We Guarantee You Missed These 3 Steps With Your Last Equity Plan.
I’ve seen it firsthand–a company with good intentions to make their employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging forms a team or hires outside consultants to “fix” the problems with equity in their company. Six months into the project, rather than rocketing into liberating the people they’re trying to help, the people involved turn into a satellite orbiting the status quo, never able to escape its strong gravitational pull.
Before your company culture can experience liberation, your DEI initiative must perform NASA-level research, design, and testing.
You Skipped Over Assessment
Do you think NASA is going to send astronauts into space without completing exhaustive research?
Of course not! NASA began researching space shuttle designs all the way back in 1966 when they realized they needed a sustainable method for going to space and formulated a task group to research their needs that produced a report on their findings 3 years later.
So if NASA spends years researching before they move into design, why do we think we can begin our DEI initiatives without digging deep into the problem and marinating in it before we act? The programs we develop from research serve the mental and physical well-being of a broader group of people (even if we aren’t launching them into space).
Here are some of the common reasons folks skip this necessary step:
- Finances–The assessment phase will not be without its costs. The company will have to pay for the man-hours to complete the interviews, listening sessions, and focus groups in addition to any services like surveys or data collection.
- Impatience–Getting to the root of the problem will take more than a day or a week. Sometimes we want to strike while the iron is hot, but that rush to cater to enthusiasm is setting your program up for failure.
- Workload–DEI professionals are already taking on more than their fair share of work, so some may try to cut corners in this phase of development to save their own mental health (remember that you can ask for funding for outside consultants to come in and help with this portion of the work).
- Discomfort–If your C-Suite is pushing to skip this phase, it may be because they know that their current state of ignorance is quite blissful.
- Hubris–Maybe you’ve finally received the green light to act on a problem you’ve been aware of for some time, so you think you know the problem and what needs to be done to resolve it. But that false confidence will lead to your program’s downfall.
In the beginning, you must go slow in order to go fast. You cannot skip the assessment phase. If you do, you’re libel to try to solve the wrong problem or solve no problem at all. While it may feel like a lot of work, the reality is that most companies already have data to a certain extent through general or engagement surveys, 1:1s with bosses, and conversations in employee resource groups but that data has not been compiled in a user-friendly manner or the people who have the data don’t understand how it relates to equity.
Go back and really listen to those who are most impacted by the policies, practices, and decisions that you believe might be at the root of the problem instead of jumping right to solutions. Listen to everyone who is affected, even the people who you’ve been ignoring or calling a “complainer” because you run the risk of making assumptions from an ivory tower if you don’t.
Your Design Lacks Innovation and Specificity
Did NASA send astronauts into space with the first design they developed based on their research?
Nah. There were discussions about the cost and safety of several designs before Nixon announced the plan to move forward with development in 1972. The design process lasted until 1977. Even though NASA had already sent many missions into space, they knew that they were tackling a new problem. And each individual problem needs a design that is tailored specifically to it.
We sometimes feel like we can skip over this step because of:
- Hubris–As soon as you got the green light, you were already formulating the solution. Maybe you want to use a similar strategy you’ve used before that’s comfortable, predictable, and safe, regardless of whether it’s the right fit for this particular job.
- Workload–You’ve prioritized other tasks ahead of developing a uniquely suited design because you’re overworked and had to prioritize your time, leaving this particular initiative to die a slow death.
- Pride–You realized from your assessment that the idea you had to solve the problem would not be the best path forward, and you don’t want to admit it or ask for help.
- Fear–You realized from your assessment that a solution to this problem does not exist, and it will take innovation and creativity to improve the situation. That can be scary because it may lead to pushback, and it will certainly take a lot of work.
You have to move past these hurdles so you can partner with the people impacted the most by the problem. They can help you think outside of the box while you search for solutions and they know exactly what they need.
And break outside of your normal brainstorming strategies. How many brainstorming sessions have you been to at a round table in front of a whiteboard or–worse—in your Zoom squares? Incorporate changes to your environment and the tools you use to record and share ideas to unlock your creative side. You’re fighting against centuries-long patterns of behavior and societal structure, so you’re going to need to try something new.
You Didn’t Spend Time Testing
In 1977, NASA began testing the space shuttle Enterprise, and it wasn’t until 1981 that they sent a crew in a different shuttle into space. I bet that first crew was nervous, but they probably felt a lot better knowing that 3 years of testing had been completed.
Our DEI program designs affect people’s lives, and we’ve certainly already invested money into them by the time we finish the design phase, so why do we skip past testing?
- Finances–This phase of the design process does not bring in revenue, so some leaders want to skip past it; however, testing your design is what prevents you from losing money, time, and potentially disastrous mistakes during the implementation of your design.
- Impatience–You’ve spent all this time brainstorming and designing, and now you want to move into implementation because you truly believe in your design. But what are you basing your belief in?
- Lack of Trust–Testing requires the company to bring end users into the process yet again to provide feedback about how the design affects them. If leaders don’t trust the stakeholders who are affected by the design, they may find comfort in thinking their own expertise is superior to the lived experiences of the stakeholders.
- Loyalty to Tradition–If you aren’t a company that traditionally prides itself on its research and development, it can be difficult to find the time and people to contribute to this stage of the process. Or, your organization may be so beholden to dominant culture norms that it’s difficult to break away from standard operating procedures that leave people stalled out in the written plan part of the process or in a continual loop of urgency.
At this stage of the process, you’re working with a prototype. And your prototype is the real MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Don’t waste resources and time trying to build out your full design before you’ve tested it. And test it on the people who it will actually impact! Listen to the feedback they provide to improve the prototype while also earning some early buy-in.
DEI professionals need to achieve the escape velocity to unbind their companies from the gravitational pull of the status quo that keeps their programs in an unending orbit, continually moving but going nowhere. Ensuring that your process includes a complete and honest effort to assessment, design, and testing will help you break free.
The consultants in The Solution Consulting Co.’s Equity Impact Hub are available for 1:1 coaching sessions to show you how to move through assessment, design, and testing for your organization.