Leaders are facing a growing urgency to understand how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) will affect changes throughout all organizational systems.
Last spring, we looked on in horror as flames engulfed a street in an urban neighborhood in Minneapolis. George Floyd's death and the racial unrest that followed sparked feelings of hopelessness and anxiety around the nation. Buildings burned as the pandemic and generations of social injustice collided in America's heartland.
It's difficult to fully understand the long-term impact these events will have on the business world, but swift responses from many companies provide a great deal of hope for the future. There's no doubt that the racial unrest and the subsequent increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) — combined with the workplace disruptions that were already underway due to the COVID-19 pandemic — have created a powerful moment that will redefine change management in American business.
Human resources and C-suite leaders are grappling with how to most effectively incorporate DEI efforts into their tactical approach over the long term. That dynamic is wreaking havoc on change management strategies for companies of all sizes. Change management is an important discipline for leaders to consider during periods of relative calm, but the necessity of artful transition has been magnified by the much-needed focus on DEI. Business case studies are littered with countless examples of major companies that struggled to successfully navigate change. A fundamental tenet of the science is defined by gaining consensus through early communication of major directional shifts. Companies have quickly discovered that the old methods are no longer effective in this period of the "new normal." This rapid shift, coupled with a growing focus on social justice issues, has sent a clear message: Leaders who ignore DEI in their change management strategies are destined to fail.
A communications strategy is often key to success when developing change management plans. Building a coalition of key leaders and influencers in an organization is one of the first steps to a successful implementation. That has become more difficult to accomplish with most teams working remotely. Many companies have now experienced a full year of onboarding remote employees. For many, this environment has created new barriers in their quest to incorporate more inclusive strategies into their change management practices.
In order to elevate more diverse voices, companies will need to work harder by creating authentic trust and a culture of transparency. In a recent interview on the Twin Cities Wellness Collective podcast, Minneapolis-based leadership development coach Pam Ryan pointed out some simple but effective techniques to build trust in the world of remote work, including checking in with your people, noticing something they are doing well and providing feedback. This advice illustrates how the future of change management means taking no interaction for granted. Leaders will overcome the problematic barriers to trust-building by using simple yet proven strategies to unite teams.
Understanding how to successfully merge DEI and change management strategies could initially prove to be complicated but will undoubtedly be worth the effort. Having a more diverse set of voices that shape future changes for companies can provide a more equitable and inclusive environment that so many marginalized groups have been searching for. Decades of effective change management strategies have already been based around the idea that success is driven by the inclusion of key leadership voices early in the transition. The historical problem is that far too often, those voices were predominantly male and white. Now is the time to make real progress by expanding the circles of change management influence to be more inclusive of other voices. The months ahead are almost guaranteed to bring significant transition. The only question that remains is which companies will break apart the old systems, integrate more diverse voices, and lead more equitable and inclusive changes in the business world during the year ahead.