Here's Cleveland Clinic's action plan to promote diversity and reduce unconscious bias

Read Advisory Board's take on this story.

The Cleveland Clinic has launched a new diversity and inclusion action plan that will focus first on addressing unconscious bias in the workplace, according to CEO Toby Cosgrove.

Writing in a LinkedIn post, Cosgrove said he and several dozen executive leaders signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. According to Cosgrove, the pledge continues and furthers the organization's "efforts to make diversity and inclusion part of everything we do at Cleveland Clinic" by committing the Clinic to "having open dialogue about diversity and inclusion," teaching leaders about biases that affect their decisions, and discussing which measures work and which don't.

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Cosgrove said the initiative began with a focus on unconscious bias training to "increase awareness of unconscious biases specific to talent identification and talent" and "establish a process, driven by tools, to discover and develop talent in the organization."

Leadership training

To purse those goals, the Clinic had 200 "key" leaders undergo unconscious bias training, as well as the Clinic's learning team so that they could in turn teach the Clinic's other leaders.

According to Cosgrove, following the training, the Clinic saw that leaders "were substantially more likely to understand the concept of mindful inclusion." The Clinic then started to "track demographics and gender during talent reviews to offer feedback to leaders at the time of their decisions," Cosgrove writes.

Continuing behavior change

The Clinic is "encouraging continued behavior change within our organization by providing trained facilitators to observe or facilitate talent review meetings, emphasizing the best practices learned by those taking part in unconscious bias training," Cosgrove continues. The Clinic is also determining whether "leaders identify 'hidden talent' or make surprising decisions relative to succession planning and high-potential talent identification."

According to Cosgrove, research shows that "by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the United States as traditionally under-represented groups become the majority." While the trajectory provides a "practical explanation for businesses to get involved," Cosgrove writes, "As importantly, though, workplace diversity—of race, gender, nationality, religion, age or sexual orientation, among many other factors—creates a better, more equitable work environment with a greater depth of ideas, creativity, and innovation" (Cosgrove, LinkedIn, 8/22; Vartorella, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/24; Cleveland Clinic action plan, accessed 9/14).

Advisory Board's take

By Jesse Bridges and Kate Vonderhaar

Jesse Bridges

Jesse Bridges, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, The Advisory Board Company: In Cleveland Clinic's decision to sign the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, there are two very important best practices: first, by signing the pledge, system leaders are creating transparency and accountability to focusing intentionally on creating a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace. Second, and equally as important, the Clinic is acknowledging that unconscious bias both exists and has a real impact on crucial decisions around talent and culture.

When we make plain that unconscious bias is not inherently a character flaw—but rather the brain's hardwired process to operate more efficiently by categorizing place, experiences, and people—we then move beyond the unhelpful "good/bad" binary that often surfaces during discussions about bias. That creates the space to have productive conversations about mitigation strategies and authentic dialogues about how the collection of our lived experiences shape the way we see the world.

Kate Vonderhaar

Kate Vonderhaar, Practice Manager, HR Advancement Center: Cleveland Clinic's focus on using an objective, structured process to identify high-potential talent is an important way to combat biases in succession planning. All health care organizations should strive to have an objective process to identify high-potential talent for at least two reasons:

First, leaders often unconsciously look for rising stars who look and think like them. Without a rigorous process in place to consider all talent, senior leaders can easily overlook strong candidates who may be exactly the talent the organization needs for the future.

Second, only a small group of leaders (as few as 10 percent) are likely to truly exhibit high potential and merit extra investment to prepare them for next-level leadership roles. Leaders who do not fall into this select group will want to know why—and you need to be able to explain the objective process that was used to identify top talent (and where individual leaders fell short).

To help combat biases during succession planning conversations, we recommend using an objective tool to identify high-potential talent, such a straightforward set of questions like our Leadership Potential Diagnostic or a more in-depth assessment.

Senior leaders should then vet this shortlist of high-potential talent in a group calibration discussion. This will help ensure everyone is using the same definition of potential and will also help identify the strongest succession candidates across the organization. We have additional tools to help with those efforts in our "Succession Management Implementation Guide."

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