Since the George Floyd protests of 2020, many organizations have taken swift strides to redevelop their strategies for implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, or creating a DEI strategy for the first time altogether. Leaders may know they should have a DEI strategy but aren’t always confident in how to develop or implement one. Many in positions of promoting these values within their organizations may still find it difficult just to explain why DEI is even relevant to them.
Figuring out how to best implement a DEI strategy will look different for every organization, but discovering the “why” that ultimately achieves buy-in tends to be consistent across the board. The first thing leaders must do is take a firm look at their organization to identify its core values. If leaders can’t articulate their organization’s core values in general, they will struggle to explain how DEI fits into their existing culture.
Defining core values
In his book, The Advantage, an influential guide on organizational health, author Patrick Lencioni defines core values as those few behavioral traits that are inherent to the organization. They are at the heart of the company’s identity and don’t change over time.
From this starting point, he then draws distinctions between a company’s core values and several others:
- Aspirational values. Those characteristics that organizations hope to have, but haven’t necessarily achieved consistently
- Accidental values. Behaviors developed over time in response to daily pressures but without any intention or strategy
- Permission-to-play values. Expectations and requirements put upon companies in order to function, usually by government agencies, regulators, or other external authority figures
In comparison to these other types of values, then, core values are intentional and strategic. They build toward a bigger purpose within the organizational culture beyond achieving profits or meeting shareholder expectations. Core values inform not only how employees should behave, but also how they should not behave. They help set boundaries and standards pointed toward excellence. Lencioni says organizations find their core values when they can identify those aspects of their culture for which they are willing to be punished—values over which they would rather lose customers than compromise.
So, how would you describe the core values of your own organization or current workplace? Not the beliefs and behaviors your organization hopes to embody, but the things that actually motivate your people, either positively or negatively. When was the last time your leadership team had a meaningful conversation about core values? How are those then communicated consistently throughout your company?
Core values and DEI
Core values are not just encouraged but expected, and that’s true at all levels of the organization. When people talk about wanting to see DEI integrated throughout an entire organization, they’re often hoping to see a similar level of commitment.
Once implemented, an effective DEI strategy would introduce a level of accountability for everyone at all levels of the organization to step up and play their part. All employees, regardless of title or role, should be able to see themselves in the strategy and know what’s expected of them.
Professional development might be part of that strategy, along with conflict resolution, annual goal setting, and regular reviews of policy and practices. Senior leaders would prioritize the training programs and company hours necessary to educate the team on the new strategy, along with additional time to overcome roadblocks. Finally, leaders would identify and address any perceived losses they might incur as a result of investing in the DEI strategy in pursuit of its potential benefits. As Lencioni writes, DEI here would become a value for which the organization is willing to be punished.
It’s possible that your organization hasn’t yet identified its core values. If that’s the case, beginning a conversation about them could be incredibly beneficial. If you’re interested in beginning or expanding your strategic DEI efforts, you need to be conscious of how your organization lives out its values in general. It’s easier to explain how diversity should inform hiring, pay equity, and conflict resolution if you can break down to your co-workers how those practices are already informed by other values such as integrity, teamwork, or a sincere concern for others.
While DEI initiatives have many measurable benefits, including higher job performance and lower turnover rates, they must be values-driven in order for them to be sustainable. Diversity is about people. Inclusion is about making those people feel valued, engaged, and part of a meaningful shared purpose. Equity is about removing systemic and cultural barriers that keep people from being included. And so in many ways, the decision to implement a DEI strategy is all about amplifying your care for the people that you already have.
It’s hard to increase how much you care if your only motive is profit or efficiency. Instead, find those values that are at the core of your organization’s mission. Then, consider how diversity, equity, and inclusion can be infused or enriched within that culture. It will become much easier to explain why your company does value DEI, and much more strategically effective when implemented consistently over time.