Measuring Your Diversity Communications, Part 2

In part one, I discussed the process to build an effective overall communications strategy and defined a diversity communications metrics strategy. In this segment, I will outline a method to help you determine your critical success factor (CSF) areas that form the basis for your diversity communications metrics as well as identify 25 strategic diversity ROI communications metrics.

We will also review some of the questions and issues that will help you perfect your diversity performance metrics so they produce value-added outcomes for the organization.

Determining Your Critical Success Factor Areas

A critical success factor area is an important “must-achieve,” “make-or-break” performance category for the diversity message. They typically focus on the message’s intended outcome for success in that area. In general, a sample set of critical success factor areas might include outcomes such as the following:

• Open communications channels among all employee groups.

• Leadership commitment to diversity.

• The business rationale and benefits of diversity.

• The benefits of diversity to the local community.

• The importance of contributions of all employees.

• Diversity efforts’ importance to current and future organizational success.

• Improved organizational climate for diversity.

• Employee recognition of diversity initiatives’ implementation.

Diversity performance measures are the tools we use to determine whether we are meeting our objectives and moving toward the successful implementation of our communications strategy.

Specifically, we may describe diversity performance measures as quantifiable (normally, but not always) standards used to evaluate and communicate performance against expected results; however, no simple definition can truly capture the power that well-crafted and well-communicated performance measures can have in an organization.

Measures communicate value creation in ways that even the most charismatic CEO’s speeches never can. They function as a tool to drive desired action, provide all employees with direction in how they can help contribute to the organization’s diversity goals, and supply management with a tool in determining overall progress toward the diversity vision. So diversity performance measures are critically important to your diversity communications strategy; however, generating effective diversity communications performance measures may not be as simple as you think.

Measurement is defined as the assignment of numbers to properties (or characteristics) of objects based on a set of rules. Because we are often interested in the quantities related to a diversity outcome, numerical representation is important. However, we are not interested in just any quantities — we want the quantities to have meaning.

For example, if we conduct a diverse workforce communications survey and ask the question: “Do managers/supervisors keep employees informed regarding the organization’s diversity efforts,” knowing that the average score is 3.5 on a five-point scale is numerical does not have much inherent meaning. Is scoring 3.5 good or bad? Or consider an employee turnover rate of 15 percent. Percentage points have more inherent meaning than five-point scales, but simply observing the number does not reveal much about whether 15 percent is a problem.

To add meaning to these levels, we need to add context and a baseline. This is the appeal of a benchmark. If we find our 3.5 on a five-point scale is considerably better than our industry peers’ ratings on the same exact question, we can begin to attach some significance to that measure. We might observe, however, that our 3.5 is considerably below our internal historical level on this measure. We are doing better than our peers but not maintaining our internal historical performance. Of course, in both cases we have made interpretations about the relative value only — i.e., we are better or worse than some standard.

In neither case do we have any measure of strategic value. In other words, what difference does it make whether we have a 3 or 4 value on a five-point diverse workforce communications survey? To have strategic value, the measure must be expressed in numerical units that have inherent performance significance — such as a percentage of management commitment to diversity, benefit of diversity to improved market share, increased retention of women and people of color beyond the three-year mark, etc. Barring that, we have to be able to translate the measure into performance-relevant units.

In a recent study by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 27 percent of respondents cited “the ability to define and agree upon measures” as the most frequent barrier to implementing or revising a performance measurement system. This statement highlights the importance of gaining agreement to the overall communications strategy, its objectives and its critical success factors prior to selecting appropriate measures. Perfecting your diversity performance metrics will present you with numerous questions and issues, such as the following:

• How many measures should you have?

• How often should you measure?

• What about shared accountabilities?

• Could your measures be contaminated?

• Are your measures reliable?

• Which performance comparatives are best?

• Is there a balance of “lead” and “lag” measures?

• Should you combine measures into an index?

• Is denominator management a risk?

• How can good measures be made better?

Whether this is the first time you have thought about diversity communications performance measures or you are well experienced in tracking it, you will be challenged by these issues.

Measuring the effectiveness of your diversity communications is a mandatory prerequisite for diversity performance and success. These metrics and their accompanying strategy help set the stage and model requirements that drive, direct and select methods to keep all key stakeholders informed regarding the progress of the diversity change process and its value to the organization.

Remember, as you move through your diversity change process, applying measurable communication processes and sharing diversity initiative feedback is a critical theme that must be constantly present. Having a solid base of support and commitment from leadership, an effective communications strategy and strategically effective communications metrics enables the organization to successfully manage critical diversity challenges and achieve its vision for the future.