“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”
— James Humes, author and Presidential Speechwriter
Today’s executives are being asked to communicate their organization’s diversity and inclusion strategy to more diverse audiences and in a variety of cultural settings. The key to success is to properly brief your executive beforehand and ensure that they are comfortable with the content, see the business relevance of diversity and inclusion and feel that they can deliver a powerful and motivational message.
While working with C-suite and senior-level executives over the years, I’ve encountered plenty of style and personality differences, as well as varying degrees of business priorities, engagement, cultural concerns and acumen. When it comes to communicating corporate diversity and inclusion strategies, several consistent themes emerge.
Executives crave to:
- Be seen as the leader of the initiative
- Be in control and understood
- Appear genuine and sincere and
- Always be allowed to “shine”
If you can make these things happen for the executives you support, you can become an integral member of their inner circle.
Here are some tips you may want to consider when trying to accomplish these goals.
Building the foundation:
Before you go into an executive’s office with a diversity and inclusion communication plan or briefing points, step back and assess your current relationship with this person. Ask yourself these four important questions:
- Do you know the executive’s current business objectives and priorities? How can getting the organization to embrace diversity and inclusion help the executive achieve these objectives?
- What is the executive’s “appetite” for diversity and inclusion and his or her communications style preferences? How can you help him or her weave these themes in in a way that is genuine and that improves the message?
- Have you previously demonstrated your skill as a diversity and inclusion subject matter expert? If not, what are the two or three proof points you can share by way of background early in the conversation to solidify your position as the SME?
- Do they understand the who, what, where, when, and how of the diversity and inclusion strategy? If not, develop a one-pager that gives the highlights and focuses on the benefit to the executive and to the business.
To ensure your relationship with the executive has a solid foundation for your relationship, I recommend setting up an introductory meeting to discuss:
- The business case
- What success looks like
- The significance to the company, and
- How the executive will take the lead to voice his or her support of the work
The idea is for each of you to walk away with a better understanding of the other person’s diversity and inclusion goals, answer any questions, and for you to discern how to add value to the diversity and inclusion message by leveraging the strengths of your executive.
Developing the Communication:
A successful diversity and inclusion initiative needs to have the united support of the top leaders of the organization. It is vital to have them all speaking from the same script and using the same words to make the D&I message consistent, sustainable and meaningful to all employees.
If employees hear different D&I messages from different leaders, employees will not feel that the leadership is united and committed to the initiative and it loses credibility.
One way to ensure everyone is on the same page is to provide your executives with a thorough briefing and outline of what you agree each employee should Know, Feel and Do.
In other words, what do you want employees to take away from the message conveyed by their leaders? This will set the stage for cascading subsequent messages, goals and tactics needed for D&I to be successfully embedded in the organization’s culture.
Below is an example of a briefing outline that I have used when crafting diversity and inclusion messages for senior leaders. As I mentioned, it is important to know beforehand the business priorities of your leaders and then to develop your diversity messages around those priorities so that they sound familiar to what employees have already heard and that the D&I message is not standing alone without support.
In other words, you want your D&I messages to facilitate business outcomes vs. be perceived as a stand-alone effort du jour.
Executive Communication Briefing Outline:
Based on your experience and relationship with your key executives you can either sit down and discuss these questions with them or prepare the answers to these in advance for their review and feedback.
Define Diversity & Inclusion and why it is critical to propel our business strategy?
- The D&I message and strategy needs to be aligned with business goals.
- Why are we doing this now and what results do we expect?
- Outline the expectations we have for our leaders. Our employees. Our vendors. Our other stakeholders.
What are we measuring short-term and long-term?
- Where are we today? Where do we need to go next?
- Give tangible examples for our managers and employees of what success looks like and what it takes to get there.
As an organization doing business in a diverse world, a D&I strategy is imperative:
- Our multiple perspectives will help us compete in the marketplace because we will better reflect our diverse customers, consumers, partners and suppliers.
- A combination of a workforce with diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives along with an inclusive workplace that fosters creativity and fuels innovation are key business necessities and drivers.
We need a common language to make it easy to talk about diversity and inclusion.
- Set the specific definitions of what your organization means by diversity, inclusion, respect, differences between EEO and Affirmative Action and diversity.
- Encourage processes for calling out opportunities for change and also for encouraging what’s right and reward positive behaviors.
- As individuals, we will bring more to the workplace and contribute more to our company if we can bring our whole self to work every day.
(If your organization has Employee Resource Groups)
- Encourage active participation and support by senior leadership
- Our next generation of leaders are being developed in these groups, seek them out and encourage their development.
- Allow these groups to tackle current business challenges and priorities and allow them to bring their perspectives to the issues.
Executive’s expectations of leaders
- Partner with HR to make sure we are considering diverse candidates.
- Identify opportunities for female and minority leadership and development within your teams.
- Add D&I as a discussion point to every team meeting agenda
- Lead by taking action and being seen as a role model
- Develop individual D&I Action Plans of what you will accomplish with your team.
By crafting these briefing points into a strong, concerted message for your executives you not only signal support from the top of the organization for your diversity and inclusion programs to your employees, you also allow your senior executives to take a personal and active interest in overseeing and guiding the success of diversity and inclusion under their watch.