“What goes on in the launch party, stays in the launch party”

unconcious-biasLike the infamous stag weekends, many organisational culture change programmes seem to have unwittingly adopted a similar theme and “what goes on in the launch party…” well frankly, just seems to go no further. Once the initial expensive launches and training are over, momentum gets lost, the extremely valid (and valuable) objectives of the change programme gets left at the party and people just go about things as they did before. This is particularly true of culture change programmes and especially true when building inclusive cultures and developing Unconscious Bias awareness across global organisations.

This is less about the issue that the change objectives get ‘left at the party’ and much more to do with what and how to tell everybody ‘what went on at the party’ and how to get them involved in what’s going on!  We have known for many years about the need to ‘win hearts and minds’ in change programmes.  Kurt Lewin wrote about the needs to reinforce change in the early 60s:

“A change towards a higher level of group performance is frequently short-lived, after a shot in the arm, group life soon returns to the previous level. This indicates that it does not suffice to define the objective of planned change in group performance as the reaching of a different level. Permanency of the new level, or permanency for a desired period, should be included in the objective.”

Kurt Lewin, “Frontiers of Group Dynamics”,
Human Relations, Volume 1, pp. 5-41

John Kotter, in his ‘Eight Stage Change Process’ (Kotter, 1996) refers to developing vision, communicating, empowering, generating wins and consolidating.  Of course, both were relevant 50 and 20 years ago and we should not underestimate their relevance now, in building Unconscious Bias awareness and generating the business successes that inclusive environments bring.

Programmes that aim, through Unconscious Bias awareness, to build truly inclusive cultures will stand or fall depending upon the mind sets and practises that are developed by individuals across organisations.  Through our work across the globe, we have found that success or failure of culture change programmes depends upon whether people adopt an approach that we refer to as ‘commitment’, or one that we have called ‘compliance’. When people adopt ‘commitment’ as their approach, the difference is seen in talent development, innovation, continuous improvement and, fundamentally, in the bottom line.

The inclusive leaders’ role in supporting real commitment is critical. If simple compliance becomes the adopted approach, then people may pay no more than ‘lip service’, saying that they recognise the value of diversity whilst citing some nominal evidence. They may see diversity as something that they need or have to do.  At best, some will be working hard, focusing on policies, process and structures, trying to improve statistics.  Some statistics may improve but generally they are rarely reflected throughout the organisation or in terms of which talent progresses, which is retained and which is lost to competitors. The result is a perpetuation of narrowing retrospective thinking and outcomes that show little or no change at all and, for all the cost and ‘Ra Ra’ of the ‘launch party’; add little value to the business. We have called this approach ‘compliance with the process.’

If the mind-sets and practises adopted in the organisation focus more on ‘commitment’, individuals see the purpose of maximising the benefits of diversity through inclusion. Equally, they recognise our natural and unconscious propensity towards affinity and so to exclude difference and they see that in order to truly engage difference and maximise talent, we need to continuously build awareness of and manage our unconscious choices and behaviours. Individuals who demonstrate the mind set of ‘commitment’ seek to develop deep personal bias awareness in themselves and others and work hard at creating working environments where subjectivity, assumption, perceptions and beliefs are discussed openly. Perceptual barriers are overcome and the root of exclusive behaviour is recognised and managed so that talent, in all its forms, can be engaged and nurtured.  A mind-set focused on ‘commitment’ works hard to include difference by countering our naturally exclusive tendencies, resulting in greater diversity of opinion, continuous improvement and innovation. It is now widely recognised that the benefits of such diverse talent progressing through organisations adds significant value to the business and can make significant percentage difference to the bottom line.  We have called this approach ‘commitment to the purpose’

So how do we tell everybody ‘what went on at the party’ and how to get them involved in what’s going on?  Well, we do just that. The first thing is who you tell and involve: The key is the use of a multi- pronged approach and a variety of media that; truly engages the C suite and senior leaders to lead from the top, empowers leaders throughout the organisation to lead by example and engages operational employees in its value and what’s in it for them.  The second and most powerful element is how you continue the ‘fun’ after the ‘party’: The key here is to construct a hugely diverse array of embedding tools, events, follow up development and supporting materials that are programmed to:

  • Build and embed understanding of Unconscious Bias and inclusion in the workplace
  • Develop acknowledgement and acceptance of bias and drive the need for inclusion
  • Support and enable recognition of personal beliefs and biases
  • Promote questioning and actions to manage organisational biases that inhibit progression
  • Builds capacity for inclusive behaviour and approaches
  • Maximises the benefits of difference and produces high performance results

We know though, from our research and work with global organisations, that this is not enough. Whilst planning and utilising diverse embedding tools is the right thing to do, we also know that at any stage of development, individuals and whole organisations can slide from ‘commitment’ back to simple ‘compliance’.  This is why a third and critical element is required: Each organisation needs to identify the triggers and circumstances that will drive movement to ‘compliance’ and develop actions to mitigate the risks.  This is different for every organisation but an essential element in building ‘commitment’ focused mind-sets and in driving a successful change to a culture that engages and enables talent in all its divers forms and that yield the benefits of difference.

For more information of embedding Unconscious Bias to develop an inclusive culture click here.