Diversity & Inclusion: Practical Implementation for Leaders – PART II: Building and Maintaining a Strong D&I Team
So, you’ve put together your diverse team (if you haven’t yet, read Part 1). Now what? There are three rules I used for all of my teams:
- I expect full transparency; don’t filter your words, speak your truth and share your ideas respectfully.
- EQ is a must at all times.
- “One Team One Dream”; combining our strengths and focus to accomplish our goals/vision.
This is where Inclusion is crucial to your team’s performance, potential and success. Rule one ensures that everyone has a voice; it is expected, encouraged and welcomed. Each person is hired to contribute to the overall goal, so let them (isn’t that what we pay them for)! Therefore, I expected to hear ideas, opinions, disagreements, questions, concerns, agreements, etc. at all of my meetings from my team’s members (not just during our weekly 1:1 meetings). As long as they were respectful and used EQ (sometimes called EI, which is my #2 rule) especially towards people with differing opinions, as a team I knew we would develop the best strategies, execute with accuracy and efficiency, provide the best insights, develop the strongest communicators and create the most business opportunities through creativity for growth.
Mistakes are opportunities for growth
In order to grow, there have to be mistakes. When mistakes happened, I focused on the lessons learned and how each person worked through the situation; what their actions were and how they improved as a result. As a leader, my goal was to support everyone on my team to develop their required skillset in order to get to where they wanted to be (while we our business deliverables).
Every person on your team has a goal or dream, how are you supporting them to get there? What skills do they have or still need to obtain? How are you ensuring they develop the skills required for a promotion or transfer? What are their unique strengths and how are they using them? I would create as many opportunities for my team as I could whenever I felt they were ready or they communicated they were interested.
If a member of my team wasn’t ready for the next steps, I would partner them with others, coach them, provide books or other educational materials to support their growth and preparation. I would volunteer my team members for corporate initiatives, have them represent me in meetings, or take them with me to meetings. I did everything in my power to support them including to ask others in the company to provide development opportunities. I also ensured that when I was ready to move on, I had my predecessor ready to move in. I ensured my team members were successful when they moved to their next level through preparation and readiness; I never set people up to fail. Stay connected with your team, know their goals and support them through mistakes; we all make mistakes.
Leaders can use constructive feedback too
Every year I asked my team to complete an informal “Start-Stop-Continue”. I would select a person on my team to be the ‘representative voice’ to elaborate on details from their feedback. Part of this process included my sharing of what I ascertained from them and enabling them to hold me accountable to my promises. When you do this exercise at key times during the year, you will often discover what your teams need from you changes based on the demands of the business. Some companies provide 360-feedback for their leaders which could replace the need for ‘Start-Stop-Continue’, but my teams always appreciated its format and in return it helped me to be a better leader for them.
Dealing with poor performers
What if a person on your team isn’t performing to your expectations in their current role? I always started with looking at their potential and considered whether or not they were set-up for success. I would lay out my expectations and review whether the individual had the capability to achieve the requirements of their role. If they had the ability, then I would ask them as well as their colleagues, “How we can we support ‘you’ to get there?” and proceed with a plan including check-in points and measures for accountability. A “team” only works if everyone is fully included, engaged and participating; if that isn’t the case, then it won’t work.
If this supportive approach didn’t work, as a leader, I had to know when to end the struggle. It’s not good for the team (they’re picking up the “slack” and/or it’s causing disruptions to the work-flow) and the person who is struggling is also not benefitting. This leads to the third rule: “One team, one dream.” Everyone has to be contributing and focused on our goals.
It’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure their work environment supports the team and that each team member is set-up for success. Everyone has talent, sometimes the person just isn’t a fit. Be respectful to everyone and let the individual struggling move on to another division or company where they can apply their talents. Be honest, considerate and supportive – remember, there was a reason you hired them or acquired them onto your team. Everyone will benefit from you taking the lead and cleaning up the situation.
The other side of the D&I coin
As a leader, you must be the voice and a role model for your team. A successful leader is:
- Mindful of creating boundaries and opportunities for your team’s voice
- Trustworthy with what the team shares
- Empathetic and has a rapport with team members
- Authentic and has integrity
- A risk-taker
- And much more!
I personally did things like clear their calendars to focus on top priorities, find resources to support individuals on my team and sometimes I would share personal stories as a way of supporting their own ambitions.
As a leader, you have to be able to push back against urges to micromanage or interrupt your team’s work for constant status checks and updates. You have to trust that they are capable of doing their job by trusting in your hiring decisions.
Ensure you provide constant and consistent, honest feedback and recognition for great work. Put the effort in to stay connected to how each team member is doing in their work and personal lives (if they’re struggling personally, it will show up in their work).
Sometimes you will be struggling yourself but remember they’re watching you and you can’t expect of them what you’re not modelling yourself; keep it real! If you’re having a bad day, they’ll appreciate you acknowledging it (you are human and so are they). Always be respectful and genuine (having constant rants and temper-tantrums and then apologizing isn’t acceptable just because you apologize). Celebrate wins with them. Discuss the losses and find the positive side and learning opportunities where you can all grow. Sometimes being a leader means you’ll be a counsellor, mentor, and cheerleader. Always show your support and participate in getting them across the “end-zone”. It’s fine to have high expectations, but be clear, keep your communication open (both directions), provide them with feedback and be open to it as well (it will improve your leadership skills).
How do you motivate and manage your team to ensure there is inclusion? How do you foster an inclusive environment for your team?