We’re already a month into 2021, but for many of us, trauma and struggle loom. And to make matters worse, we now have to reckon with the next imminent shifts: transitioning out of our work-from-home lifestyle, sending our kids back to school, preparing for daily commutes, all while continuing to change our organizational cultures as we had committed to in 2020. It seems to never stop.

Sometime right after the “all in this together,” “new normal” phase of the pandemic, the slogan “Build Back Better” crept into the mix. The phrase has been around since 2015, when Japan presented it to the United Nations as part of a holistic recovery and resilience-building strategy. Since then it has resurged, and it has been attached to other disaster recovery efforts including storms and political turmoil in Haiti. I have been presented with questions around how organizations can “build ‘culture’ back better.” How can your company build a ‘foolproof’ culture of belonging? My answer is always the same. It starts with awareness, which evolves into tiny actions, and then those conglomerate actions lead to a new structure. The sum of those structures leads to a new system. A renewed culture.

But every new step feels like a big one as pesky “culture culprits” constantly get in the way of our success. What exactly are these “culture culprits?” How are they blocking your efforts to create a culture of belonging?

In this blog post, I will discuss the three that I see most often amongst my clients.

  1. Culture Culprit #1: Your Organizational Priorities are Out of Balance

Whether you’ve consciously thought about it or not, your organization has a hierarchy of priorities. When decisions are being made, certain things rise to the top while others entirely fall off the list. For many companies, the ultimate  “north star” is putting revenue first. This typically means that clients come first, no matter what, and the reality is that some clients may not share the same values as your organization. This leads to employee burnout and the worst culprit of all, imbalanced priorities. Anything related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion or Belonging (DEIB) quickly falls to the bottom of the list.

Ask yourself:

  • Do your employees have the “permission” to balance DEIB with other business priorities?
  • Are they encouraged to embody your organization’s values both in and outside the organization?
  • Are they encouraged to take care of themselves during tough times?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your organization’s priorities may be imbalanced.

  1. Culture Culprit #2: You are “winging it” with no structures in place

Well-established structures are a must when building a culture of belonging. Structures don’t pop out of thin air; they take consistent time, resources and effort. If the people who are leading your culture efforts are “whoever has the time to do it,” then your organization is lacking the structures it needs to build ‘culture’ back better. Herein lies the problem: are you really going to leave it to your least-busy hiring manager to act without bias and consider diversity in their hiring decisions—while they’re winging it? Are you going to allow your DEIB task force to be made up of your “least busy” employees? Sounds pretty scary to me.

It takes patience and experience to build effective, resilient structures, and they usually don’t begin with an executive decision. They begin with keen awareness and acceptance around the vast time and resources that are truly needed.

For example, let’s say you want to hire more diverse candidates. “Winging” the hiring process would involve firing off some targeted ads on LinkedIn. But a structured approach might involve creating a standing selection committee to hire for that position across all departments. Every interviewer would be trained on their objectives, and each person on the team would be held responsible for continuous improvement. And let me add that this structure would include some of your best recruiters, not just those who “have extra time” and/or “are passionate about the topic.”

  1. Culture Culprit #3: Your organization lacks a common language 

If your company has no common language for talking about diversity, equity and inclusion goals, your efforts are more likely to fizzle out. By language, I mean specific terms and definitions. “Diverse teams” can and does mean a lot of different things to different people, so you need to be explicit about your intentions and the steps you are going to take.

How are you defining “diverse?”

How does “anti-racism” fit in?

How do equity, inclusion and belonging come into play?

Getting your whole team on board with these discussions is critical to make effective change. Your leadership can do a lot of talking about DEIB, but you won’t know it’s having an effect until you hear everyone using the same terms.

As I’ve told many of my clients, it’s not a matter of one single solution that will bring your company up to speed with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. It has to be built into everything else, including your people, structures and systems. But you can only take one step at a time, and no culture is ever really finished with this work.

In the next couple of months, I’ll go over some specific actions you can take to Build ‘Culture’ Back Better once you have confronted these culture culprits. But if you’re looking for a specific place to get started, take this DEI Diagnostic to see where your most urgent needs are.

LaTonya Wilkins, ACC, is an ICF-credentialed empowerment and executive coach, global culture leader, and keynote speaker. LaTonya inspires her clients to think beyond training to create real change in organizations. To subscribe to the LaTonya’s blog, click here.  You can learn more about LaTonya at changecoaches.io.

In this month’s blog, I’m sharing three ‘common culture’ culprits that may be getting in the way of you building a culture of belonging. In sum, the top three:

  1. Your organizational priorities are out of balance.
  2. You are “winging it” with no structures in place
  3. Your organization lacks a common language.

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