The First 90 Days

Linda Stokes, president and CEO of PRISM International Inc., a diversity training consultancy, said there are several things a new CDO should concern him or herself with during those first few critical months on the job.

Stokes has worked with Ken Barrett, GM’s new chief diversity officer, who she said is quick thinking, quick acting and demonstrates a desire to connect diversity and inclusion work to GM’s business growth and success.

“He said that in his first 90 days he wants to focus on building the momentum for diversity and inclusion quickly,” she said. “He mentioned that he wants to take the councils that he has global. He wants to continue to strengthen their ERGs and continue to improve communications about diversity and inclusion. Ken always has that sense of urgency about him that I appreciate, and that works hand in hand with his passion and commitment. He’s in it to make a difference. He’s all about spawning innovation and creativity at General Motors, and I think that’s what he’s looking for … those intersections between diversity and inclusion and what GM needs to continue to be successful.”

Stokes said some CDOs may take up to a year to wrap their arms around a new organization and what diversity strategy means therein, but even if an organization allows that freedom, that is way too long. Instead, Barrett’s listening tours, conversations with the executive operating committee — the top 15 or so executives who report directly to CEO Dan Akerson — as well as a focus on business priorities, opportunities and challenges about how diversity and inclusion can make the business successful are good starting points. Focusing on business opportunities is also a way to get some quick wins, she said.

Adopting the right structure is also fundamental to strategic diversity and inclusion success. “GM is global. Ken’s right on when he talks about taking the ERGs and getting the council structure to work within that global environment,” Stokes said.

Effectively using one’s experience helps too. “Ken will bring some of the structure that worked so well for him at the Navy. That gives him a head start. He’s not a new CDO; he’s just new to GM. He has that experience, and he will adapt that to the new situation. It’s never cut and paste. You can’t just bring one philosophy or approach and drop it right into a new situation — it won’t work.”

Getting the lay of the land is also important, and that means navigating any politics associated with the CDO role, which is often a highly visible position, so Stokes said there is always politics involved. “Finding your way through that is really important to do right away,” she said.

As is figuring out the organizational culture and norms, what resources are available and who the go-to folks are.