Three warning signs of group-think

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Many organisations Green Park work with are approaching a pivotal moment when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). They genuinely want a greater choice of talent and they want to be seen as more inclusive organisations – where anyone can do their best work – but are not seeing the results that they need, or that validate the speed of progress their own corporate narratives would suggest. And so, I think we are at a very dangerous tipping point around the perception of D&I in complex organisations, as internal trust is being eroded by the slow pace of change. 

Here are three signs of group-think that may be creating enterprise risks in your organisation:

1                  Einstein wouldn’t understand your recruitment practices

Einstein is widely quoted as saying that “madness is believing different results can be achieved by repeatedly doing the same things”. For example if you would like to see more diversity on shortlists but your current suppliers are not matching expectations or providing you evidence as to why proportionality is not being delivered, then simply telling your suppliers over and over again what you want will result in them eventually getting it for you, right?

Nine years ago I sat in front of the HR leadership council across government and used this argument by quoting an ill-advised analogy about catering: “So you would like authentic Thai food to be available once a week across Whitehall as a policy but you won’t allow departments or your supply chain to bring in experts, let alone engage with your buyers as to what they actually want. So even if you manage to get it right it will remain uneaten with only the faintest whiff of lemon grass remaining.”

Some firms have moved on a long way since 2009 as sophistication around supply diversity has increased, but statistically have our largest organisations really moved far forward? The pace of change for women has slowed and BAME or Disabled representation is going backwards because we won’t address a lack of innovation through comfy recruitment relationships and candidate journeys.

2                  The Recruitment liability isn’t ours – the accountability is outsourced

I understand why so many organisations partner with RPOs from a cost perspective but it’s very clear that they detract enterprise value around diversity. I realise there is a movement to try and outsource challenges and buy credibility through one of the plethora of sponsored awards for diversity and recruitment etc. But big banks and professional service firms demonstrate how, regardless of how many buffers are used, trust is eroded from their brands by their own people first and foremost. People have never been more sceptical about an organisation’s commitment, and blaming your supply chain makes no difference.

If we apply common sense to much of the D&I agenda we see, much of what is invested is through single-issue entrepreneurs driven by ego recognition around a single issue that resonates with their likeminded mate as the corporate purchaser. At best it produces a sterile box-ticking bit of window dressing to show leadership something has been done, and at worst it’s a wholly nepotistic and dishonest attempt to manipulate investors’ money and mislead customers.

 Instead of investing in what will make a difference, we continue to invest in the buzzwords that don’t - largely because of the lack of professional governance in this area. But don’t worry people are smart and form their own opinion of the truth.

For example ask yourself should a Big Four consulting firm be able to credibly say they are deeply committed to diversity on Boards because they sponsor BAME events, even though they only have one black partner? Should a bank that sponsors diversity awards and has made huge statements on ethics and gender expect people to trust them when they fail to retain female staff past a certain level of seniority and BME staff have a far lower engagement score than the rest of their staff because of the behaviours and culture they face every day?

3                  The digital doomsday scenario – TripAdvisor is coming

I have the privilege of being retained by a number of FTSE 100 Boards to help them develop their business and talent strategies. Conflict often arises when we try to build consensus around the importance of holistic ‘Build & Buy’ talent and succession programmes linked to the credibility of their D&I business case.

In general the discussion in the room comes to a shuddering halt when I say: “Just imagine if all your staff’s experiences could be seen through TripAdvisor - would your assertion of equality as a Board priority be recognised or ridiculed? If ten prospective Senior Directors were asked the question ‘What is the organisational purpose of D&I at this company?’ would they give a response you could live with or would you get ten different responses?”

If your organisation is in danger of falling into one of these mind-sets, you’re in danger of letting the wrong people invest in the wrong things, but far more seriously you are probably moving further away from the more inclusive culture your leaders have promised.

It’s a good time to act.


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