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March 1, 2022

3 ways to drive accountability in DEI initiatives

Daily Briefing

    Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Paradigm president Evelyn Carter details her three-part framework for promoting better accountability around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies in the workplace.

    According to Carter, "[w]ithout a framework for measuring and evaluating their efforts, the resolve that many leaders and organizations have shown around improving DEI in recent years will falter when challenges arise."

    To prevent this, Carter developed a three-part framework for driving accountability around DEI. Although her framework is centered around hiring, she emphasizes it can be applied to other areas, including performance management, compensation, and retention.

    What most people get wrong about diversity, equity, and inclusion

    1. Educate: Explain why the changes you are making are important

    Because people "are more likely to persist in the face of change when they are intrinsically motivated," Carter suggests highlighting the ways in which proposed changes are personally relevant to the company and its leaders. In addition, she suggests sharing data on how low representation of people of color makes it hard to attract applicants from those demographics. 

    "Emphasize how your homogeneous workforce raises questions of belonging for those from underrepresented groups, creating a revolving door of talent for the people you do hire. With every problem that you share, demonstrate how it undermines the company's DEI values," Carter writes.

    For instance, when one company debuted a new structured hiring process, a talent leader expressed frustration to Carter because they were having a difficult time getting the CEO on board with the process. In that situation, Carter said the CEO "needed a clearer view of the why, not just the how."

    "Providing such education might have made it more likely that the CEO would willingly comply with the new process, or, at the very least, made it easier for that talent leader to hold the CEO accountable for doing so," she writes.

    2. Listen: Ask for and implement feedback

    "While it can be tempting to create a plan with goals and proposals around DEI, and then present that fully formed solution to your leaders, people are more likely to adopt changes if they help create the solutions themselves," Carter writes.

    Accordingly, rather than simply telling leaders what they should do, Carter suggests highlighting existing problems and potential solutions and then asking for leaders' input and feedback. "This will help you design a series of accountability strategies that allow you to ensure your new process has the intended impact," Carter writes.

    As companies work to craft DEI strategies with leaders and employees, Carter also suggests crowdsourcing accountability mechanisms. "Consider proactive efforts—ways you can incentivize people toward the behavior you hope to see—and reactive ones you can leverage when folks go astray," Carter writes. "This collective discussion will make accountability feel less punitive and more like commitment to a shared goal that you improve upon constantly."

    3. Recognize: Celebrate successes—but encourage those who need it

    According to Carter, "sometimes the best-designed processes go unused, because change is hard."

    To mitigate this, she suggests encouraging and rewarding individuals who use the process well, but also giving a lot of encouragement to those who do not use the process well. "Establish a regular debrief cadence where people can share insights with others. Acknowledge that none of this is easy or simple and reinforce that these changes will align your company's DEI impact with your intent," Carter writes.

    When employees are resistant to a new process, Carter urges companies to consider the planned accountability strategies that they developed in step two of her framework. The first few times a person falls short, she suggests asking questions about the challenges they're facing, and why they aren't using the process. According to Carter, their answers could further refine processes for everyone's benefit.

    In addition, she suggests emphasizing a growth mindset, while reminding employees that "learning often yields mistakes and failure, but that it is net positive over time."

    According to Carter, "until there is meaningful reform and accountability around how individuals apply such rules, no manner of policy updates will yield change."

    "In lieu of waiting for a crisis to emerge, be proactive about bringing stakeholders on board for any process changes you make—and don't be afraid to hold them accountable for that plan's success," she adds. (Carter, Harvard Business Review, 2/25)


    Advisory Board's take

    Action items to operationalize DEI accountability

    Rachel ZuckermanBy Rachel Zuckerman

    Many organizations have DEI goals, but what does it mean to actually meet those goals? Simply having a set of goals does not guarantee any skillful progress.

    We wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Evelyn Carter's argument that it's crucial to hold involved stakeholders accountable for making progress on any DEI goal. When we say "accountability" we mean clearly articulating each leader's role in and responsibility for achieving DEI goals—and using a variety of levers (incentives, penalties, education, and supports, among other things) to enforce that responsibility. In an organization that has embedded accountability for equity goals across leadership, leaders are centered around a common purpose. This helps leaders understand their individual roles in achieving this purpose while taking personal responsibility for making progress and learning what happened when progress falls short.

    As Dr. Carter notes, "behavior change is hard, and in many cases, the strategies that are going to yield change will also bring a little friction." Her three-part framework suggests strategies to reduce this friction. Below, we outline three action items to operationalize Dr. Carter's strategies.

    Dr. Carter's step 1: Educate – Before telling people what to do, you have to tell them why.

    How to operationalize: Embed equity considerations into the strategic priorities for the leaders who are already responsible.

    Dr. Carter emphasizes the importance of highlighting how changes are "personally relevant" to the leaders you are trying to engage. Leaders often view DEI goals as separate from their day-to-day work or as an important but "extra" responsibility, falling outside of their real purview. But here's the truth: every leader can significantly advance—or hold back—progress on DEI in the work they lead.

    To help leaders understand their role in advancing DEI, embed equity considerations into the strategic priorities for which leaders are already responsible. For example, if a clinical leader is responsible for reducing care variation, consider embedding a goal to reduce disparities in clinician adherence to care protocols by patient race. This picklist outlines other examples for twelve types of functional leaders, from finances to HR to nursing.

    It's important to help leaders understand their "why"—ensuring a clear connection between their everyday behaviors and decisions to the overall goals of DEI.

    Dr. Carter's step 2: Listen — Invite feedback, really listen to it, and iterate.

    How to operationalize: Account for all types of loss.

    Dr. Carter notes, "While it can be tempting to create a plan with goals and proposals around DEI, and then present that fully-formed solution to your leaders, people are more likely to adopt changes if they help create the solutions themselves."

    We've heard about this firsthand. One health system we assisted was trying to implement a change to make their hiring process more inclusive and equitable. However, hiring managers refused to implement the new process and continued interviewing candidates in their own way. When leaders sat down with the hiring managers, they learned they feared the loss of autonomy in making decisions to create their own teams.

    People fear loss, and most change carries loss. Of course, creating a more inclusive and equitable organization requires change. So how do you prevent loss from becoming an insurmountable sticking point?

    First, listen closely to understand and diagnose the kinds of losses that at play—real and perceived, direct and indirect, material and abstract. The loss may be tangible, as in Dr. Carter's example of a manager wanting to make a hire as quickly as possible and fearing the loss of time when sourcing diverse candidate pool. The losses may be more intangible, as well—for example, even acknowledging that your current workforce or patient population experiences inequities may require some people to lose certain deeply-held perceptions of your organization. It's important to listen for and acknowledge these losses.

    Ultimately, help stakeholders move through these losses by providing context, sharing the advantages of the new approach, and continuing to orient them to the broader "why."

    Dr. Carter's step 3: Recognize – Celebrate your wins. But nudge those who need it.

    How to operationalize: Set up system of incentives and consequences before you actually need them

    Just as health care leaders are held accountable for safety and quality metrics with no debate, DEI should be treated as an equally undisputed priority: patients and employees deserve equitable and inclusive outcomes and experiences.

    Try sending a strong message. For example, tie leaders' variable compensation to DEI goals. This demonstrates DEI goals are not simply words on a page but rather priorities that leaders are committed to advancing. It is also worth considering what you will do if a leader or employee does not embody your commitments to DEI or actively detracts from your goals.

    Dr. Carter makes the excellent suggestion to "crowdsource accountability mechanisms" to "make accountability feel less punitive and more like commitment to a shared goal." But ultimately, accountability mechanisms are only useful if they're used and enforced. While it can be uncomfortable to enforce consequences, it can help to establish a clear protocol to intervene, when necessary, the same as you would for patient safety or quality violations.

    I've curated a list of resources to help guide you further in your DEI efforts.

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