You Can’t Strategize Your Way Out of an “Ism.”

Organizational Development, Policy, Systemic Racism
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You can’t strategize your way out of systemic racism, sexism, ageism, or any other “ism.” It’s 2022, and many organizations are still missing the mark on diversity, equity, and inclusion. While I do not advocate diving into the work without a well-thought-out plan, a strong strategy addresses more than outlining goals.

Over the last few years, I have seen a shift from people simply wanting training on DEI-related topics to organizations beginning to understand that there should be more concrete goals and metrics attached to the outcomes they are seeking. That gives me hope and is still absenting a critical piece of the puzzle.

In most organizational strategic plans, the focus is on creating a shared vision and understanding, prioritizing goals, establishing action steps, and in the best case scenario holding the team accountable throughout the implementation process. This process is intensive, time-consuming, involves multiple stakeholders, and the work can often take up a great deal of real estate in our heads.

We’ve thought about it at length, we developed a how complete with action plan and deadlines, and then we find ourselves wondering why things are not shifting in the ways we expected.

What is consistently missing from many of these efforts is a personal commitment.

We often speak about organizations as if they were living, breathing entities. We talk about the organization’s culture being toxic and needing inclusive practices when the brick and mortar building has no control over the dynamics playing out within its walls. We, the people, need to make personal shifts to achieve this ideal organizational culture we desire. We cannot expect organizational change without putting in the work of people development.

Instead of starting with the organizational “how,” there is an opportunity to focus on the “why.” Why you embrace the work is personal and remains critical to advancing efforts when the road ahead gets hard. We have a chance to ask ourselves, Why does embracing diverse, equitable, and inclusive practices matter to our organization, team, to me as the individual? You may find yourself approaching that answer from any number of different entry points – the business case, the moral imperative, or inter/intrapersonal gains and yet regardless of your response, having a clearly defined why can make a huge difference in your results.

Your defined “why” also builds a container for awareness. Fired up about your why, know that you want to do things differently to achieve a more equitable result?–this may be the time to start asking, What do I need to understand better to help move the needle forward? What could a greater understanding look like from a team perspective? In what ways would this ultimately impact our work?

Your ability to build a foundation on a solid why provides a fertile ground for continued growth. You can create a detailed, measurable, fully funded DEI plan, yet your people remain unchanged. Yes, the mandate of specific activities will create change in some aspects, but as soon as no one is watching, there is a leadership change, the budget falls apart, status quo makes its re-entry.

Sustainability begins to emerge with awareness and a personal “why” for the work. There are multiple drivers in what prompts individuals to get on board and take action, but make no mistake for organizations to change, so must we.

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