October 28th, 2020
EPISODE 7: Talking Modern DE&I with T-Mobile’s Holli Martinez
Holli Martinez leads the DE&I efforts at T-Mobile, and she’s on a mission—to make DE&I not just a priority, but a reality. This week on Your Brain at Work, Holli joins NLI’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion Ester Neznanova to discuss the pressing need for DE&I strategies that truly shift behaviors, they explore the power of culture, and they explain how organizations should approach creating lasting change in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Can you hear me now? Hey, is this thing on? Do you feel heard? Do you feel included? Valued? Engaged? These are the type of questions they’re asking at T-Mobile who is in the process of creating a culture where diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded in the priorities, habits and systems of the business. And as you may have heard, their business just got a whole lot bigger. Since the recent merger with Sprint, it now included 52,000 employees around the world. So they’re asking questions and they’re making commitments to creating a better culture where diversity, equity, inclusion aren’t just a priority. They’re a day-to-day reality. Keep listening to learn how T-Mobile is building a culture for the future. How they view science to guide their strategy and why Holli says culture eats strategy for breakfast.
I’m Gabriel Berizon, and you’re listening to Your Brain at Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. This week, NLI’s Ester Neznanova is joined by Holli Martinez who leads the DE&I efforts at T-Mobile. Together they discuss the pressing need for DE&I’s strategies that truly shift behaviors. They explore the power of culture and they shed light on how organizations should approach creating lasting change in diversity, equity and inclusion. Enjoy.
[00:02:48] GB: Okay. So let’s get to our speakers. We’re joined by two very passionate subject matter experts on today’s topic. Our first guest is the vice president of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at T-Mobile, Holli Martinez. Hello, Holli. Nice to join us today.
[00:03:01] HM: Thanks, Gabe. Thank you.
[00:03:03] GB: Good to have you. Cheers. And today’s session will be facilitated by our Diversity Equity and Inclusion practice lead, Ester Neznanova. Hello, Ester. Are you ready to get us started?
[00:03:13] EN: Hi, Gabe. So ready and so excited. This specific episode and topic is so near and dear to my heart, and Holli, her team and us have been working restless to really build a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion and launch that partnership. So I’m so excited that we can talk about it and really talk about all of the lessons that we learned on this journey. So very, very excited.
So to get us started, I just wanted to provide a little bit of a placement around what the session will be about and how that’s connected to the previous sessions. Two weeks ago, some of you listened to us talking about how to truly get the buy-in from your leaders when it comes to your diversity equity and inclusion efforts. And there are four main steps that we talk about when it comes to building long lasting strategies. The first one is really mobilizing your leaders. Then we start moving into building those strategies together with your leaders, and then activating the right habits, because when we talk about the culture, it’s really shared everyday habits. So how do we properly activate those habits? And then the last important step is really reimagining your systems when it comes to talent management systems and business systems in your organization. So today we will focus on how to actually build proper diversity, equity and inclusion strategies that last in your organization.
And I’m so excited that Holli is joining us. I know that T-Mobile is very highly recognized as an organization that really invested a lot in building out diversity, equity and inclusion culture. And they’ve done so much in this space. They’ve built such a phenomenal brand and they’re recognized by the community. They’ve won a lot of awards when it comes to their work in corporate equality, corporate inclusion and really investing in LGBTQI communities in the vets and women in the workplace.
So I would just love to get started, Holli, and talk a little bit about your journey thus far with T-Mobile.
[00:05:21] HM: Absolutely. Thank you, Ester, and thank you for having me. I just so appreciate the work of NLI. And it’s a pleasure to partner with you in this. So I started in the nonprofit field and I read the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and this truly shaped my understanding of advocacy and ally-ship. And I learned early on in this work, in nonprofit working with first generation students who were they’re first in their families to go to college. Many of them were from the Latinx Hispanic communities, Native American Indian, black, African-American communities who wanted to be teachers. And I learned about listening to their stories that were so different from mine and understanding how to give them a platform and a space for them to advocate and for them to rise. And I think that is one of the biggest lessons that I had as I was really learning Paulo Freire and understanding how to be an advocate. And it shaped my journey throughout my career in advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion.
[00:06:26] EN: I love that. And also especially with current times and current climate, we see a lot of needs when it comes to the social justice movement. A lot of needs from chief diversity officers and heads of those efforts, and really integrating a lot of community work and integrating that social justice part into our organization. Curious what comes up for you here when it comes to current times.
[00:06:52] HM: This is such an interesting time in so many levels, and I see right now companies are either doubling down or starting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the first time. And I’m invigorated by that and I empathize with that. And as I describe the T-Mobile journey, I want to be clear that when you hear large organizations talk about their work, sometimes you have in your mind, or at least I used to, that they’re given this $50 million budget, say, “Build your team. Build your strategy. And a year from now we’re going to launch. You have a year to figure it out.” And that’s not reality. That’s not what happens.
And so I will kind of walk through the journey that we had in real tangible ways and describe what we’ve done. I will say that I think that there’s a real balance that we have. As corporations, we have a responsibility and a privilege to be able to invest in our communities and our employees. But at the same time, we also have responsibilities as citizens to be active in our communities. And so I think that there is a real balance there of being good corporate citizens in our community as well as enforcing and really building those inclusive behaviors and practices within our organizations.
[00:08:03] EN: I love that. I’ll definitely use that quote moving forward. So diving deeper into the journey, I’m so excited to actually hear about your journey inside T-Mobile and how you really built-up the practice.
[00:08:15] HM: Well, like many of you, if you’ve started diversity and inclusion work um at the beginning, it doesn’t start out with that $50 million budget and a year timeline to build it. It truly is um flying a plane while you’re building it and writing the operation manual and developing the navigation instruments. So it’s truly all of those things at once. So I’m very fortunate that T-Mobile has a natural inclusive culture and it always had that philosophy and that approach and that characteristic of the culture. I joined T-Mobile in 2013 shortly after John Ledger, who had launched this un-carrier culture. An un-carrier culture, an un-carrier brand is truly about removing pain points for customers and breaking down barriers.
And so the first thing that I did when I started is in taking a look at how am I going to build the strategies, the programs and the initiatives for this naturally inclusive and diverse company, but how are we going to really put some meat on the bones here and develop a framework? So the first thing I did is really understand where are we? And this is something anyone can do. It doesn’t take a lot of resources. There are indices that you can participate in which will give you some real tangible work to do as it relates to culture and as it relates to your practices and your policies. So I like to talk about the corporate equality index, or the disability equality index, or the corporate inclusion index. These are tangible things. These are not subjective forms that you fill out. These are things where you can understand how are we as an organization, how we’re structured? How we work with our people? How are we putting into place the things that will build a safe place to work? At least for these um purposes.
But I think what’s really important to understand with any organization, and this ties into NLI’s work, I’m a firm believer that culture eats strategy for breakfast. To understand the culture is to understand how you are able to navigate. And so one of the things that we did right away is tie our efforts directly to our un-carrier. So we remove pain points for customers. So we’re going to remove pain points for our employees, and we want to break down those barriers. So we did that first in care. And one of the things that we did at first was go to our EVPs and our leaders and say, “What are your pain points in the business? What are your people pain points?” and tie our work to that.
So that’s how we launched, and I think focusing on inclusion is so important, and that how we define it, how T-Mobile defines it is how are we as individuals feeling like we belong as individuals, but still having that sense of belonging? So we don’t have to have group think. This is not about losing your individuality. It’s keeping your end about individuality everything that makes you who you are, but yet still feeling a sense of belonging. And so that is how we wanted to build the sustainable work across the organization.
[00:11:19] EN: I just want to dive a little bit deeper into what you just said around inclusion, and it was so fascinating when we just talked about it, I would say – What is it? Six months ago, maybe more, because I feel like what I see in a lot of organizations, and especially right now, they’re kind of lost between doing things right now versus doing things right, and what they often end up doing is focusing on diversity first, right? So focusing on increasing representation. Focusing on really creating some of the reporting mechanisms, etc. And I come from the innovation and product development background, and my team started quoting me now where I keep saying, “You have to plug the funnel first,” because that’s what they say in product development, right? If you send the users to your product and if a lot of users are leaving, then you should fix that first, right? You should fix your product first. And I feel like it’s the same when it comes to the culture, right? You should fix the culture first.
When we talk about diversity having a seat at the table, but inclusion really having a voice at the table, creating a culture of inclusion, creating a culture of belonging is that pretty much plug your funnel, right? Make sure that people want to stay in the organization, invest in the culture and then start investing even deeper into diversity, but you can’t just do one. You actually have to invest in both.
[00:12:48] HM: Absolutely. There’s no point. And that’s why I first went to indices, because why are we going to throw a party if our house isn’t in order? And we have to get our house in order, because we want to make sure that when we welcome people into our culture, that they can thrive. And there’s no reason to invite people in if they’re not going to find a true home and a landing place and feel like they can they can grow and learn and thrive.
I think the other part that’s really important when I think about how we’ve scaled this, and scaling is so important. When we scaled across the organization, it was really important for me to really see a shared sense of ownership. DE&I is not it’s owned by no one, yet it’s owned by all. And we have a decentralized model where we have our corporate strategy at the top, but this is not a headquarter corporate-driven campaign. DE&I is owned by employees where they are, and that shared sense of ownership is so important. I also see quite a few questions here in the chat about the indices, and I’ll make sure that you have those. We’ll put those in the chat. So we’ll make sure that you have all of those. It’s a great tangible starting place, but I think that, Ester, you bring up such a great point about how important it is to really examine the inclusion. Sometimes we get so focused on the diversity aspect, which is important, but diversity is a noun, it’s a fact. It’s what we are. Inclusion is the action. Inclusion is the behaviors that we can do so that we can we can really create that sense of belonging, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on.
[00:12:48] EN: So expanding into ownership, you’ve done so much work with your employee resource groups and really expanding that ownership as the next step in your journey. Can you talk a little bit about that and some of the learnings there?
[00:14:33] HM: Our employee resource groups are amazing. I have so much respect for the leaders and my team as well. I’m so impressed with the innovation and ideas that come from our resource groups. When you think about all the talent and the ideas and the passion, and I think what we’ve done especially through the spring and through the racial injustices and the social unrest is really leverage employees’ voices for sounding boards. Hearing from them and truly creating listening sessions to hear what is your pain point. And our brand is very bold. We have bold conversations. We have trailblazer discussions where we invite key trailblazers in their area to come and speak to us.
And as diversity, equity and inclusion, as those topics, and as the culture starts to embrace braver and braver conversations, we’re finding that employees are becoming more transparent about the challenges that they’re facing in their communities, the struggles that they’re seeing on a daily basis. And so for us, it’s the more you have that culture of openness and belonging and safety, that’s where you can get to the real tangible daily impact of individuals’ lives.
We talk about how the thanksgiving table now is very tricky to navigate in a polarized society. And our employees live that every day. And so how do we create a culture that is safer sometimes than their thanksgiving dinner table? And so how can we create a space where we can truly talk about the things that are most impactful in our lives and have that shared sense of movement and sense of culture?
[00:16:23] EN: I love this balance between really setting the right goals and the targets and measuring appropriately, and at the same time really expanding that ownership and making sure that we’re creating a culture of speaking up. What you raised as well when it comes to inclusion, and you talked about psychological safety, is another big passion of mine. Because often when I hear organizations talk about inclusion, it’s really hard to measure it, right? So they talk about it as let’s say a culture, and we often confuse inclusion with a culture of niceness, right? And it is actually the science tells us there’s so much research that feeling included or excluded is the same as experiencing a physical pain in our brain. So it is actually around psychological safety. And so by investing in inclusion appropriately, we create that space for psychological safety that is then the baseline for people being able to speak up, that is then really helping us expand our efforts and not just the diversity and inclusion team pretty much running all of the efforts, but really having the employees feel like they can have ownership over the elements that they’re really passionate about.
[00:17:42] HM: That’s so important, and I think that’s where that shared responsibility comes in as well. And that’s one of the things we did early on in when we established our resource groups in September of 2013. We wanted to make sure we could measure everything. So we did have a single sign-on for our employees. So we can track what is their progression throughout their careers. Where are they? How are they doing? We have internal employee sentiment surveys that we ask our employees how are they doing, and do they feel as if their manager is creating a safe inclusive environment for them. And those
are some of the measurements that we have used. But as I look at the work that we’re doing together with NLI, what I am really excited about as we forged into this evolved long-term strategic plan is identifying very specific measurable behaviors that we are going to be able to track and move very specific objectives forward.
And so I think when I look today at the growth that we’ve had, we have uh roughly 40% of all of our employees, are our members of an ERG. We have grown significantly. When I joined the company, we had about 34,000 employees through the merger, and we are now about 75,000. And I will tell you that the last couple years have been focused on integration. And when you think about integration, you think about integration and inclusion are basically very synonymous. And so how can we leverage our efforts to the integration goals of the company and how can we merge this tremendous opportunity we had with a long-standing diversity work within legacy Sprint? And here we are at T-Mobile who we’re bold and we will take it on, and we have this tremendous momentum, but we have enriched our culture by bringing in the depth of a legacy that Sprint employees had and some of the deep work they had and accessibility and product. And there are some really wonderful things that in merging those two cultures together. And so for us, inclusion over the last couple years has focused on yellow and magenta. And so that has been a big goal of ours as we’ve – And it’s been a long integration, but it has been amazing to see these two come together.
[00:20:02] EN: Love that um so talking about the future now that we talked about the past, I see a lot of questions around what are your goals. And I want to expand it even more to talk about actually the future of diversity, equity and inclusion. How you see that at new T-Mobile? And also how you see that in our industry overall.
[00:20:27] HM: You know, I think when I think about the future, I think – And it goes back to kind of some of the challenges that organizations have in embedding diversity and inclusion or inclusion principles and behaviors within their work. And I see that more and more, I think research is going to drive what happens in this space. I think human science, brain science is going to influence how we see inclusion as just a strategic pillar. It’s a lens. And so how we are going to really drive that together and embed it in everything we do. So it’s not an add-on. And I think sometimes when companies are first starting their DE&I work, it is an add-on. And slowly you have to work within the culture to bring it to be embedded in every system and process. And I think that is where the future is in really integrating those people behaviors.
[00:21:21] EN: Yes, I love that. I just want to unpack that a little bit in terms of maturity as well, because I see a lot of questions around how does HR work with diversity, equity and inclusion and what does it mean to be integrated within the business. So in general, when we talk about the maturity of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, it all most of the time starts with compliance. And I’m sure you experienced that too when it where it is deeply integrated inside HR, right? Then with chief diversity officers or heads of diversity inclusion, or some of the leaders in that space being hired and that team expanding, now we start looking at, “Okay, if it’s not compliance, then what is it?” And I know that a lot of organizations are actually struggling with this right now where there is a lot of pressure from the employees and pressure from the society saying, “You have to invest in diversity and inclusion.” So how do you do that?
And I think that one of the most common mistakes there, and I’d love to hear from you around that, organizations make is still stay staying in that compliance mindset, but basically just expanding the effort to just create more of a brand, right? So have more of an outreach awareness, and it takes them a few years of learning to realize that the next important step is actually integrating the DE&I goals with the business goals and moving beyond HR into a strategic imperative. So I know that we talked a lot about that. So what comes up?
[00:22:55] HM: So much comes to mind around that, and I think that it is a journey. And I know for me when we were starting this journey, I was a party of one with a very tiny budget, and over time how I was able to leverage the importance of this was to see the growth and momentum and the demand from employees. And I think that sometimes we shy away. And this goes to the growth mindset. We shy away from some of those tension points. We have tension points from employees, tension points from society, but to lean in from that, lean into that tension point and understand what needs to be developed or what are the lessons learned that we can grow from. I think that’s really important.
But I think that when you’re aligning with a line of business or a functional business unit, you are understanding what the key components are. Where in every line of business is talent falling out? What are the strategic needs of each line of business? Where is the talent either not rising or where are we having a hard time acquiring it or keeping it? Where is talent moving? So I think understanding within each business unit functional needs of the people, because our EVPs, our leaders, are truly developing their own people strategies as well in how they’re building for the future. What is the future talent we need to develop? Where are we needing to go?
So if you’re in technology, you’re looking at what are the advancements there. If you’re in care or retail, you have a different lens. And so working with each line of business to understand what their specific needs are. I think that’s really important. That’s how you embed it. That’s how I see it. And I have always operated closely with the lines of business and our strategies have always aligned with lines of business. I’m really thankful we have a great HR leader through the integration who is really interested in our systems and our processes so we can dig in. This is a wonderful opportunity for us as a company. When you think about when you have a transition points where you can dive deep, understand the new company, the new workforce, the new goals. Where are we going to put a stake in the ground? What
investments are we going to make to our communities? To our employees? For society? To our suppliers? How are we going to leverage every one of these powerful mechanisms that we
have? The digital divide?
When I look at our – We have a project 10 million to bring resources and broadband to kids. We’ve got the homework gap. And how are we addressing those societal inequities with all that we have as a large organization? So this is the perfect opportunity for us as an organization to step back and say, “How are we going to leverage everything we have across the company for the good of all? And I think this is what I am most excited about right now.
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[00:26:50] EN: That’s moving us into the conversation around your commitments to the community as well as our partnership and kind of like elevating the curtain there a little bit. So first of all I know that some of us don’t have enough insight into your memorandum of understanding and your commitments to the community. What did you commit to and what is most exciting within it?
[00:27:13] HM: I am so excited about this memorandum of understanding, and we’ve received a lot of questions and a lot of questions and a lot of interest around this. And what is so exciting about the MOU – And just briefly, just know that while the memorandum of understanding is a publicly-filed document with the FCC, there is some governance around it per se um. This is work that we wanted to do. As a company, we wanted to take a look at these combined resources that we have as a larger company now. And where are we going to invest?
So when you look at it, we call them commitments right now, because we’re formalizing the structure of how we are going to accomplish these things. When you really look at what we’re what we’re doing, the promises. These are investments that we’ve made. So I don’t want to get stuck on the language. And I’m a big proponent of accountability. And so there’s accountability mechanisms built within this. I made promises around corporate governance, and of course our people practices and recruitment retention, procurement. We have some major investments that we’re putting in our supplier diversity efforts and wireless for low income, philanthropy, community investments. How are we really showing up? And this is part of the work that I’m so excited about with you, with NLI, is that through this partnership, we have been able to develop an understanding of how is the T-Mobile diversity, equity and inclusion brand resonating with our suppliers, with our employees, with our underserved communities, communities of color, our stakeholders? How are we showing up?
Now, that takes a real deep analysis, and I’m so thankful for the work that NLI has done in this space. So it gives us really critical information to know where do we need to adjust? What are the adjustments we need to make? We all have opportunities. The opportunities that we have as a company and our pain points of developing talent, of talent mobility, talent acquisition, all of this, and the equity that lies within it are not unique challenges to T-Mobile. They’re challenges that all businesses face. But these commitments and how our company is committing and really excited to use our resources for good in so many different areas. So we have a total of 54 commitments through this memorandum of understanding. But one of the exciting pieces that came out of this is that we have two diversity councils. They’re external diversity councils. So we’re leveraging experts in their field across the United States in key areas, whether we’re civil rights organizations, or veteran-specific organizations, or an organization focused on accessibility, veterans, women. We wanted to include all lenses of how we interpret and how we define diversity.
And so for us, we have the best minds at the table with us to help us refine our work, help us adjust along the way and provide insights and partnership. And so that’s where I think we’re really excited, and we have a tremendous government affairs team that has been you know really leading this effort and partnering with me in what we have to accomplish.
[00:30:27] EN: One of the biggest learnings for me in working with you has been how you are really integrating. We talked about that a little bit, but how you’re really integrating the work with lines of business even in the structure of your team, right? So actually having almost like a separate team that is focused on strategic thinking and strategy with your line of business leaders and partnering with them I feel like has been really essential in moving into that next strategic level, but wondering what comes up for you in that.
[00:31:04] HM: You bring that up, and I’d love to talk about the structure of my team and how we have shifted and adjusted and grown, because as I mentioned, many of us start with a department of one and a very small budget. And so over time, I mean you don’t develop a large team overnight. So it does take time, and it takes demonstrated efforts and success along the way. And whatever the culture is of your organization, whatever it is that is a definition of success for you, because it’s different for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all if this were easy. All companies would have figured it out by now.
So I think that for me, how we’ve structured our team, I have three teams, I have an engagement team which really focuses on the employee resource groups and how we are engaging our employees around inclusion. We have another team, which is the strategy team. And when you think about diversity, equity and inclusion, our strategy team is truly the equity piece. They aren’t working with each lines of business in partnership with our centers of excellence as well as our HR partners. So we think of it as a three-legged stool that we’re partnering together with each line of business to make sure that the diversity strategy is stood up for each line of business or functional business unit.
And I think it is a critical piece of moving beyond compliance. And I think, for us, I think how do I know we’ve moved beyond compliance? Because we’re we are having conversations we don’t have to have. We are making commitments and investments that we don’t have to make. We are seeing our EVPs and our leaders, our VPs, our leadership across the company, whether it’s people managers, directors, all the way up, owning this. And this is something that I think is an important piece that we don’t always talk about in this work, that each individual needs to personalize this for themselves.
And when you are moving up an organization, often leaders are so used to delegating that they think they can delegate away diversity and inclusion work and put a team on that. When truly, it’s so important that each leader personalize this for themselves, understand how they are interacting with their teams, with their peers, with the organization. And so when they’ve internalized this work and start to demonstrate the
Behaviors of inclusion, that’s when you know, when you see people living it. And that demand coming from all aspects of the company. So I think that’s how I look at it and that’s how we’ve grown and how it has evolved across the company.
[00:33:37] EN: I would also add to that that I think you’ve gone even deeper than that. So when I was talking to your leaders, that for instance lead product or lead customer success, not only they think about how to be inclusive leaders, but they also think about how what they do in the organization, what they contribute to is actually done through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. So for instance, when it comes to product, who is the team building the product? Is the team actually representing our customers? And how can we integrate those values into everything that we release? Same with customer service and a lot of other amazing leaders that are really thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion as core values and almost like a lens and a filter through which they are contributing to the organization and to the community through that. And I think that that is a very high-level of evolution when it comes to overall diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Mike talks so much about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, and he seems to be the leader that is really that really cares a lot about that. I would just take a wild guess that it wasn’t always like that, and you’re a team of one really making the case for diversity, equity inclusion. So for those of us that are just starting on that journey, how did you get that bind so that the leaders are now really owning a lot of efforts?
[00:35:10] HM: You know, I find this really fascinating, because I actually had the reverse, where our leaders were so excited to start this work. They’re like, “Just go do it. I don’t need a business case. We know it’s the right thing. Just go do it.” A I think that that has become as people become more interested in this work and understand the responsibility of what resources we have as an organization and what are we investing in, I think that that’s becoming more and more of a lens. But where I have found, and everyone in any organization, when you’re a team of one and when you’re starting out, you will have a long list of things you want to accomplish. And there’s some things you can do right away and there’s some things you just have to develop your short term plan, your mid and year long. And understanding where the tension points are.
Our role as advocates in an organization is not to create disruption, but to lean in to tension points where we know we need to influence change. And you have to know which tension points to lean into and where you can have your biggest impact, because when you can get that impact, however small it is. For me, the first place I went was care. I knew we had 17 call centers, and at the time I think we had 17,000 employees in those call centers. And for me that’s how we could create a deep sense of inclusion and create some momentum around diversity equity and inclusion in those call centers, in our community. And today, it has taken off in in a way that 80% of all of our care employees are part of an ERG. You could not go into any call center and remove DE&I from the community, because it’s ingrained and it’s a part of how they could they interact with each other.
Now, I don’t mean to imply in any way that we don’t have progress to do. We have a lot of work to do just like anyone. But I can tell you that where I have had to focus, just like all of us do, is understanding where we can make headway and in what capacity. And then understanding, “Okay, I can’t get to that now, but I will.” And so it’s being comfortable with the fact that you’re not going to be able to be all things to everyone. And you have to have such a thick skin in this work, because there’s always someone who’s not happy with you. There’s always someone who wants you to do more faster, and you have to have confidence that you are building something, that in order to do it in a way that is right, authentic and sustainable, it has to be in align with the culture, the values and the goals of the company and sometimes going slow to speed up later is how you need to get things done. And it’s hard sometimes to hold back the tide of demand. You can never keep up with the demand in this work, but you have to do what you do well. And I’m not saying we do everything well. I am the first to say we have learned so much through this,
and we have so many lessons learned. But I will tell you, you have to be open about that too. So that would be my advice. I understand, but I also say you find your allies. Know who is in this with you. And I think that’s really an important piece to this is to know who you can partner with.
Now, Mike is our is the executive sponsor of diversity, equity and inclusion, Mike Sievert, and he has been a tremendous advocate even as a COO before he became our CEO, as well as our head of HR, which is Deeanne King. So both of them together are tremendous advocates for me and for this work. So I think it’s really important that you choose those advisors.
One of the first things that I did with when I started at the company in 2013 was start an executive advisory committee. And this was all of the allies that I could find at the highest levels of the company, and we meet every quarter and talk about how we can move this work together. Where do we need to go? And create that visibility. It also creates a mechanism for a feedback loop. Making sure that we’re elevating the voices and the needs and the pain points of employees to leadership. And so I think it’s really important that you find your advocates across the company wherever they are and start really understanding. Sometimes it’s really hard to approach this work across a big organization, and it feels daunting. And it doesn’t start that way. Sometimes it starts in the small pockets and demonstrating success one at a time, and those build.
[00:39:38] EN: The grassroots efforts, almost.
[00:39:41] HM: I saw one question in the chat about the third team, and I failed to mention my third team, which is kind of funny, because this team is such a dynamic team, and this team is really driving the work within the MOU, the memorandum of understanding, all the commitments that we’ve made. So this team is the one that’s working with you, Ester, and NLI, and really helping us build this strategy. So that is the third team, and we absolutely appreciate all the great work that they’re doing.
[00:40:08] EN: So on that note, let’s dive deeper into our work. So you came to us with a very simple challenge, and that is let’s come up with an even better elevated strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion across employees, suppliers and stakeholders, and integrate behavior change within it.
[00:40:30] HM: And that scale.
[00:40:32] EN: So that’s what we’ve been up to. And my team has been working really hard on this project. But I just want to unpack that and look at some of the methods that we use and some of the lessons learned in that process, because it’s I feel like it’s not often where you have the executive support and you have a big organization and the two massive companies merge together. And so it already elevates diversity even more, right? So it’s such a phenomenal challenge, and it’s also the time when you can do even more change that you wanted to. So I know that my team has been very excited about this this amazing challenge. So just to dive a little bit deeper into it, when we do a lot of consulting work, we first start with the diagnostics, right? So we looked at your employee data and supplier data and we did a lot of focus groups. You’ve been doing a lot of listening sessions as well with employees, and really surfacing some of the areas that might still need work. And then now we’re in the face where we’re really building out a very robust strategy, and that strategy lies across priorities, habits and systems.
So there are three key elements that need to be coherent when it comes to culture transformation at scale, and those are the priorities, habits and systems. And the priorities piece is really making sure that you set the right goals for your strategy as well as get the leadership buy-in. And the last piece here is communicate those goals in ways that actually relate to employees, because what we see in a lot of organizations is, for instance, they say it’s important for leaders to be inclusive. And what everybody hears is, “Oh, I need to start including everybody on emails and meetings now.” No. That’s not it. So how do you communicate in a way that your employees actually hear your intent and have tangible ways to go about it?
Then after we’ve set the priorities, the next step is the habits. So when we tell the leaders that it’s important to be inclusive, yet we don’t teach the habits and the behaviors of inclusive leadership, it just doesn’t stick. They don’t know what to do, right? So we need those tangible habits that drive behavior transformation at scale. And at NeuroLeadership Institute, we measure those through behavior change
Percentage. So we actually measure how many times a week have people been adopting certain behavior.
And then the last core concept here is the system. So the systems is really the canvas. It is the ecosystem that is your organization. And so if we invest in priorities and invest in habits, but at the same time we have talent management systems or business systems, the ways the ways we communicate with each other that are de-coherent and don’t align with priorities and habits, what ends up happening is, again, change doesn’t happen, because they don’t stick. So what we’ve been working on together is really look at what are those de-coherences, right? Where can we invest more? And then refining the priorities and diving deeper into a strategy of behavior change at scale. And I absolutely love what your team said around the fact that you want to really shift from the mentality of training, right? And kind of like one-off training, and that is it, into the mentality of really continuous learning, continuous improvement and tying the behaviors into the overall culture.
And then we’ve been also working on looking at your talent management systems, and business systems, and really seeing how we can integrate that even more. So what has been your biggest learning in that journey?
[00:44:26] HM: Oh my! There’re so many. And I think what I appreciate so much about the work that we’re engaged in is that we’re leaning into human behavior. And just as much as it’s important to lean into culture and work with culture, you don’t want to work against what’s natural to the human or at least understand it and mitigate it. And so I think for us, when I look at how important the systems are, and I think for me this has been a huge learning to understand the depth to which the research and how all of this aligns. It’s so important to look at within any culture. There are going to be things that are rewarded within a culture that work against where you need to go. So it’s truly examining what are the coherences that we need to build to make sure that everything is laddering together and moving in the same direction. And so when we look at how we define and reward talent, it’s very critical that everything is in alignment and make sure that we’re moving in alignment together and reinforcing the behaviors throughout the system. So I think the systems piece is so important, and I really appreciate the detail and love the behavior measurement. I mean, to me this is exactly where we need to go in looking at the behaviors and really focusing from the equity and the inclusion piece.
[00:45:47] EN: So according to our research, there’re three sets of habits that need to be implemented within the organization. The first set is most people actively including weekly. The second one is most people actively mitigating unconscious bias weekly. And the third one is most people speaking up on behalf of themselves for others, and that’s where ally-ship comes in, when this doesn’t happen? And so we either use the core habits within our solutions, our training solutions for each of those. Or with some organizations that have a very unique culture, we also create their sets of habits when it comes to inclusive leadership that the whole organization follows, right? So we start with leaders and then we really cascade it and make sure that those habits are integrated within all the employees including the frontline workers.
We talked a lot about the future of diversity, equity inclusion efforts in the United States and globally. I would just love to wrap with that deeper level of where is the industry moving? What is important? And what is important for the diversity, equity and inclusion leaders to adopt as well?
[00:47:05] HM: It’s such a great topic, and authenticity is just a key driving value. And when you think about how we are addressing covering behaviors, how we are addressing growth mindset and how so often we see the pretending come in, trying to show up a certain way. But in all reality, we have to be authentic ourselves. And so, for me, when I think about authenticity and how that drives this work, I mean, we live in such a polarized society right now. And so being authentically curious, being in the moment. And I think as leaders, we can’t pretend we are interested in diversity, equity and inclusion and we have to demonstrate it. We have to live it. We have to internalize it.
And so, to me, authenticity in this work is not pretending to be something you’re not. Not marketing something that you’re not. Not pretending or showing up in a way that truly isn’t who you are or representative of what we’re driving together. So I think we need more authenticity in general and being in the moment and especially in ally-ship and trying to understand the shared human experience. And so that’s really what this work is about. And so for me, authenticity is just a real key value in everything we do.
[00:48:25] EN: What comes up for me as well in it is the times that we live in, and there aren’t many positive effects of us all being quarantined. But if I were to name one – Well, two actually. One will be that in the past, a lot of us as leaders ended up having two personas, right? We had the real us, and then we put on a mask and we would be the work persona. And I think that’s initially in the first months back in March, April, it was a real big challenge to really try to integrate those two worlds and to try to really see how you can be vulnerable enough, because vulnerability is so hard. How you can be vulnerable enough to actually show up as the you, not the work persona, but the you that everybody else outside of work knows. And I’ve seen a lot of leaders embrace, and NeuroLeadership’s mission, making organizations more human through science, right? That authenticity is such an important human part, right? How can you be courageous enough to actually just be you?
And the other part here that shows up for me is really that it equalized us all in a lot of ways where it
doesn’t matter if you’re a senior vice president, a vice president, or just starting in your career. We’re all in the same situation. And so that created that level of humbleness and understanding that we’re all one within it. And I think that that can really help if we support our employees through that process and really invest in equity. Then we can really transform the cultures of companies in this very fragile moment.
[00:50:18] HM: It is fragile, and that’s where I think that we have so much opportunity. In those moments of honesty, in fragility, that’s where we can truly meet as humans and get to that depth that we need to in order to make that progress. So, I completely agree. Love it.
[00:50:34] EN: Well, thank you so much, Holli. This was an absolutely amazing conversation, and so many lessons learned. Look forward to working together and really expanding the impact.
[00:50:59] GB: Your Brain at Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producer is Danielle Kirchenblat, and Cliff David is our production manager. Our original music is by Grant Zubritsky, and logo design is by Ketch Wear. We’ll see you next time.