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October 7th, 2020

EPISODE 4: The Right and Wrong Ways to Engage Leaders Around DE&I

In this week’s episode, NLI Co-founder and CEO Dr. David Rock is joined by Diversity & Inclusion Practice Lead Ester Neznanova, and Senior Researcher Michaela Simpson to discuss how science can inform strategy in DE&I. Together, they explore strategies used to engage leaders and spark change. They share NLI’s latest thinking and best practices, including how to activate emotional buy-in, the importance of accentuating benefits, and the role of explaining the mechanisms of change.

Episode Transcript



[00:00:05] GB: Have you ever tried to change a habit? How’s that going? It’s tricky, right? Okay. Have you ever tried to change 10,000 habits across a large population of employees? Well, that’s what organizations are trying to do if the renew their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in attempt to initiate change at scale.


At NLI, we’ve been in the behavior change business for a while, 13 years to be exact. In that time, we’ve learned a thing or two. Central to the challenge is mobilizing leaders. Anyone familiar with this teletask probably has visions of a twirling baton on their hand in front of a parade of cats.


Fortunately, we’ve discovered brain-based strategies that can help get your people engaged and aligned. Otherwise, you may be looking at a city-block’s worth full of cat fur.


I’m Gabriel Berezin 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, our panel features NLI Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. David Rock; DE&I Practice Lead, Ester Neznanova and Senior Researcher, Michaela Simpson. Together, the panel discusses how to engage and motivate leaders to act on DE&I by activating emotional buy-in, extenuating the powerful and far-reaching benefits and explaining the actual mechanisms of change. Enjoy.




[00:01:36] DR: Fantastic, great to be here with you all. Thanks Michaela and Ester for working on this session. This is a topic that I know near and dear to a lot of people and I didn’t realize how much this theme was coming up in conversations, especially over the last three or four months, and just how many similar conversations we were having. I kind of looked back and went, wow, everyone keeps thinking about this, asking about this and so I wanted to kind of start to frame up our thinking on the right ways to actually engage leaders.

I should warn you, there are some provocations here, there are some counter-intuitive things here. For those new to us, we are 22 years old, operations in 24 countries, advisor to over 50 of the fortune 100. Our work is making organizations more human through science and we do that by helping companies activate the right habits at scale/


We build habit activation strategies based on real research and we continuously push out new research as those of you following us since March, perhaps for the first time are seeing, we’re very active in studying things. And since March, ridiculously active in kind of really, really looking at trends and trying to find the signal in the noise. That’s what we wanted to do today.


Ester, do you want to take it away with kind of a little bit of the framing of sort of how we think about change across DE&I?


[00:02:49] EN: Yes, definitely. Thank you, David. When we think about culture transformation, there are really three essential elements to drive culture transformation at scale, and also be able to drive for long-term success. Those are priorities, habits and systems. The first one priority is, are the goals and changes that your organization wants. But also, priorities is, how do your employees actually hear those goals and changes. For instance if you’re saying it’s important to be an inclusive leader, what do the employees actually hear?


The third main component in priorities is the leadership buy-in and the leaders really driving the efforts forward, which is what we will be talking about today. The second essential element of driving culture transformation is the habit formation. When you said something is important, what are some of the habits that you’re driving to make sure that the goals are met, and practicing new behaviors and new habits is essential in culture transformation.


Now, the third element is the systems, and the systems is the overall ecosystem of your organization that includes talent management systems, that include business systems, your DE&I systems, how you communicate. It’s almost like a canvas for your whole organization. I’m sure you know that we can set goals and that’s why New Year’s resolutions, we see it every year. We can set goals and even start practicing the habits. But if we don’t do the systems part, if you’re trying to be more healthy but at the same time you have a lot of junk food everywhere in your apartment, then it doesn’t really drive towards your goals. These are the three key elements that really drive culture transformation.


[00:04:37] DR: That’s great. Michaela, you are one of our key researchers, key scientist. Do you want to take us away with just kind of one click down on this for a couple of minutes?


[00:04:43] MS: Right, just to one click down. Ester already described what we mean by priorities and just to kind of hone on that. That’s about creating intentions to act. It has to do with our intentions and our motivation. One of the things we need to be mindful of when we set priorities for an organization and we want our people to buy into it, they do need to buy into. We need to realize that just generally as human beings, we do best and we follow through best when we have what’s called intrinsic motivation, when it comes from within, why we know why we’re doing something. And it’s kind of self-determined why we do it rather than there’s an external reward or punishment/


It’s really important for leaders to understand that we need all buy-in in order — if we establish priorities, it’s important to have the buy-in. Then there’s that motivation there, and motivation, when we have priorities, it directs our attention, our cognitive resources towards our priority, towards our goal. It’s really important to have that alignment with the priorities and the motivation. Because then again, we can use our brain, our cognitive resources, our attention, our working memory to work towards implementing those goals.


Moving onto habits, as we all know, kind of practice. Well, we say practice makes better. Habits are formed through repetitive behavior. When we start introducing a new idea it can be a little bit clunky, right? It’s a conscious effort, and we need to do that repetitively repeatedly. When we do that, then it becomes more automatic and more non-conscious. But first, we need to take those steps and be really mindful, so it’s again, very important for leaders to help establish clear behaviors that everybody can work towards. Because when they’re clear, and what we say sticky means, it’s easy to remember what the new behavior is, the new habit that we want to employ. Then, it makes it easier.


Then when it’s meaningful to us, it makes it even more easy for us to engage in those behaviors that will lead to habits. Although we engage in new behaviors with the intention to form habits, we have to sustain the habits, so we need to repeat them but they need to be consistently sustained, which is where systems come in place. Because systems can create that container, that environment in which we can support those new behaviors we’re trying on and that we’re building. I think I’ll leave it at that, unless David, you want to add a little bit more.


[00:07:12] DR: No, it’s great. There’s a lot of research, like decades of research showing people over index on the priority stage. People assume that they’ve got to get that part right, and it’s more that that’s just easier to think about. We think about what’s easy, not what’s right.


[00:07:26] MS: Right. And that’s the first step, right? Because then you actually have to actualize you actually have to implement and follow through.


[00:07:33] DR: The systems are kind of also a little bit concrete, so the priorities are concrete, the systems are concrete, the habit work is sort of abstract and the brain doesn’t like abstract thing. It sort of goes to the concrete. That’s our work, the habits. Then, the real question is, which habits really have an impact, and why, and how but that’s for another time.


Let’s dig in a little more. Ester, talk to us about how this looks as it sort of hits an organization.


[00:07:55] EN: Yeah. That’s the fascinating part, because when we start working with the organizations around their diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, we notice that the first step was actually often missed. So we talk to the leaders about our goals, but we actually don’t mobilize the leaders fully before we build the strategy. That’s why the first step is actually mobilizing your leaders, which we will talk about later.


The second step is building long-term sustainable strategies based on priorities, habits and systems. After you’ve built those strategies, you’re activating the habits and reimagining your enterprise systems to drive for long-term change.


[00:08:34] DR: I wanted to sort of lay this out and show you kind of these different stages, because these are quite different stages of work you have to do, living on top of PHS. But the thing to know is, mobilizing leaders is really important, but it’s very much the first step. It’s harder than it looks. That’s what we want to dig into. This is sort of some background, I guess, but now let’s get into today’s topic. What does it take to really mobilize leaders? 


The first insight that I want to share about this, is that you can’t mobilize leaders. You can’t just think about mobilizing leaders, because they’re in many different places. You can’t actually have one strategy for mobilizing leaders. You actually need to think about them on a bell curve. There are people who are passionate advocates on the right here, right, who are super inspired about diversity, equity, inclusion. Living it, breathing it, championing, all of that.


Then there are people who are generally brought in not particularly active, maybe some of them are on the fence, right, in the middle. That’s maybe the bigger group. Them there’s people who are actively pushing back, right, and there are people who are saying, “This is wrong, we should be focused on making money. This is a distraction.” and all of that.


When you think about a strategy, you should be really thoughtful about who the strategy is for. Because certain strategies will work really differently depending on kind of the bulk of where your people are. So as you think about mobilizing your leaders, make sure you think about where they are now and the different kinds of strategies that you might need to use. That’s the cliff note. 


It’s such an interesting thought, isn’t it? Because you might automatically have a bias, maybe an experienced bias if you’re a passionate advocate, you would probably have an experienced bias. We would assume other people are easily convinced to be like that.


We have a thing called the false consensus effect, which is we automatically assume other people think like us, but actually, they don’t mostly.


[00:10:18] EN: Yes. I also want to challenge us a little bit here. Because when I go into companies and when I really start working on leadership buy-in, we often tend to see that the DE&I team actually thinks that the leaders are generally bought in. Yet when we start actually holding the executive sessions, and the workshops and diving into how the DE&I strategy or diversity, inclusion, how they understand it, how that ties to their business goals. There is no clear understanding there most of the time.


So here, I would also challenge what’s bought in is, as well as what is generally bought in. Because if they say, yes diversity is important. It’s one thing. But if they actually understand how that ties to their business goals or how that ties to — how that has an emotional connection for them and why it’s important on a human level. That is a totally different level than them actually saying that they’re bought in.


[00:11:15] DR: Right. We’re going to dig into that in a minute as well. There’s something I want to share here. Basically, what do you do know? Like, what are the different approaches? Should you approach the middle or should you empower the passionate advocates to move the middle along? Or should you go after those actually pushing back or should you ignore them, right? Like what’s the right focus?


It can be very easy because of kind of a safety bias to end up really putting attention on the people actively pushing back, but is that where you get the biggest return or could you kind of bring those people along if you get the middle or bigger. We’re going to dig into that question and all the science around that at the summit. But I think you want to be intentional about that choice is the point that we’re making here, is be really intentional about who you’re going after, not just automatically go after the act of pushing back.


[00:12:00] MS: When we’re more intentional with anything we do, we’re more likely to succeed in our endeavors. Intention is really important.


[00:12:07] DR: Definitely. Yeah, definitely. Thanks. All right. Let’s dig into kind of the guts of the session today for lack of better word. The heart of the session perhaps, which is, we were thinking about like all the different approaches that we use at NLI, and thinking about sort of the differences between them. We might be missing some things, but this is sort of our first thoughts on the three ways that you can mobilize leaders and the pluses and minuses of each.


We’re going to kind of walk through each one, discuss them. Ester, do you want to talk about the first one, activating emotional buy-in? What’s your thoughts there?


[00:12:37] EN: The first part around activating emotional buy-in, it is very important when we’re striving for really getting a buy-in, to make sure that the person is emotionally invested and understands how it relates to them on an emotional level, as well as understands the overall

values level within it.


One of the biggest challenges here in diversity, equity and inclusion space that we see is that, that’s kind of like the character of the stick problem, where we see a lot of, you have to do that because it’s wrong not to the stick part of it. And a lot of blame associated with the topics. In reality, what ends up happening is that it actually pushes people away.


How do we come up with productive ways to challenge and productive ways to really bring everybody on board within it? I know that there are also some traps, so I would love to

hear from you, David on the traps piece when it comes to emotional buy-in.


[00:13:38] DR: Yeah. It’s tricky and I am also a bit delicate about how to speak here, because I don’t want to misspeak. But it feels right to do this. I mean, I’m a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in every way, in every part of my life. But I also know, the more passionate I get about it, the more people kind of pull away, right, if they’re not. I was thinking about this years ago, sort of the evangelist challenge. When you’re an evangelist about something, it could be about an app, right, or DE&I, like anything.


When you’re really excited, you sort of naturally want to share your enthusiasm, right? But what happens is, people react to that enthusiasm with almost like as status attack, like you’re making their world view wrong. And they also feel like you’re telling them what to do, like you’re telling them how to change, and you’re getting an autonomy attack. It’s a really difficult paradox. Every bone in your body knows this is the right thing to do. You are kind of an evangelist in a way like you’re passionate about this, right, and it feels so right to create an emotional connection to this work. It does feel right and it is right on so many levels, right?


Tell people about the pain that folks feel, the hundreds of times that a person of color might feel, micro emotions, microaggressions are weak. Like the incredible pain that people have felt. And yet, it has this unintended accidental push back. What we’ve seen with the government announcement about, you can’t do diversity training for example. Is this writ large in a way? This is, I’m not going to take to being told that I’m bad, so you can’t tell my government that I’m bad, right?


It’s really difficult this one, it’s a dilemma. We’ve struggled with this, but it’s an important issue. Michaela, do you want to add something there or Ester?


[00:15:14] MS: I just want to speak to that defensive piece or what Ester was talking about the blame part, and I’d add the blame and shame, and whether or not that’s explicit and that might not be the intent. But some people might get the fact, “Oh, you’re talking about me and I’m feeling shame.” The point is, when people feel defensive, they might feel that they’re blamed or shamed whether or not that was the intention. Then people don’t want to listen and they will not take in the information. So to speak again to how do we speak to these things in a productive way.


David, I acknowledge that challenge you talked about, when like you feel that something’s right and you want to tell people this like, “Why don’t they understand and why does that internal experience of the other person?” And I guess part of this for I understand that people are having some kind of internal experience that we might not be privy to, that is creating this defensiveness and this not wanting to hear.


[00:16:03] DR: Yeah. It just reminds me of intent versus impact. Your intent is good, but your impact is completely different, right? The difference between intent and impact is important here. Ester?


[00:16:12] EN: Yes. Then to add to that as well. It goes back to the bell curve and making sure that we actually meet people where they’re at, as well as use the signs productively, right? We talk a lot about scarf, and the importance when you want to actively include to actually send positive scarf signals within all of those. We can definitely use it here as well.


[00:16:33] DR: The challenge is, we all have bias, tremendous amount of bias. But we actually don’t see our own bias or very much of it. We see snippets of it. Remember that sort of consciously, we can process about a cubic foot. Unconsciously, there’s the milky way in our own brain, like stuff we can’t access. There are enormous amounts going on that we cannot access in ourself. But we can see other people being biased in real time. This is weird paradox and this has been studied. There are tons of data on this that everyone thinks they’re above average driver. You’ve heard that research, which is impossible.


Everyone thinks everyone else is biased, also much more biased than them. But the reason for that is, that the way our brain is tuned, we can’t see infrared and we can’t see calcium. We also can’t see our own bias. It’s just a thing we can’t do, but we can see other people. So their lived experience is that they don’t really have bias, and you come along and say, “Hey, you’ve got bias.” They’re like, “No, I don’t, but I’ll tell you who does.” Then there’s this weird thing that happened. So that’s an interesting challenge. Ester, do you want to address the comment about the government diversity training and just to sort of get that behind us, that stereotyping and gender and race.


[00:17:36] EN: Yes. It evolved a lot this week. There have been specific guideline around what the government officials are supposed or not supposed to be learning about. As part of that, everything around race, anti-racist, as well as unconscious bias, there is a clear guideline that there shouldn’t be training within. And yet, there has been a lot of evolution there. I will say that back to your point, David, often it goes back to lack of deep understanding around what those terms necessarily mean. When it comes to unconscious bias, the way we approach it is from the science standpoint in decision making for instance, right?


[00:18:21] DR: Yeah. They’re not against diversity training. We have actually checked with a number of big government agencies we’re working with. We’re doing some huge roll outs of work right now and bias with some major government agencies. We check with them and we’re actually able to continue those no issue. Because we’re not doing that kind of shaming blaming path in that sense. I’m treading a little carefully —


[00:18:41] ANNOUNCER: If you’re enjoying this podcast, you’re going to love NLI’s annual conference, the NeuroLeadership Summit. This year, the all–virtual summit centers around building a better normal and will offer three days of impactful sessions focused on your most pressing issues. How to remain resilient, how to thrive through crises, allyship, equity, equality and fairness and continually learning while in a work from home world.


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[00:19:38] DR: Let’s continue because I think there’s more coming. The first approach to mobilizing leaders, remember, we’re talking about mobilizing leaders not building habits, right? We’re just talking about how do you mobilize leaders. To someone’s point earlier as well, all leaders need to be mobilized. But of course, leaders at the top need to be mobilized, right? But really, all leaders need to be mobilized.


The first strategy is kind of tapping into their emotions. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing, but you got to tread carefully and think about how you do it. The second strategy that kind of is almost like the next most obvious thing. Like, okay, so we’re not going to tap their emotions. What we’re going to do instead is focus on outcome studies. We’re going to show them that it’s logically good, right? This is where sort of the DEI world has been for some years, that everyone sort of felt like, “Oh, if we just had enough data, we could convince leaders that DEI is good.”


When I say outcome studies, I mean kind of research showing that it has a positive effect, right? We organize all the literature we could find a few years ago, into essentially four benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s really DEI these days. But four benefits: financial benefits, there’s tons of studies; innovation benefits, tons of studies; go to market benefits, right; talent pool benefits. We’re able to say, look, there’s just unequivocally large amounts of clear evidence that this is good for business, right?


Here’s an example. Do you want to walk through this just briefly, Ester?


[00:21:01] EN: Definitely. When it comes to financial benefits, there are so many studies including that, for instance, an increase in women top management to 30%, actually gives 15% rise in productivity. But overall, it’s higher cash flow, higher productivity, higher innovation. EBIT rises as well. There are a lot of benefits.


That being said, when we often do the outcome study briefings to our leaders within the companies, the question is, are you actually making those numbers alive? Right? Are you connecting that to your leader’s individual business goals and helping that see that from their level and their standpoint, other than almost throwing numbers at them as to why that is important.


[00:21:48] DR: It sort of feels like we’re trying to convince them with data. Do you know that thing about if someone isn’t convinced, it doesn’t matter how much data you throw at them. It doesn’t really make a difference. And people just question the studies, they just like to argue the studies. We literally can turn up with 10 amazing fully referenced studies for each of these four things, and we did two years ago. That was kind of where we were. Everyone was like, “Tell us the business case. Tell us the business case.”


We would turn up and everyone would just go, “Yup” and I could see no minds were changing. I could see that in the room, that minds were not changing. It was interesting. Michaela, do you want to add something there?


[00:22:21] MS: Yeah. I just wanted to add kind of on what Ester was saying, like it’s so important for the information. If you do have facts and numbers, it needs to be relevant to people. People need to know like what does this have to do with me, how does this impact me. Hopefully it impacts on an emotional level or some way that they can see how it applies to them. Because sometimes people are like, “Yeah, that doesn’t really apply to me. Everything’s working fine the way it normally is, why do I need to change anything?”


It’s really when we can make things more salient, where it’s more relevant to an audience, again, it means it’s more um impactful and then it will create more of a change in people and create more of a shift. I don’t mean to put it down to this level, but kind of what’s in it for me for people to like, “Ah, O get it. I see how this benefits my organization, and my team, myself even.”


[00:23:07] DR: Yeah, it definitely helps if someone’s really focused on innovation for example, like picking just the right innovation data and really hammering that. I totally agree with both of you. But I still found at the end of the day, it was like, “Huh, okay. So it’s better, so I better do it.” But I never really saw and I did between 150 and 250 briefings over a couple of years, using this

kind of data literally to like thousands of leaders. We stopped really anchoring on this awhile back, maybe a year ago we sort of stopped anchoring as much on this. We still have it, but just what I saw, even when we did that, it was better.


Even when we did that, I wasn’t seeing real commitment. Unless essentially the sort of CEO and the C Suite said, “We’re doing this, just you have to get on board.” Then maybe people would like, “All right, we’ll do it” but sort of begrudgingly. This brings us to the third chapter, and Michaela, do you want to walk us through this? Ester, you had a comment first.


[00:23:57] EN: There is a strong diversity and what they need to focus on is equity and inclusion, which is where the rubber really meets the road. That’s the second challenge with this specific approach. Because when we talk about numbers, we really talk about diversity. And often, we don’t even understand that that goes beyond to cognitive diversity, difference of styles, etc.


But as we love to say diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and unconscious bias why some voices are heard more than others. What we see is that, if you shift diversity, but you’re not being inclusive, you don’t want to shift inclusion that leads to a revolving door of talent. So when you’re persuading leaders when it comes to the data, make sure that you’re not laser focused on shifting diversity numbers because that is not the point.


[00:24:46] DR: Yeah. Fantastic. We’ve talked about emotional buy-in. It feels like that’s the most logical thing, that’s the go-to but it has some unintended consequences. We’ve talked about outcome studies, these are the categories from analyze perspective of the outcome studies to kind of really bring a live business case. But there’s a third category, a third approach that Michaela will walk us through that we sort of landed on. This is where we end up spending most time on. It seems to make the biggest difference and it’s kind of explaining the actual mechanisms of how this works in in a deep way.


Michaela, take us away then.


[00:25:17] MS: Okay. I’m going to dive deeper into Harvard Business Review articles penned by David and some of our colleagues from NLI. It’s about diverse teams. I do want to put the caveat right up front. Again, Ester is always that great lead in for me, where I’m going to be talking about diversity and diverse teams. But also, I want you to keep in mind that this is really only effective when people do feel that they’re included and that they belong. It’s not just, again, as Ester said, let’s just put in diverse people. You need to have that sense of inclusion and cohesion for it to really be effective.


As you have probably already surmised or are also, I’ve understood in reading the industry literature, diverse teams do work better. They perform better, companies find they have better financial returns when you have diverse teams. And again, when we talk about diversity, it can be anything from diversity of thought, diversity of background to what we call like the physical attributes or signs of diversity.


Across the board, diverse teams generally work better. We find that they’re more creative, they’re more innovative. They generate more solutions. They focus more on facts and they remain objective and it says they work harder. In a way, they have to word harder because they’re not engaging in group think, Group think is people coming together, they’re pretty similar, they think the same way, they don’t really necessarily think about other options and they don’t necessarily question and everybody thinks the same.


When you get somebody else who has a different perspective or more people or a group of people with different perspectives, it’s going to be a harder work, right? You’re not going to have this easy flowing feeling. It’s like you have to work at it. You need to present your ideas, share ideas, understand other people’s perspectives. But actually, what they find s it leads to better performance or just better decision making. There are all kinds of studies, but there’s one I’d like to highlight.


There’s one on Mock Jury Panels and there are different configurations. Basically, the ones where their mock juries were diverse, and that there were white people and black people on the mock jury, and they were judging somebody who was black who was accused of doing something against somebody who was white. They found that the diverse panels, they actually paid more attention to facts that were related to the case than the homogeneous groups and they made fewer factual errors when they were discussing the available evidence.


If they got something wrong, they were likely to correct their wrong decision making when they were doing the deliberation. We find that it can be a little bit tough to engage when you’re with a more diverse team, but you get better results. 


David mentioned a little bit earlier that diverse teams are more innovative, so there are all kinds of studies. Again, I could give you all kinds of outcome studies, but just know they find across the board. If there are companies with more women on them, they’ll find more new innovation. If businesses are run by cultural diverse leadership teams, same thing. Which talks about another article that we published, written by David Rock about how it can feel uncomfortable. I was kind of alluding to that a little bit earlier. It can be a little bit uncomfortable to be on a diverse team. Ester, you might want to pipe in here. But there’s an actual paradox.


People feel a little less effective and more uncomfortable, but ironically, they actually perform better. Again, I could come to you with any number of studies that show and I can walk you through one, where they basically had a task and there were some homogeneous teams and there were some diverse teams. People on these teams who were from the diverse group, they felt that their teams weren’t as effective. Because you know, it was like, ugh, it’s wasn’t simple, it was a little bit hard and they felt that they weren’t as effective.


The diverse teams also weren’t very confident in their performance. What they found was they actually performed better than the homogeneous teams. So it’s really important to realize that diverse teams, when we have it coupled with inclusion perform really well. And it’s very important to have the buy-in for the leaders to understand this. Again, it’s not just, “Let’s bring in numbers,” but we value diversity. We value the perspectives and the experiences that people bring in, and we set those norms then we create the conditions for better performance.


Ester, I’d love to invite you in and if you’d like to add anything?


[00:29:43] EN: Yes. I also wanted to share here that we really need to pause and think about what that means. We often say, diverse teams are better and that’s great. Remember a time when you spoke to somebody from your city, right, or from your school, you immediately found that bond with them, and it was such an easy conversation. You were on the same page, so it feels good.


Yet when it comes to diverse teams, it’s much harder to find that common denominator. find that common idea. Yet the ideas and the decisions are stronger. What that means for leaders is that we really need to start thinking about what are the values that we’re actually communicating as important within our company. Because we’re talking about speed and agility, and what we mean is fast decisions that, that actually goes against diversity and inclusion.


Yet if we level up and we start talking about the importance of being heard, the importance of collaborative environments and the importance of innovation within it, then it is a very different story. We also often confuse fast with good right.


[00:30:59] MS: We actually value all the voices that are at the table. I’d like to extend it out to what we talk about at NLI, is for people to bring their authentic selves to work. We bring all of who we are to work and not like, “Oh, I have to hide the fact that I have different aspects of diversity.” It’s there and we bring it in. And to know when we value that, then it’s accepted. We understand there might be friction, but all these different perspectives are valued and appreciated. 


[00:31:26] DR: It’s really helpful to have further language around diversity itself, like there is cognitive diversity. There’s been a lot of talk about cognitive diversity, but that can be an excuse for hiring all straight white men from different countries. But actually, identity diversity is really important. I don’t have the data here top of mind, I know we’ve written on this. Identity diversity, which is very visible but not always. Not just visible, has a significant bump in terms of improved performance over just cognitive diversity. So yes, cognitive diversity is helpful, but identity diversity actually matters a lot more, and we’ll put a piece. These are some of the things that we kind of dig into.


I think the insight we want you to have is choose intentionally. Also, choose intentionally for the different place on the curve, like which one is going to work for different groups on this curve. Well, that might be a nice thought to have for a team of 20 leaders. If you’re going to actually build a strategy to really mobilize a thousand leaders or ten thousand leaders as we do, now, you really want to start thinking about getting this right. You don’t want to just guess at how to mobilize 10,000 leaders. You want to be really thoughtful about which of these strategies and at which point in the bell curve and build it that way. Fantastic.


Let’s go a little further. We want to talk about some of the traps that we’ve seen around mobilizing leaders specifically. Remember, we’re talking about the mobilizing stage, we’re not talking about creating habits or creating systems. We’re just talking about that first stage of creating priority and what to do there.


Some of the traps, Ester, do you want to talk through some of this.


[00:32:56] EN: Sure, I can. The first one here is really trying to convince leaders that they’re biased versus focusing on the goals and making sure that, again, we’re challenging positively, right? So within it, even when we talk about bias, we say, you have a brain, therefore you have bias and that is okay. Watch how you’re communicating that correctly.


The second one here is around forcing somebody into diversity equity and inclusion programs, and mandating it versus making things compelling. There’s a lot of research that shows that you should not be mandating the programs and mandating the training, and that it actually causes opposite results. The next one here is around doing some one-off activities or one-off briefings for instance, instead of really investing in habit formation and investing in taking a journey with the leaders in really generating that buy-in and building long-term strategies.


[00:33:57] DR:  Until the last maybe two years, we’ve not been very involved in assessment at all. We’re in the habit activation scale business. In the last couple of years, we’ve started to really develop some tools there. Ester, do you want to sort of take that one and how would we imagine NLI kind of measuring where leaders are at this point.


[00:34:12] EN: I don’t think we can, because when it comes to the buy-in for diversity, equity and inclusion, the leaders have so much pressure right now, that when it comes to specific surveys, it’s going to be close to impossible to actually see the right results.


That being said, what is important here is through the conversations, and through the actual workshops, and working with the leaders and helping them define how to speak about diversity, equity, and inclusion comfortably. Within that, how do we shift the scale a little bit or how do we open to clumsy conversations among the leaders so that those that are not bought in feel like their opinion can be heard and valued, and they won’t be peer pressured from others to force them to say something else. Because our goal is for them not to say it, but rather to actually act like it.


That being said, we do think that data and assessing really works when it comes to employees overall, and we do hold engagement surveys and organizational climate surveys that are based on the signs.


[00:35:24] DR: Yeah. One thing we might do that we actually have available for that, that we’re just about to launch this is an anonymous focus group that’s 100% anonymous. People feel super confident. Because asking leaders directly, “Where are you on this bell curve?” They’re not going to respond accurately, right? But asking sort of the employees about particular leaders, for example, right? Asking the team super anonymously and a really good focus group. So basically, like a Zoom, but with 100 people where no one can see anyone. Everyone’s got a number, all this — and like really getting in and collecting data that way. That’s possible. And little challenges, but we’re starting to do that and we definitely do a lot of focus group work.


But I think there’s ways to do it and certainly reach out to us directly if you’re interested kind of in actually brainstorming on that. We would be able to come up with some kind of solution, but people are overloaded right now for sure.


[00:36:08] EN: That also brings up for me, David, that when we talk about inclusion, I’ve never heard leaders say, I don’t want to be inclusive or I’m not inclusive, but that goes back to intent versus impact. So we interview and do the focus groups and really pull their teams to show the leaders where the teams think they’re actually at.


[00:36:25] DR: Yeah, fantastic. Michaela?


[00:36:27] MS: What about swaying resistant leaders with pure/competitive pressure, as in, if my competitor is doing this, then we should do too so as not to lose advantage. That kind of brings up what are people’s motivations. Like some people might be like, “The numbers that works well for me, because my competitors are doing better.” Others is like, “No, this is a moral issue. This is the right thing to do.” So I just love to hear your comments.


[00:36:49] DR: The research on how you get people to really do something, you want them to do is that believing everyone else is doing it is the strongest motivator. You want to harness that principle. So believing everyone else is doing something is a really powerful motivator. Now, in an organization, it’s probably believing that people above you are doing it, right? Because then you feel the status threat if you’re not doing it. So feeling like the people above you are doing something and everyone is doing, it’s important. Feeling like all your competitors are doing it also going to be very motivating, right?


I think you want to tap into that and that sort of has us think about strategies where the supportive middle given tools to become even more passionate and kind of expand and bring some of the bottom people along without directly addressing those. But if you could kind of increase the middle 10% but thousands of people, 10%, you’re going to bring a lot of folks at the bottom along. From our perspective, that’s probably from a systems perspective, a powerful way to do it when you’re talking about scale versus sort of going after the bottom folks. But it comes from the principle that thinking everyone else is doing something is going to really bring people along.


[00:37:54] EN: I would also say that within it, it’s very important to actually do stakeholder mapping, because for instance if your CEO is actively against it doesn’t matter how many people are in the middle or supportive, right? It is critical to get their buy-in within it. One of the other steps to do there is really map out who is the decision making within it, and where to target your efforts.


[00:38:21] DR: I’ve worked one-on-one with a few CEOs, so quite often, I’ll get a call or a text or something from a CHRO saying, “Can I talk to you privately? I was sort of designing a big rollout for 50,000 or 100,000 people.” And I’ll get this message, “Hey, I need to talk to you privately” and the message will go something like — and I’ve had this 20 times, something like, “This is all great. Everyone’s on board, but I need you to work with the CEO and I need you to somehow do some magic with the CEOs, that they’re on board. And I’ve obviously thought long and hard about what that magic is.


In the end, the one thing that’s really worked and I’ve had a lot of these conversations is literally saying, “Have you ever had an experience where you felt really, really right about something and it ended up later, you were really, really wrong and it cost you a ton of money and time and pain?” And I haven’t had a CEO yet say, “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Everyone said like, “Yeah, actually” and then we start talking about it. I personally in my real life, have had those experiences and I share some examples where I was really sure I was right and ended up being really wrong. It was really expensive.


For me, it’s like okay, we want to reduce those. So greater diversity, equity and inclusion is actually about being right more often. And by that meaning, hitting the market the right way, innovating the right way, listening to your customers the right way, speeding up your solutions the right way. Like, it’s actually about achieving your goals with fewer errors um and ultimately making better decisions.


Where I land on it with the CEO anyway is, I’m going to help you make fewer of those really dumb decisions. But by the way, you’re going to need your team’s help because no matter what I teach you about bias, you can’t do much about it without actually your team calling each other out on bias. So you’re going to need to learn this language, speak it, model it. If you’re going to model it, then they’ll do it with their teams and then it’ll start to happen. They sort of get that and so their journey begins. It’s fun to tell that story.


[00:40:11] MS: Just basing off a little bit of our research on power, it’s like readers are imbued with power. And sometimes, what happens is, people get very goal-focused on their business goals and forget about the people.


[00:40:28] DR: Yeah, absolutely.




[00:40:31] 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 Kirshenblat and Cliff David is our production manager. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.



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