -- "We all know it's important, and no one wants it to fail, so do we really need to name an owner?" -- and sabotage our efforts before we begin. Avoid the common program-killers of confusion and indifference by identifying a clear owner from the beginning.
4. Involve the right people.
Anyone want to guess the first thing I did after seeing my name in the box? Given my lack of experience heading up a d&i program, I looked for help. It didn't take long to realize Alison, a strong project manager on our team with a background in social work and passion for social justice, would be an ideal co-owner.
We've since assembled a team of volunteers from all backgrounds, experience levels, roles, and teams. We have VPs collaborating with new hires, sales people working next to recruiters, writers, and technical specialists, and d&i veterans teaming with people whose expertise ends at how to spell the words "diversity" and "inclusion." What they all have in common, though, is a desire to make Bluetree the best place it can be.
When you pull together your team, you'll benefit from including people with a variety of skills and experiences. The biggest qualifier, though, should be a genuine interest in what you're doing. If there were ever an area where resumes matter less than real passion about something and a commitment to see it through, this is it.
In the daily hum of organizational life, it's easy for people to forget about whatever task or project is not on fire and screaming for their attention. "Out of sight, out of mind” is an unfortunately common epitaph in the graveyard of passionately started but eventually deceased culture projects.
Communication is key. Make it multifaceted - we've found benefit in leveraging all-company meetings, smaller team forums, video updates, Slack channels, and even occasional email blasts to keep people aware of the ongoing priority and what we're up to. Keep it efficient - people are busy, so quickly frame the importance of your topic, then give them the specific information they need to know. Finally, be repetitive. At Bluetree we say if you've not said it 10 times, you haven’t said it at all.
6. Find a way to evaluate your success.
It's tempting to think of culture pushes as soft items that can't really be measured. But as someone once challenged me, “Can we really know we’re improving what we’re not measuring?”
At Bluetree, we're convinced inclusion should be the foundation of any d&i push. After all, simply hitting demographic targets and increasing cultural diversity doesn't mean much if people don't feel valued and supported. Over the past year, we’ve begun leveraging 3rd-party engagement tools that have helped us establish baselines, set meaningful targets, and measure perceived inclusion within diverse groups across the company.
We've also learned to pair that data with constant conversations. Ignore the org chart, push yourself outside of your normal circles, and spend time talking to people from across your organization who will tell you what they really feel. The data is important, but overreliance can lead to overconfidence. Just ask the people who ran Hillary Clinton's 2016 president campaign.
7. Recognize you'll screw up.
You wouldn’t believe half the missteps we’ve made with d&i if I named them. Even the best intentions can fall short, and what may seem like obvious solutions and approaches often sputter out. I don't care who you are -- some things you try won't work, and you will screw something up.
How do you overcome that?
Be transparent, stay humble, and don't be too big to admit your mistakes.
Create an environment and establish the expectation that we'll all mess up, we should assume good intentions, and mistakes can be opportunities rather than failures.
Find someone who can keep you grounded. Identify peers with a knack for keeping the big picture in mind and not being overly reactive, confide in them, and lean into their strength. Because it's not a matter of if you'll run into challenges (self-inflicted or otherwise), but when.
8. Don't live on an island.
In the early stages of our d&i program, we read books and blogs, listened to podcasts, attended conferences, and talked to people who had spearheaded similar efforts at other organizations. We've had our bumps in the road and are a long way from where we know we can be…but I shudder to think of how we'd be doing if we'd not leveraged any outside expertise and support.
Regardless of what you’re tackling, you're not alone in your pursuit. Build relationships, tap into networks, and absorb everything you can from others. First, you'll learn things that can only help. Second, there's something great about knowing you're not the only one on your journey.
Here's to building a stronger culture community and helping each other more as we seize our biggest opportunities in 2019.