The murder of George Floyd ignited a long-overdue movement. Sure some companies had previously prioritized creating a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Still, the truth is that most CEOs’ focus has been the bottom line, not an exemplary culture. Now it’s time for many companies to play catch up. While the customer has historically been the prerogative, leadership now needs to turn its attention inward. Employees will not tolerate management that doesn’t practice what they preach, and there were many promises made during the height Black Lives Matter movement. Consciousness has risen, and there must be accountability. What have these companies done to improve their practices in three months? What about in six? A year?
How does leadership transform their culture to reflect the world today? It’s not just about diversity in percent, but also at the executive level. It’s wonderful to hire diverse talent, but can they be retained? How are companies training and growing people of color and making sure they feel like an essential and intrinsic part of a company? How are they making sure their voices are heard?
Similar to turning the Titanic away from an iceberg, companies are headed to disaster if they don’t evolve. And just like Titanic, it’s not easy to shift the attitudes and mentalities of a large group unless tools are employed to do so.
Reframe is an enterprise software as a service technology company that helps companies build better employee experiences. Cofounded by Jeffrey L. Bowman, a 2x award-winning Wiley published author and former Madison Avenue advertising executive turned tech entrepreneur, Reframe aims to transform culture. Clients include Verizon, Restaurant Associates, Prudential, and MolsonCoors. Bowman has now joined forces with Elizabeth Harrison, cofounder, and CEO of award-winning integrated marketing communications firm: Harrison & Shriftman (H&S), to modernize corporate America to reflect the new America. The collaboration was created through a provocative co-authored White Paper titled “Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Will Not Be Enough To Save Corporate America.”
“Because of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, America and Corporate America are at a cultural crossroads,” said Bowman. “As People Leaders look to navigate the growing social climate and the ongoing racial inequalities, inequities, and micro-aggressions faced by the Black and Brown workforce, they are also faced with the growing challenges of managing employees remotely. CEOs now have the opportunity to reframe the workplace and close the cultural gap between Corporate America and America.”
Starting with their Cultural Maturity Model©, Reframe develops bespoke strategies (with software) to help close cultural gaps that span across the employee lifecycle. While DEI, is a strong focus, Reframe’s transformation is broader.
Some companies, like WW, led by President and CEO Mindy Grossman, are in a better place than others. WW believes in giving its employees a voice and making them feel that they are part of something much larger. Says Mindy Grossman, “I’ve been known to say that culture trumps strategy. That doesn’t mean that strategy is not important, but it is the culture that drives an inspired community and a culture that drives the strategy. When I joined WW, one of the first things I asked was how I could communicate with the entire company at once and was told that was not possible. I immediately knew we needed a solution that allowed me to speak to our employees and connect with one another. We launched Workplace from Facebook shortly thereafter which now plays a critical role in our culture as it allows everyone from every market, every role, and every level to connect and talk about anything ranging from business updates to their pets.”
Kim Seymour is the Chief People Officer at WW. After the murder of George Floyd, Kim posted a message on WW’s internal social media, Workplace, and her LinkedIn.: “I’m prepared for someone to be offended by this. I’m lucky that my leader is not one of them,” referring to Mindy Grossman. Clearly, Mindy’s leadership was commendable before Black Lives Matter, and I asked Kim to expand on this.
“Mindy has always been a champion of diversity and has advocated for diversity in every sense throughout her career. She understands that leaders that create an inclusive environment welcoming diversity will result in a more innovative organization with better long-term performance. Mindy is not afraid to be vulnerable and empathic. She understands that with the issues on social injustice and racism, building an even more diverse culture will help our business, but it takes action and change that is sustainable,” says Seymour.
Since Black Lives Matter, WW has taken specific steps to bolster its diversity and inclusion practices. Seymour says, “We are focused on accelerating our efforts and making a difference in this movement. When you know better, you do better.” A few highlights are listed below:
1. WW is taking direct action with donations to organizations that directly support Black communities’ lives and featuring Black-owned businesses in the WW Shop
2. Focusing on efforts to ensure the expansion of work already in progress internally to create a diverse, inclusive, educated and anti-racist environment for all employees
3. Zero tolerance for racism at WW, and they have made it a priority to cultivate a wellness community of diversity and inclusion. They are embedding “conscious inclusion” into the culture via training, speakers, and policy.
4. WW appointed an Inclusion + Diversity lead to help set strategy and direct efforts, including identifying a Black employee development program for career development, creating a Black advisory group to help guide brand and communication efforts, and being deliberate about interviewing for roles and putting diverse talent at the center of talent conversations.
Grossman adds, “It’s important to be straightforward about the reality of the situation and own it when you don’t have every answer. Employees always want to be treated with respect, and that is especially key right now. Get uncomfortable with conversations, listen to your employees, crowdsource. While this inequality is inherently systemic, and our actions cannot break down the system, we know that by making real change as an organization, we can help break down the systemic injustice little by little. We believe we have a true responsibility to play a role in doing so.”
Changing culture is not just the responsibility of management, though. Employees themselves need to be ready to do the work. Whitney Johnson is the CEO of WLJ Advisors and one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world, as named by Thinkers50. She is an expert on helping high-growth organizations develop high-growth individuals. An innovation and disruption theorist, she is the author of the bestselling Build an “A” Team: Play To Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve, and the critically-acclaimed Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.
Johnson advises that the way you become a high growth individual is you disrupt yourself over and over again. “The first accelerant of personal disruption is to take the right risks. Focus on what you’re going to create rather than how you will compete. It’s not to say there isn’t competition, but that becomes a data point and gives you information that helps you get better and faster for you to create.” She advises people to play where no one else is playing, double-down on their strengths, and not focus too much on what they don’t do well.
What not to do? According to Johnson, don’t be entitled. “One of the ways entitlement shows up is when we believe that we are better than or worse than other people. When you do that, you are treating people not as people but as objects. When you are competing, you can’t focus on what you’re creating.”
In this unprecedented time, Johnson advises that leaders be driven by discovery. “You need to take a step forward, gather feedback, and adapt. As a disruptor, you are playing where no one else has played. So you don’t know what it’s going to look like, you’re creating something.” Management right now needs to embrace this mentality, have a purpose, and be agile. “Disruption has happened and will continue to happen. We have control over whether we are going to drown in that disruption or surf the wave of disruption. The only way we can do this is to recognize that you are an agent. You can act and not be acted upon. You can act with others. If you disrupt yourself, you will be able to manage and even thrive through disruption.”
“Every time you introduce a new idea to someone wanting to change things, you are effectively saying, “I am about to jump to a brand new S-curve of learning, and I would like you to jump on that S-curve of learning as well. They are going to look at that and say, “Why would I do that? That is not my S-curve. That doesn’t look fun, and in fact, that looks kind of scary because I am going to have to give up the ideas I currently have. I am going to have to make space for your ideas inside my brain and heart. One of the things you must do to make your ideas less scary is to pack a parachute for them- provide experiences, provide data, so they feel invested, and try to jump to that new S-curve. Even better than getting them to jump to your S-curve is that you co-create and jump together,” states Johnson.
Grossman certainly lives this principle. “A corporation is made up of people. We are all human, and we must listen to each other from the top-down and bottom-up. Management needs to realize they HAVE to listen to the employees and not just pretend they know what they are thinking and feeling. Living in an ivory tower and trying to change the culture will not get you anywhere – if you don’t know what the culture is to begin with, there is no way to truly change it,” says Grossman.