Be it telecommunications, transportation, public management, government, non-profits, technology services or e-commerce, there is one challenge common to all sectors: the last mile challenge. Simply put – it is the actions taken that enable the delivery of goods or services to the final destination or to the final consumers/beneficiaries.
When viewed from the lens of Diversity, I believe we are at a stage where organizations are facing “Diversity’s Last Mile Challenge”. While there is an increase in corporate leaders, entrepreneurs , government agencies, fortune 500 corporations as well as startups who are talking about diversity while also implementing diversity policies-strategy, developing diversity training and so on so forth – yet the diversity gap still remains and is very real. One of the most significant factors is the phenomena of Diversity’s last mile challenge.
Diversity’s last mile challenge is the gap that exists between the broad stroked strategies, policies, thought leadership and conversations taking place amongst the leadership/executive teams versus where the majority of the day to operations and minutiae of organizational work and/or production takes place i.e. the middle and lower rung workers, teams and managers.
To address this gap, here are some common last mile challenges that organizations should consider as they ramp up their diversity initiatives:
- Delays in delivery
- Are the policies and strategies decided by the top rung being communicated in a timely and effective manner amongst all your employees?
- Misaligned vision mission and goals
- Are the overarching vision, mission and goals of the organization in sync with individual employee goals?
- Distance between the employees and leadership
- Are the leadership and executive teams approachable and open to their employees?
- Consistent implementation
- Are organizational policies being implemented in a consistent manner across the all business units and teams?
- Bottom up transmission
- Do you actively encourage employee opinions/insights and allow these insights to inform your diversity initiatives?
We all know in some format what a multi stakeholder process looks like; without going into the theory of it, in essence the end goal of this process is it promote better decision making by ensuring that the views of the main actors concerned about a particular decision are heard and integrated at all stages through dialogue and consensus building. This is the UN perspective on it and admittedly one that I am partial towards.
That said, having wrangled together a few multi stakeholder processes, here are a few tools that I have used and found beneficial-
- Draft out a vision board
- Map out your goal – know who the actors are, where they come from and what is the solution you are collectively trying to achieve? This is your basic reference point and you should leverage it as a reference point of check and balance.
- Provide the answer first
- Unless specifically requested, most actors/decision makers don’t have the time to understand the nuts and bolts of everything. When communicating, work backwards, start with the proposed solution first and then, if necessary provide a fuller context and analysis.
- Resist the urge to delve into long explanations
- You have worked hard, you know the lay of the land and you want to provide all your knowledge and information to the folks whom you are working with – resist that urge. Remember your worth and acumen is not being measured by how many pages of graphs you can produce but how succinctly you can take a complex issue and provide an easy and accessible solution for it.
- Be ready to let go of what is not important
- As you navigate an array of actors from diverse backgrounds and hierarchies -not everyone will like your method or your solution. You will be criticized, perhaps even disliked during the process – known without a doubt its not personal. Know what your non-negotiables are and be willing to let go of what is not important.
- Know the distinction between important vs.critical
- As you negotiate this process, if you remember nothing else – just remember the difference between what is important vs. what is critical. In complex negotiations there will be a volley of ‘important’ things that will be thrown at you [documents, decisions, people, emotions, process etc.] – always vet out the critical from the important.
While I was spinning away at my soul cycle class, the combination of loud hip hop and motivational words led to honing in on two concepts that can make for a better organizational culture.
- Embrace your authentic yourself
- Every team or department has a unique identity and and value proposition. Healthy organizations enable teams to define themselves, embrace their identity and establish their space within the intra organizational dynamic.
- Set your intent
- Be it a short term project or long term strategy, setting the intent at the onset establishes the essential road map to be followed. The simple act of enabling groups to set their overarching purpose for what ever task they are taking on, sets the tone for purposeful action. Mindful organizations know the significance of this act and the results it yields.
Depending on your organizations capacity, at some point you probably already have or will develop a ‘diversity policy’ or a ‘diversity program’ or hired a consultant to conduct a ‘diversity workshop’. While viewed within the typical framework this is a step forward, but from an organizational perspective, what does that really mean?
A useful tool, is to view diversity from the lens of structure and behavior and how they interface . Here is a roadmap to understand this better –
- Structure impacts the infrastructure whereas behavior impacts the action
- Organizations can tackle diversity by developing frameworks e.g. policies, programs, HR best practices, legal agreements that are inclusive and are ‘designed’ to ideally encourage diversity. But – that is only one aspect. The other aspect is behavior – behavior resulting in actual actions. Diversity in behavior is what an organization does at the grass root level, amongst the ranks on a daily basis to enable behavior which results in actions that are inclusive.
- Structure flows top down whereas behavior moves from bottom up
- A structured approach including frameworks, processes, policies and the like tends to originate from the leadership and executive management – it is top down. The leadership sets the parameters for dealing with diversity and develops the channels to flow down this information. Behavior on the other focusses on the dialogue and the conversations that take place within the employees cohort and NOT just the leadership team or executive management. When an organization encourages employees at large to engage with and address the ‘idea’ of diversity, behavior starts changing resulting in actions that can flow from the bottom up.
- Structure focusses on the tangible whereas behavior consists of intangible
- Structures designed to encourage diversity are clearly laid out. They are tangible, quantifiable and readily recognizable. They lay out a roadmap, which if followed should result in success. A change in behavior on the other hand is organic – there are no clear pathways or easily quantifiable tangibles – that is where an organizations efforts to engage and interact with their employees in various formats can yield rich dividends.
Both structure and behavior share a symbiotic relationship. One needs the other and careful attention needs to be paid to both in order to find the right balance.
I was at a concert by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the sarod maestro this Saturday. Besides the beautiful music, I was intrigued by the interaction that he had with his tabla players and his sons who are also accomplished sarod players (Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan). The dynamic interplay between each of the parties and their production as a group, led to honing in on 5 key concepts that are essential for organizational growth –
- Recognize the value of teams
- In any organization, there tend to be some teams that are given more significance than others. For eg – in companies offering a product or service, the sales and marketing team tends to be at the forefront and garner appreciation versus others such as legal or operations. Yet the end result of success is a cumulative effort of each of the teams working together – so remember to recognize the value that each team brings to the table.
- During the concert the maestro took breaks to show case the talents of each of his tabla player, even though he was the star of the show and did not need to.
- Harmony amongst moving parts
- In music and in life the most successful and beautiful productions are those where the moving parts work together seamlessly with harmony. Instead of creating insular silos and teams where competition can be negative, encourage an open harmonious environment where there is an exchange of ideas and information.
- The whole concert from beginning to end was seamless. It was clear that at various points there were different parts in play, but each player during the concert supported and showed generosity towards all the other musicians in order to achieve the attend goal – beautiful sound.
- Be fair
- Praise is easy, but being fair in action to all teams and individual team members is hard. Fairness strikes at the heart of organizational balance and growth – the belief that at work, people will be treated with fairness based on just standards and there will be no bias, is a highly motivating force. Fairness, equity, justice – these are all foundational values that we as individuals seek out and instinctively respond to.
- During the concert, the ustad/maestro was fair with the time attention and praise that he gave to his sons as well as to the table players. The result was that both parties were happy and the tabla players as well as his sons were motivated to give their best because they were treated fairly based on their performance.
- Show respect
- Respect is another key human value that has a significant impact on how people view themselves and their work environment. Organizations that encourage their employees to treat each other with respect and consideration are developing a resilient organizational foundation that can withstand disruption and stressors.
- Through out the concert, including the breaks, all the players and the maestro were consistently respectful and considerate of each other. This simple behavior was reflected in the cohesive and amicable manner in which the group interacted with each other.
- Train leaders
- Most often management and executive team leadership by default tend to nurture those lower in the ranks to be good workers. There exists a system of rewards, checks and balances that encourages the mind frame of a worker but not a leader. For your organization to succeed your management has to consciously make an effort to imbibe leadership skills in their employees from day one.
- It was obvious during the concert that the maestros goal was not to take the lead and be the center of the attention. To the contrary at various points of time during the concert, each of the players took the center stage individually and led the group though a musical piece.
I was in Berlin October 22 to October 24 attending the Berliner Gazette UN I COMMONS Conference, where I was a guest speaker at the ‘Big Data in our hands’ panel. it was a jam packed but exciting two days exploring alternative perspectives on data governance, digital commons, digital good, online inclusion and diversity. Here is a brief note about my panel from Berliner itself-
BIG DATA IN OUR HANDS?
Big data is rarely seen as a phenomenon of co-production although more than 75% of the data constituting our digital universe is co-produced by us, the people, in the course of our daily (digital) lives. So, how do we turn big data into our digital commons? The workshop “Big Data In Our Hands?” discusses a position paper being collaboratively developed by Berliner Gazette for transforming the administration and control of big data away from large corporations like Google or government bodies like the NSA and towards common and public institutions.
On August 18th, 2015 the International Young Leaders Assembly was held at the United Nations. The focus of the conversation was on empowering and inspiring young leaders in their respective fields, to impact local communities and embrace the value of being an ethical leader driven by a strong moral compass and innovation.
The common themes that resonated amongst all the speakers were-
- A focus on the youth as agents of change
- The need to develop moral values that serve as the ethical framework for sustainable decision making
- A call to organizations to invest in ‘youth leadership capacity building’
- Promoting inclusion, accountability and viewing these concepts from social justice framework
- Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation at all levels amongst youth
- Encouraging young leaders to forge connections
This conversation was pertinent because it comes at a point when the population of young people (between the ages of 10 and 24) has reached 1.8 billion as of 2014 and is the fastest growing age demographic. The majority of young people live in developing countries and the immediate issues assailing them are fundamental, such as – education, employment, hunger, health and drug abuse. Young leaders as change makers bring a resilient, dynamic and innovative perspective on how to handle deep rooted traditional problems – empowering not only themselves but their peers and local communities to address challenges head on.
The dialogue with IYLA and the UN is a step towards developing an increased awareness on the issues that assail this age bracket; there is an urgent need for governments, international agencies, corporations and other civic bodies to collaborate towards the development of effective policies, programs and commensurate implementation strategies that can provide the impetus that youth development and leadership needs.