Salami slicing culture change programmes may seem efficient – but at what cost?


Many would agree that organisations need to continue to focus on resource efficiency to support sustainable growth.  However whilst working in the inclusion arena, across the globe, People Development Team has noticed a worrying theme:  organisations who are working hard to build inclusive cultures and who ‘salami slice’ the resourcing of these culture change programmes, fundamentally disable their success, costing the business more in the longer term.

For some time now organisations have realised that maximising the talent, engagement and the creativity of a diverse workforce is a significant contributor to gaining and retaining competitive advantage. The most successful have recognised that simply “having a diverse work force” is not enough and that sustainable success comes from the creation of inclusive cultures. By developing unconscious bias awareness in leaders across the business and equipping them with the skills to manage and support bias awareness, organisations are seeking to shift to more inclusive cultures and reap the manifold rewards. A culture change such as this depends on effective messaging, training and reinforcement, so the targeting of (often limited) resources becomes critical and needs to be both effective and efficient.

All too often, and frequently because of understandable organisational pressure to be more efficient, resourcing is sliced so thinly that the culture change itself is undermined.  Session durations and supporting resources get ‘salami sliced’ and embedding programmes minimised, or worse, cut altogether, producing little change and no real return on investment. Resources end up being squandered at an overall cost to the business and the reputational damage that results will undermine any future campaigns, potentially adding even more costs longer term.  Kotter[1] sites two problems here: firstly, failing to identify and/or underestimating the type and volume of training needed to help people develop new behaviours, skills and attitudes to support the [new culture]. Secondly he says:

“We recognise what is needed, but when we then translate that into time and money, were overwhelmed by the results. How can anyone justify sending 10,000 people to a two day training course? Or spend $3 million on a special educational effort?”

The benefits of a well-planned, carefully resourced inclusive culture change programmes should not be underestimated. Research has shown that

“81% of employees who have worked with an inclusive leader showed improved performance and productivity”[2].

What’s more, organisations that have predominantly inclusive leaders are 70% more likely to capture a new market and 45% more likely to gain extra market share[3].

It is worth reiterating at this point that this is not about simply spending more. The need here is to critically review the allocation of finite resources, ensuring that they are used efficiently and to the maximum effect. A really diverse range of effective approaches should be well thought-through, ensuring that methods used will engage everyone concerned, build deep and impactful understanding and generate real action that will produce the best results, within the budget, for your business.

The change needed to embed inclusion within any organisation’s culture is essentially one of understanding and learning to manage human nature’s predilection for affinity and our resulting, often unconscious, tendency to exclude what we perceive to be ‘different’. Learning to understand and manage deep-seated behaviours that we have formed over many years, requires the development new ‘habits’ in order to shift the way that we naturally work.  Research shows that habit reforming can be a slow process, but one that offers a high return when you get it right.  James Clear[4] suggests that every habit you have (good or bad) follows the same 3-step cyclical pattern.

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behaviour)
  2. Routine (the behaviour itself; the action you take)
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behaviour)

He attributes this model to previous researchers into habit formation including Stanford professor, BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg[5]. After explaining that positive rewards cause us to want to repeat the routine again, the next time a ‘reminder’ occurs, he goes on to suggest that the key to forming new habits is getting ‘reminders’ right. Clear explains that a good ‘reminder’ does not rely on motivation, nor does it require us to remember to do our new habit, it simply prompts the new habit, making it easy to embed our new behaviour into something that we already do.

If, as Clear suggest, the ‘reminder’ is such a critical part of forming new habits, we need to ensure that, when planning culture change, appropriate emphasis (and resource) is allocated to the embedding stages of the training and support structure.  Many organisations create strong and impactful initial messaging, but the euphoria of initial success can easily distract from the critical habit forming process.  Successful organisations move to inclusive cultures by focusing on constant, appropriate and effective reinforcement of key messages; purpose, understanding, skills and behaviours.

This process alone, however, has not brought about success.  It has been the critical thinking that these businesses have undertaken (often with specialist inclusion practitioners like ourselves) in order to identify the appropriate, resource efficient methods that will truly engage and empower individuals throughout the organisation to lead by example and form new inclusive habits.  Successful builders of inclusive cultures have explored and utilised a variety of media and identified a hugely diverse array of embedding tools, events, follow up development and supporting materials. This is far from ‘Salami-slicing’ here and there, it is more a fundamental deconstruction of the salami in order to create something new and far more palatable all round.

For more information about embedding inclusive cultures effectively and efficiently, visit:


[1] Kotter, J. P. – ‘Leading Change’1996. Harvard Business School Press

[2] Inclusive Leadership: From Pioneer to Mainstream, 2011, Shapiro Consulting and Opportunity Now

[3] ‘Innovation, diversity and market growth’, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall & Laura Sherbin, Center for Talent Innovation, 2013.


[5] Duhigg C. The Power of Habit – 2012 Random House