Key Elements to Consider When Doing Culture Change Work
I recently read Brian McComak’s blog, “A Human-Centered Approach to Culture Change,” where he shares some guiding principles for Hummingbird Humanity’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work and some key challenges with DEI work. In this response blog, I focus on the following three key areas:
- How my work experiences in corporate functions gave me the insights, tools, and skills to best understand my clients and inform my approach while offering realistic solutions and improvements.
- My take on some of the challenges with DEI work that Brian mentions in his blog.
- How the Hummingbird Way allows me to think freely and creatively and enables me to show up as my authentic self.
I spent the first seven years of my career in corporate functions, and I know for sure that I would not have been able to be an effective, knowledgeable, and strategic DEI practitioner had I not held those positions and sat in those seats.
The exposure to corporate life – the systems, structures, processes, team dynamics, etc. and the insights I drew were invaluable. It is crucial to understand how an organization’s systems operate and its impact on employees. I have personally experienced what I have heard from many employees related to the lack of transparency, feeling unheard, working with challenging managers who sometimes lack the emotional intelligence to lead in a human-centered way, experiencing microaggressions, and overwhelming stress. It helps me to understand deeply what employees go through, how they feel, and the downstream impact on their well-being and productivity at work.
As a DEI Consultant, I am responsible for building the bridge between employee experiences and leaders’ understanding of the perception of their leadership style and behaviors, so they can make well-informed decisions considering perspectives they may not have had.
I’ve witnessed several challenges with DEI work as a consultant for the past 3.5 years. Here is my take on some of the challenges with DEI work:
- Understanding where the knowledge, skills, and abilities gap exists between HR professionals and DEI practitioners creates an opportunity for them to partner and learn from each other and build a more effective DEI strategy. Similarly, providing the support, training, and tools needed for Inclusion Councils/Committees and ERG leaders to roll out initiatives is crucial to their success.
- There is a perception that DEI work means increasing representation, specifically gender and ethnic representation, in leadership positions. I agree with Brian’s point on expanding the focus on other underrepresented individuals in organizations. Some other considerations are personality types (introverted, extroverted, etc.), learning and working styles, most effective work environments etc., which are beneath the surface and take some intentionality to learn.
- Giving ERT (Energy, Resources, and Time) to DEI work sends the message to employees that DEI work is essential and necessary and that leaders are committed to growth and change. I often see organizations run into roadblocks of limited resources and time and become discouraged and overwhelmed with the work. Determining what is a realistic approach to action on and taking it one step at a time will help manage expectations.
- Wanting to see results for your work sooner rather than later is a very common (and human) expectation. However, DEI work isn’t magic – impactful change happens over time with daily interactions. Thinking you should see results quickly in an organization’s team dynamics, value systems, and leadership style is unrealistic and can lead to short-term fixes that are unlikely to last in the long term.
- There is a misconception that people from marginalized backgrounds have more knowledge on DEI topics and, therefore, should be a spokesperson or educator on all things DEI. Be sensitive to the information asked of those individuals while taking it upon yourself to do your own research and learning.
- Everyone can participate in this work, and it does take all of us as participants to see real change. If you are committed to creating change and making workplaces more kind, welcoming, and inclusive, determining what privileges you may have and how you can use those privileges to help others is a first step. You can also start to communicate and push back on the ways we’ve been conditioned to believe a workplace should function.
- As Brian mentions, activism and implementing change get confused often. Having a passion for DEI work is honorable, but real change happens when action is taken. Many people feel strong emotions behind creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace but may lack the capacity, time, and skillset to execute on creating change. Determining what you can do and acting on them will turn an activist into a change agent.
I’ve worked as a consultant with Hummingbird Humanity for almost a year. As I read through some guiding principles from The Hummingbird Way, I reflected on my experiences, what I’ve learned, and how I feel when partnering with my colleagues and serving clients. Here is my take on some of those guiding principles:
- One of the first guiding principles Brian mentions involves trust. What I’ve found during my time at Hummingbird Humanity is the trust, authenticity, and openness of my teammates and the leadership team. Having creative freedom and trust in my abilities allows me to deliver quality work that’s thoughtful, extensive, and tailored for each client based on their needs and resources. When trust is strong internally, it sets the stage for a trusting relationship to be built with the clients we serve.
- We use a combination of approaches that are rooted in compassion and empathy and that recognize the humanity of an organization’s team when partnering with clients to assess culture, develop recommendations, and build strategic roadmaps for long-term growth and change.
- We start each assessment by listening to employees’ experiences, determining how to amplify their voices, and then use that information to create customized solutions that best suit each client’s needs.
- When sharing sensitive information gathered from employees with leaders, there is grace in the delivery while using change management frameworks to ensure consistency and reliability in the analysis.
- DEI work affects everything from social impact, well-being, and communications to learning and development, talent acquisition, career mobility, etc. I can rely on both my lived experiences as well as relevant work experience to understand the impact on these areas when doing DEI work.
- Practicing what we preach – showing each other respect, kindness, and trust are all values demonstrated by the leadership and my colleagues at Hummingbird Humanity.
- Amplifying the voices of the unheard is the mission at Hummingbird. The team is given an opportunity to share their thoughts, perspectives, and experiences through response blogs, speaker series’, internal communication loops, and other platforms – developing skillsets, building confidence, and spreading awareness.
I hope the insights from some key challenges with DEI work and Hummingbird’s guiding principles offer some perspectives you may not have considered before. The most important thing to keep in mind is that change takes time. Determine what you can do today, then tomorrow, and the day after that. 🙂
she / her
Samantha Singh is a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) consultant, facilitator and strategic partner who has built a career in a variety of roles and industries for over a decade. She helps organizations strategically navigate through change, develops programs and initiatives focused on incorporating inclusion into processes and systems and creates customized solutions to best fit the organization’s needs.
We want to engage in this conversation with you! Follow us on LinkedIn and let us know your thoughts on the discussion.