Stacy R. Janiak was not thinking about becoming managing partner of the Chicago office at Deloitte & Touche LLP when she joined the accounting firm in 1992.
The graduate of DePaul University just wanted to do her job and make a good impression on the people who had hired her. But it was an impression left on her by a mentor who she had just come to know who shaped both her future and that of the firm in the years ahead.
“Within a month of my joining the firm, a woman who I held in high regard who was a manager at the firm turned in her resignation and said she was going back to school to get an advanced degree,” Janiak says. “She confided in me and said she just felt like she wasn’t sure she could do what needed to be done to make partner.”
Janiak had arrived at Deloitte at a significant point in the firm’s history. Leadership had become aware that the employee turnover rate was significantly higher for women than it was for men, and it had them concerned.
“There was a perception that women were leaving to just go home and have babies,” Janiak says. “Finally, there was a question that then CEO Mike Cook laid out. He said, ‘Do we really know that?’”
A study was commissioned, and it was discovered that many women who left fit the description of Janiak’s mentor, who just felt there wasn’t an opportunity to grow and advance in the organization.
“They were going to work at other places they found more amenable to their personal goals and work goals,” Janiak says.
Deloitte leadership wanted to change that. The Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women was created to help ensure more opportunities for women, but it was more than that. It was launched with the idea of bringing more diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the way Deloitte did business.
“Each business is being impacted by the changing marketplace, by the changing consumer and by the changing demographics of the population, wherever they are selling their wares or services into,” Janiak says.
“Do you really understand how all of these factors are influencing your ultimate business? Isn’t it logical, given the changing nature of all of those factors, to have some of that change represented in the people who are working in your organization so you can better react to them and better position your products and services for the consumers of the future?”
The move to make inclusion and diversity a priority put Deloitte in a strong position to help many who were poised to lose their jobs at the former Arthur Andersen LLP in 2002.
“We distinguished ourselves on a number of fronts, but that was one of them as people looked at where they might extend their career in that particular situation,” says Janiak, who became managing partner of the Chicago office in September 2011. She is also the central region managing partner for audit and enterprise risk services.
In these turbulent times, when fortunes can change overnight, Janiak says Deloitte’s ongoing pursuit of diversity is more than just a feel-good story for the firm and its 3,800 employees. It’s a vital part of being successful company.
Focus on relationships
One of the biggest initial drivers that led Deloitte to get focused on being more diverse and inclusive was the money invested and talent that for years had been allowed to just walk out the door.
“We’re investing all these funds in very talented individuals who are walking out the door and, oh by the way, those individuals bring different and unique skill sets to us as a group that help us relate better and perform better with our clients,” Janiak says. “So why shouldn’t we address this?”
As Deloitte looked at its company and the way it did business, leaders realized that they were missing a crucial point of perspective in the way they operated the firm.
“Twenty years ago, I think you could have asked a group of partners at Deloitte, why should we focus on the women who are leaving?” Janiak says. “They are leaving. Let’s focus on the women who are staying.
“But now you really are missing something by not having a group of people at the table that is reflective of your buyers or the purchasers of your products and services. Force the conversation to what ways you might increase your internal diversity to have those ideas around the table.”
Each industry is different, but whatever business you’re involved in, communication and relationships are going to play a critical role in whether you succeed or fail. The easier it is to find common ground with your customers or potential customers, the better off you’re going to be.
And as you provide a more diverse front for your customers, you create more opportunities for your people at the same time and give them a reason to stay and grow in your organization, which helps you grow too. It becomes cyclical.
“If I take Deloitte as an example, one of the big pieces of data we looked at was how much we were investing in all our people to prepare them and train them and how much we could achieve from a revenue perspective if we were able to retain some of those individuals one, two, three or four years longer than we were at the time,” Janiak says.
“How did that change our overall organization by enhancing the level of experience before they chose to go pursue a different alternative career path?”
Janiak speculates that had Deloitte not changed, she probably wouldn’t be in the position she is in today. But she adds that it’s not solely about creating opportunities for women like her. It’s about adapting and positioning your company to succeed in a constantly changing environment.
“I don’t know if I would have stayed in an environment that was not inclusive and as flexible as it is,” Janiak says. “And I think given how the world has changed, you could probably say that about a lot of the men too. There are just as many men who struggle with family and just management of all these competing priorities. I think we’d look a lot different. I don’t think we’d be as successful, and I don’t think we’d have as much fun as we’re having.”
Set the tone
If you want to promote a culture in which everyone plays an important part in your company’s success, you’ve got to make it a personal priority to instill that culture.
“A big mistake would be making it a program versus being able to describe the business imperative,” Janiak says. “Describe why it is valuable to the organization and demonstrate that. How are you developing people on your own teams that you have responsibility for?
“It’s critical that the tone is set at the top and that leaders are held accountable for their progress. It’s important that it is on the agenda of the CEO. If you relegate it as a program and have it be several layers removed from the CEO, that could be a big mistake.”
Talk about the tangible reasons why it’s important that employees and leaders consider diversity in everything that they do.
“Our potential clients are asking, before awarding significant project work, what is your commitment to diversity and how do you demonstrate that?” Janiak says. “If we don’t have a compelling track record and story to tell, we’re not in the mix. Clients who are committed to it and see it as a core value want to be working with an organization that also shares that core value, and so it’s a competitive advantage.”
You’ve got to find a way to integrate it into your culture as a way of doing business, rather than something you’re going to try for a little while before you return to what you did before.
“It’s a strategy,” Janiak says. “Whether you’re including it as part of your talent strategy, your human resources strategy, your sales strategy, there are different ways to look at it and however your organization responds to strategic direction and execution of that strategy, that’s how you should say it. It should be similar to other core strategies that you disseminate through your organization.”
Janiak says she takes her role very seriously as a role model and figurehead for anything she tries to do at Deloitte.
“I view it as one of my roles is to make sure I’m present at the various functions of our business resource groups, which represent all kinds of different folks within our organization,” Janiak says. “It’s important that I hold myself accountable to having diversity on the teams that I’m responsible for — because people look at that and they say, ‘OK, not only does she say this is important for us to do, but she’s doing it and demonstrating support.’ People pay more attention to what you do than what you say.”
How to reach: Deloitte LLP, (312) 486-1000 or www.deloitte.com
The Janiak File
Stacy R. Janiak, managing partner for Chicago office, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Born: Aurora, Colo. It’s right outside of Denver at a U.S. Air Force Base. My dad was a mechanic in the Air Force.
Education: Bachelor of science degree, commerce, DePaul University, Chicago
What was your very first job and what did you learn? The very first job I got paid for was babysitting. I babysat twice a week for the people across the street and earned $1 an hour to feed them dinner, bathe them and get them to bed. That was a pretty good deal.
It was just the concept of going out and having people trust you with some authority at a young age.
Even though it was across the street and you had your parents as the backup, you were in charge. People had expectations. I was going to feed the kids and wash the dishes and they trusted me to do that and expected me to do that.
Who has been the biggest influence on who you are today? My mom. Her name was Rose. She was born in the early 1950s and contracted polio when she was 11 months old. To hear her describe it, it was almost like having AIDS back when people didn’t understand it. You were just ostracized.
She was told she would never walk without braces and she kind of made up her mind that she would not have that be. She is a very resourceful woman that was not given a great lot in life physically. She has made up for that in many ways. She’s the reason I believe there is always a solution and there is a way to get people to it.
Think about what customers expect to see.
Be out front and visible when big changes.
Don’t spare the legwork on strategies that may take time to mature.
True diversity is not found in numbers. It is found in people with varying backgrounds using their experience to everyone’s benefit, says Lizabeth Ardisana, CEO, ASG Renaissance.
“What we’re trying to achieve is not actually diversity, although that’s the buzzword for all of this, it’s really inclusion,” Ardisana says. “It is one thing to say you have employees who are minorities, old, young, African-American, Latino or Asian, but you have to value those differences and use them to your advantage, not just tolerate them. That’s what it takes to be successful with diversity.”
She says inclusion adds value to companies by providing diversity of thought, access to understanding other markets and a more interesting workplace.
“If no one told me I should do this, I would still seek out people who are different than I am because it would add significant value to me and my company. Until we get to that level of understanding and position, we have not truly experienced the value of diversity,” Ardisana says.
Smart Business spoke with Ardisana about diversity and its value in the workplace.
You hear a lot of talk about diversity, but do companies follow through by taking action?
Counting the number of people you have who come from different backgrounds or putting a diversity section on your website isn’t enough. It doesn’t give you the value. You have to follow the talk with action. You have to move past diversity to a level of value in order to truly have inclusion.
Does that mean you need diversity in promotions as well?
Absolutely. You can’t just talk about it; you have to do it from the bottom up. If you’re going to embrace diversity of thought and diversity of ideas, you must also embrace it at the senior management level. Otherwise, you are not valuing it. If you’ve never promoted someone of a different background, you would be sending the wrong message to the rest of your company.
How do diversity and inclusion benefit companies?
First, you have to accept that an innovative and creative business is going to be a more profitable business and that new ideas, new capabilities and new markets all add profitability. Diversity of thinking comes from a diversity of backgrounds and cultures and that creates more new ideas and more innovation.
Additionally, if you have a reputation for being an interesting and creative place to work, it attracts better overall talent. We’re all in a race to get the best talent and you have to make yourself attractive. Look at the companies that post one job and get hundreds of applications. These companies have a reputation for innovation, for being fun and interesting. If you look at really successful companies today, they have a significant amount of diversity, or inclusion, in what they do.
Are workplaces becoming more inclusive?
It is improving. One thing that’s dramatically improved is companies are valuing age and experience, combining older employees with employees who are young and aggressive. This creates unique opportunities when they are blended together.
Diversity has to be looked at as broadly as possible and some of it is simply awareness. When I started my company, I looked around and thought about how all the people in this department look alike and all the people in this other department look alike but they don’t look like each other. We hire people we’re most comfortable with and don’t think about it. We weren’t getting the benefits of diversity and inclusion so we consciously started to think about it and took actions to practice it, and it has made a huge difference in our success as a company.
Lizabeth Ardisana is CEO at ASG Renaissance. Reach her at (313) 565-4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view more about ASG Renaissance’s Diversity Services, visit http://asgren.com/diversityServices/diversityServices.asp.
Having diversity in the workplace not only brings a sense of harmony but also new perspectives that allow for creative development and collaborative innovation. Promoting acceptance and encouraging people with different backgrounds to be active in your company is just good practice — and it may keep you out of unwanted trouble.
Kristina Chung, a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC and an expert in employment law, says employee diversity can be a big boost to business, thanks to all the benefits that come with it.
“Having a diverse work force increases your own understanding of the greater world beyond,” she says. “We live in a diverse economy and global community now. This creates a clear business case for diversity to better understand our clients and customers. We also learn internally from different life experiences and perceptions of our colleagues to foster creativity, innovation, outside-the-box thinking and, ultimately, better service and products.”
Smart Business spoke with Chung to find out how to successfully build a diverse work force in your company.
Beyond race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and national origin, what are some concepts or characteristics that are related to employment diversity?
There can be implicit biases attached to physical appearance such as weight, unattractiveness and body markings like piercings and tattoos. The same can be said for voice and speech impediments or for a person’s lifestyle choices or beliefs.
These biases can create an obstacle to promoting an inclusive environment. If you harbor preconceptions or subconscious notions about how bright, capable or productive a person is based on his or her outward appearance, speech or lifestyle, then you can harm your business because you may exclude someone who could be a significant benefit to your workplace.
What actions should an employer take to demonstrate support for a diverse workplace?
It’s important to show visible support and to take affirmative action. That can mean promoting qualified people who are of more diverse backgrounds into management-level positions or by engaging in community programs that focus on a diverse audience, including helping to provide scholarships and participating in mentorship and pro bono/volunteer services programs.
How can an employer avoid legal problems stemming from discrimination?
The importance of making available information about an employee’s rights, and providing updated training to and consistent monitoring of managers and supervisors, cannot be overstated. Companies should review their employee handbooks on a regular basis to make sure they are complying with their state’s respective laws, particularly as to their nondiscrimination clauses and prohibited conduct. And as to diversity, some companies are now incorporating a ‘commitment to diversity’ provision, although that is not required.
Companies need to ensure that their managers are properly trained, not just in the law, which is constantly evolving, but also for the actual handling of complaints and conducting of investigations. In California, larger companies are required to provide sexual harassment training and expanding those programs to help prevent discrimination could potentially help to reduce liability and damages awards. Diversity training goes hand-in-hand with an employer’s efforts to maintain a discrimination-free workplace. This type of training can include identifying, acknowledging and eliminating the implicit biases mentioned earlier.
Where should a business owner go for this type of training?
Seek the help of a trained professional with the proper background and experience in employment law. The benefit of using the services of a practicing attorney is that he or she will be up to date on recent legal developments. For example, California’s nondiscrimination laws relating to gender recently changed to specify gender identity and gender expression as protected categories. So now, employment handbooks can spell out their policies more clearly, which means employees can better understand their rights and employers can better understand what the law means and are better able to comply with it.
What should business owners do if a discrimination claim is filed against them?
Be open minded to hear everything that the employee has to say about the complaint first as part of a full-scale investigation. If the owner simply makes assumptions, it may lead him or her down the wrong path, such as litigation, that the employee never really even wanted. The owner should fully understand basis for the complaint and what the employee is looking for in terms of resolution.
During the investigation, the complaint should be taken seriously. That is why the person conducting the investigation must be properly trained so that he or she knows what is legally mandated and to make sure that all bases are covered. The owner should contact legal counsel to make sure he or she is complying with all rules and regulations, including not destroying documents and meeting required deadlines.
Kristina Chung is a partner with Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC. Reach her at (650) 780-1706 or email@example.com.
When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets.
"The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."
Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever."
During the webinar — on Wednesday, September 19 at 1:00pm EST — we will discuss why global sales for manufacturers is critical, what factors should be considered in developing or refining the international strategy, and, finally, present a roadmap that can be employed to optimize chances for success.
Featured panelists will be Zia Daniell Wigder, Vice President and Research Director, Forrester Research; Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Global Privacy and Public Policy Executive, Acxiom; and Michael Biwer, Managing Director, Acxiom.
"As you enter the global market, it is imperative you understand the privacy laws in each country as they are quite complex and some are very stringent, for example, having criminal penalties for some violations," says Barrett Glasgow.
Other topics to be discussed include:
- How to determine which countries to enter and what data to gather to understand regional customer requirements
- Recommended approaches to building country-specific strategies that can help facilitate smooth transitions, lowest possible cost-of-entry, and consistent performance
- Considerations for navigating the complex web of country-specific data protection and privacy laws companies must adhere to in their efforts to connect with customers and prospects
- Best practices used by leading companies that have successfully entered new markets
"The U.S. and European economies are still recovering and the balance of growth is constantly shifting," says Dorn. "For example, China and Brazil have been experiencing strong growth. They are encountering a maturity curve, but that doesn't lessen the importance of the issue — manufacturers need to be diversified and have a presence in all major world markets."
The webinar, "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever" will be held at 1:00 pm EST on Wednesday, September 19.
The term “diversity” has evolved over the years. To some employers, it means including a mix of males and females in the workplace. To others, it involves taking advantage of what people from different generations can bring to the table.
“Diversity covers a multitude of differences, which are not limited to race, gender, age, social status, marital status, sexual orientation and physicality,” says Nakita Harris, payroll manager with Ashton Staffing.
No matter how you define it, the advantages of including people who can bring different perspectives and experiences into the fold are clear. Employers are learning that limiting themselves to one viewpoint means they are limiting their ability to grow and change with the marketplace.
Whether it means you can better reach diverse customer audiences or you gain an advantage over the competition in attracting the best and the brightest, making an effort to generate a work environment that embraces change and differences can improve the bottom line as well as the workplace itself. And winning the talent war is an issue not to be taken lightly in today’s economy.
“You will have a high turnover rate if you are not willing to be open to adaptation,” Harris says.
Smart Business spoke to Harris about how employers can make sure they are maintaining a workplace that embraces diversity.
How do different cultures, age groups and backgrounds affect the workplace?
Having a diverse business allows you to be able to understand the differences of the marketplace and therefore allows you to be better equipped to service a broader range of customers. It also affects employee morale, productivity and retention when you have a diverse workplace. Morale is impacted because involving more than one perspective makes people feel included in the decision-making process. People work differently — some are more efficient or productive than others, and if you can mix up the work force, you will utilize each person’s strength. And when it comes to retention, people are less likely to look for other employment if they feel like their strengths are being used in an effective manner.
Also, some people are more comfortable in a diverse workplace. For example, young people will prefer to work in a place where there are some other young people and women will like to work with other women occasionally, and not always in an all-male environment.
What are the benefits of having a diverse workplace?
Diversity allows for benefits such as better creativity and decision-making, which in turn helps product development. You have different input on what will be more successful. It also helps with marketing because if you have a variety of different types of customer groups, you will have a better idea of what everyone likes.
Your work force will also develop an appreciation for an atmosphere of tolerance, which helps to create a better working environment for everyone.
What are some of the challenges?
As with most workplaces, you will encounter challenges because not everyone will think alike and agree on the same things all the time. You have to be able to communicate with everyone in a manner that will relay the same message, although you may have to word it differently to each person. If you have employees from a variety of cultures or who speak different languages, they may interpret words and meanings differently. An older person may not understand the lingo that younger people may use.
Another challenge is that in the age of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, you have to be able to communicate how a person is not performing their job duties if they are being terminated to avoid liability in an employment practices suit. You must be able to communicate differently to different people.
How should employers best handle the challenges?
You have to have sensitivity training to try to limit any preconceived ideas from workers concerning other cultures. This may include frequent team meetings or occasional outings for team building. Offer classes for credits for things such as effective communication, business etiquette, or language classes. Hold an annual company luncheon where each employee brings food from their culture and people intermingle between upper management and other employees.
How can employers make sure they are running their company in a way that encourages diversity?
You have to make sure you have a diverse leadership or management team. Managers need to be able to be sensitive and open to challenges to help create an atmosphere of support and understanding. Managers’ performance ratings can be based on any instances of complaints of discrimination and how many training classes they have attended throughout the year. This can lead to advancement and bonus incentives. You have to always create learning opportunities and encourage certifications where they are available.
Offer benefits that will give paid time off for all holidays observed in different cultures and religions. For example, don’t just give time off for Christmas, but offer time off for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. Also, recruit from different venues to attract a variety of applicants.
Nakita Harris is payroll manager with Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suddenly immersed in Switzerland to head teams from 17 different countries, Kelly Grier was understandably overwhelmed. It was late 2000, after she moved her family overseas for a position with Ernst & Young LLP.
Grier was responsible for Europe, Middle East and Africa engagement teams, and she was having trouble handling the group’s broad differences. Some advice from the chief financial officer of a client turned the challenging experience around and shifted her mindset going forward. He told her she wasn’t in the “United States of Europe.”
“Every one of these countries is very unique. Every one of its people are very distinct,” Grier remembers him saying. “They have their own culture, their own mores, their own business practices, and you can’t just come in here and impose the American way. You can’t even try to come in here and have one homogenous approach to all of the different geography, because it’s vastly different from one country to the next.”
Grier is closer to home today, as the managing partner of Ernst & Young’s Chicago office, but she remains a huge proponent of global mobility — if for no other reason than she sees her clients expanding globally all the time. To be able to serve them competitively and effectively, leaders like her need that same expansive mindset, whether or not they hone it overseas.
“That criticality of being able to operate with a global mindset and function effectively in any geography around the world — having that sort of intellectual agility is critically important for us, as a firm, to serve our global client,” she says. “Even if you are solely a domestic organization, the fact is that the global environment is influencing your success, because your competitors might be overseas and pulling your business outside of the U.S. You face domestic competition where there’s a more global mindset, and they’re offering a differentiated solution because of that advantage.”
Grier’s broadened perspective translates into everyday inclusive leadership when she leverages her team’s diversity into a common vision.
“You can’t generalize people or places or business practices,” says Grier, who oversees 1,700 employees at E&Y’s second-largest office. “You really need to understand and respect that there are vast differences — and that’s the power of it. If you aren’t able to harness the power of it, it will be an incredible impediment to your success.”
Draw out diversity
When Grier met with teams from the 17 countries she oversaw, she’d get about 17 perspectives around the issue. She grew so accustomed to that constant diversity of thought that she notices when it’s missing from her team today.
“I can just sense when I’m not getting everything,” she says. “In some cases, I’m not getting everything because people in the room aren’t contributing everything that they have to contribute, and in some cases, it’s because I don’t have the right complement of people in the room. There’s no panacea for this; it’s really a learned behavior that comes from operating in a highly diverse environment where those diverse perspectives are really valued.”
You can obtain diversity on your team by intentionally building it in, but that doesn’t mean you need to place employees just to fulfill a quota of minorities.
“When we talk about diversity of perspective, it’s not necessarily their ethnicity or even their gender — it’s their experiences that inform a more diverse perspective,” Grier says. “You could align (team members) with other activities, other projects, other teams within the organization. Even transferring them from one business to another business or from one function to another function broadens one’s perspective. You could certainly ask that they take on a leadership role in community organizations. There’s almost an infinite amount of opportunities to broaden one’s perspective and create that kind of diversity of thought and experience.”
You can also highlight diversity by grouping cross-sections of employees for projects. Grier forms task forces with representatives from various generations, service lines, genders and ethnic backgrounds. The internal communications task force, for example, represented a spectrum of communication styles, which helped develop more effective messaging that would resonate across the company.
An intentionally diverse team is crucial, but it’s moot if you don’t maximize, and later leverage, the team’s diversity. In order to do that, you have to tap into every viewpoint you can and consider its weight in the discussion.
“Diversity without inclusiveness is counterproductive if anything,” Grier says. “You’ve got to have the ability to really draw out different perspectives and then synthesize a wide variety of thoughts and perspectives. You’ve got to know when you’re not getting that broad and diverse spectrum in the dialogue. Looking for the folks who may not be fully engaging or participating and drawing them out, that sends a message that everybody matters.”
One of Grier’s partners, for example, is an “intellectually sophisticated thinker” with plenty of valuable perspectives to share. He’ll fill an hourlong one-on-one — and then some — with his distinct ideas. But in a two-hour group session, he only makes a couple of comments.
“I’ll ask him in advance of the meeting, ‘This is what we’re going to talk about. You have such a valuable perspective; I want people to be able to benefit from that perspective. I really want you to talk specifically about this when we get everybody together,’” Grier says. “I needed to know that person well enough on a one-on-one basis to know that this is his style, that he does have this incredible broad perspective that’s very valuable. For me to draw that out and get that that very valuable perspective infused in our group discussions, I needed to approach it differently.”
Welcome all ideas
Part of inclusive leadership is soliciting opinions. But if you’re quick to brush off certain perspectives, see how quickly the feedback stops.
You need to give diverse perspectives a safe place to surface by creating an environment where all opinions are welcome.
“How, as a leader, you respond to that contrarian view will really dictate whether or not people feel safe in sharing a perspective that’s different from the norm,” Grier says. “You’ve got to be visibly both encouraging and then rewarding those folks to share a perspective that is different.”
The way you react to comments that directly challenge your stance can be the biggest revelation about your leadership style.
“As a leader, you’ve got to be able to face some criticism of how you’re seeing things, and not become defensive or dismissive,” Grier says. “That immediately shuts down that communication channel. You’ve got to express a little bit of humility — perhaps, ‘I didn’t know that,’ or, ‘I hadn’t thought about it that way.’ You really set the tone by how you behave — not only as a leader of the team but when your own perspective is challenged.”
Even if you end up going with the majority, your decision-making process only benefits from a richer variety of thought. If you want to expand the possibilities on the table, you’ll want to vet every perspective you can.
“If somebody says something that’s a little out of step with the normative thinking and you don’t give that point of view ample airtime in the discussion or if you’re dismissive, if you’re defensive, if you don’t really listen to what’s being said and understand it fully before you make an opinion of what place it has in the discussion, that will immediately shut down that candor that you want,” Grier says. “Make sure that everything that you say is grounded in the spirit of inclusiveness and encouraging that candor, because it’s very easy to just react quickly in a manner that sounds dismissive. At that point, the conversation’s over and everybody around takes a message from that; it’s not just the person who may have made the statement.”
You set the stage for an inclusive environment, but you won’t get far if you’re the only one with that mindset. Enforce an open attitude from your team members, too.
“Where you see a member of your leadership team cutting somebody off at the pass, you’ve got to call them out on that — obviously in a constructive manner and in a respectful manner — so the person who made the comment knows you insist on having that open and inclusive environment,” Grier says.
That’s sensitive territory; so many leaders prefer to privately pull the violator aside later. If you can do it constructively though, as Grier does, call the person out in the meeting to make a point for everyone.
“I would probably say, ‘Bob, I think that Jim was about to share a perspective that I would find very valuable,’” she says. “‘Before we move on to the next point that you were going to make, I want to make sure that he has an opportunity to complete that thought.’”
The more diverse viewpoints you draw out, the more perspectives you have to keep straight. Managing and synthesizing those is the key to leveraging diversity.
To keep track of what her employees think, Grier records it all.
“I take copious, copious notes,” she says. “It sounds so fundamental, but I will take notes of every one of these conversations. Very quickly, you see themes emerge. They’re not exact replications of one another but there are common threads through these conversations. It really does become apparent after having several of them and reflecting on, ‘What were the key themes and how do I then coalesce those messages into one message that will resonate with everybody?’”
Writing gives Grier something to reference and ensure everyone’s voice is represented. By synthesizing opinions inclusively, you’re setting yourself up for buy-in later on.
For example, Grier spent the first 90 days as managing partner of the Chicago office on a listening tour, meeting one-on-one with partners, senior managers and various staff members as well as with groups of employees. All she did was ask questions about moving the company forward — and listen. Then she melded several perspectives into the vision she conveyed to employees later.
Sure, you won’t satisfy every person’s wishes every time, but weaving every perspective through your thought process will show employees you listened.
“People are more inclined to buy in if they’ve got some skin in the game and they’ve been a part of crafting that vision,” Grier says. “Having that upfront engagement — my 90-day listening tour — people could hear the words that they had said to me in the messages that I then conveyed in a more synthesized fashion afterward. They knew that I had listened to them and they know that their perspective was part of the strategy, and they were on board in driving toward that strategy.”
Another benefit of drawing diverse opinions out during your meetings is exposing members of your team to them. Those discussions can build buy-in by enhancing understanding of the issue, potentially turning employees on to ideas they initially shoot down.
“For example, when a company launches a new internal development program, members of its team may jump to conclusions about what that program means to them,” Grier says. “Team members could make assumptions based on their previous experiences with similar development programs, which impacts their engagement. To maximize results, leaders should elicit a diversity of perspectives right away, debunk misconceptions and incorporate relevant suggestions. Those steps should greatly improve the participation of your teams and the program’s success.”
If you make those steps habitual, you’ll extend the power of diversity into the fabric of your organization. When Grier compares the business world that she witnessed overseas a decade ago with today’s environment and then projects another 10 years into the future, she realizes the importance of continually harnessing all perspectives in an ever-expanding global paradigm.
“You can’t rely on just saying the right things; you’ve really got to experience a mind shift,” Grier says. “Most companies have a stated objective of having an inclusive culture and really celebrating diversity. But first of all, it needs to be grounded in the fundamental imperative, which is that the world is different today than it was a decade ago, and it will be profoundly different a decade from now. We need an entire paradigm shift to be able to not only survive but really thrive in that changed global environment.”
How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (312) 879-2000 or www.ey.com
Chicago Managing Partner
Ernst & Young
Born: St. Cloud, Minn.
Education: B.A. in accounting from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana
Favorite travel destination: Italy or France
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
My very first job was as a babysitter. I certainly learned the importance of being responsible and communicating well. I actually had a wide set of experiences when I was young: I worked at this Dairy Queen-type shop. I also worked at a machine shop, if you can believe that, for a period of time as I was putting myself through college. I’d say you can probably take all of those experiences together and one of the key lessons learned is just respect — respecting everybody for what they bring to the table, having a bit of humility to how you approach the people that you work with at all spectrums of the work environment. I have a great deal of empathy and support for the people who come in and empty my trash bins because that’s very much aligned with a job that I would have been doing to put myself through college.
Your workday is off to a bad start. How do you turn it around?
I truly don’t have many days that start off on a bad note. I actually just love what I do. There’s array of challenges or issues that I’ve got to deal with, but rarely does that actually cause me to perceive that as a bad start. My workday is also very dynamic. What I do from 7 to 8 and then what I do from 8 to 9 and thereafter is very different. So it would be difficult for me to get mired in any particular issue because I’m so quickly on to the next.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
It’s got to be being able to clone myself to be a multitude of places at the same time. I feel like I’m trying to do that on any given day, anyway.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
I would say Martin Luther King. He was such a dignified leader and was so committed to his values and faced such incredible adversity. He could have gone down a path of conflict and destruction and he didn’t. He was so committed to his values of what’s right and what’s wrong that he was able to really galvanize this whole sweeping nation of change in a way that was still aligned with his values. That’s difficult to do. It would be easy to become frustrated and angry and try to force change in a way that is perhaps not aligned with your core values. Somehow, in the face of adversity we can’t even imagine, he was able to do it. As a leader, that’s a quality that I greatly admire, that ability to galvanize and inspire others to do good and to carry out the mission without losing your way from a core value perspective.