Demonstrating Unique Value Through Consulting

The creation of an effective diversity measurement system and best practices cannot be a mechanical modeling exercise. It must be preceded by an inspection and utilization of basic business principles. It must focus on organizational and departmental strategic thinking as well as an assessment of the desired quality of work-life.

Developing the actual measures is easy compared with the amount of time that should be spent thinking about what is important to the organization’s strategic business objectives and the expectations of the diversity measurement process.

Creating this measurement measurement system and process that embodies these concepts involves at least five critical steps:

1.  Review the strategic business plan for needs.

2.  Formulate research questions.

3.  Design the study methodology.

4.  Collect and analyze data.

5.  Implement solutions and communicate results.

Each step in the process logically builds on the previous step, which generates an evidence-based framework that creates a best practice method for proving diversity’s link to performance.

With proper training and skill development, one of the more critical roles a diversity practitioner and professional can perform is that of a diversity performance consultant or technologist. This role in the Hubbard & Hubbard Inc. Diversity Discipline Framework requires the practitioner to do a variety of tasks:

  • Design, develop and deliver or evaluate diversity performance solutions.
  • Maintain and apply an in-depth working knowledge in any one or more of the diversity performance improvement areas of expertise.
  • Take a disciplined approach to assessing individual and organizational effectiveness in the midst of collective mixtures of differences and similarities, diagnose causes of diversity tensions from differences, similarities and complexities, and recommend a set of interventions.
  • Design solutions to improve diverse workforce performance and/or solutions to improve the organization’s performance.

I have always viewed diversity return on investment and inclusion methods as performance improvement technologies. I am also a strong supporter of participatory approaches to performance improvement — such as involving stakeholders in the identification of needs and their causal factors, determining solution alternatives, selecting the solution, planning and managing the change, and monitoring and evaluating the change.

This active stakeholder participation is critical to the sustainable success of any diversity and inclusion intervention. Not only do we gain real buy-in from stakeholders, but also part of what we do as rigorous practitioners, ultimately, is to change the way people think about and approach diversity performance solutions in organizations.

Diversity intervention consulting is primarily focused on a specific transaction, the provision of an intervention — for example, cultural competency skills for leaders training — whether it is a specific process or product. In this case, the performance consultant, as “expert,” carries the bulk of the responsibility for delivering the intervention but does not typically stick around for the consequences of such interventions.

Partially rooted in the sociological tradition in new systems theory that views organizations as self-organizing social systems, performance/process consulting provides a different approach. With this approach, the diversity performance consultant/technologist and the client are equal partners who share the responsibility for the desired change. There is a reduced chance of falling into fads or trendy solutions that may be insufficient or not fully applicable because both the diversity performance consultant/technologist and the client are partners in the change and its consequences. Both have a stake in the success of the intervention, and both learn lessons along the way. Further, they involve others in the organization, so that these lessons learned benefit more than just a few.

I am convinced that the real value of our work is much more than a roster of interventions. Rather, it is the paradigm shift that we contribute to in the course of our involvement with our stakeholders. Our ultimate value is in the sustainable and positive change of the organization’s performance system that is now able to operate at its goal or outcome level. While neither resource was utilized exclusively, it is certainly worthwhile for us to reflect on our own approach and determine whether we consciously or subconsciously assessed the situation to determine what balance would be of most value for the given situation.

It is always helpful to review our performance consulting approach because of the wide range of relevant topics and ROI-based metrics that fit under the performance improvement umbrella. I am fond of saying that “focusing on tactics without a strategic framework is like learning to run faster in the wrong direction.” You cannot make a strategic contribution without a tight alignment and linkage to the business objectives and success metrics of the organization.

If you want to have your interventions resonate with the C-suite and line managers of the organization, they must be based in the real bottom-line needs that drive organizational performance. Whether the organizational initiative is diversity training to teach cultural competency skills, innovating new products and services for a global market, delivering health care services or meeting a wide range of student needs, “strategically aligned” diversity performance strategies have the best chance at success and sustainability.

Let’s take a look at an example that helps to clarify this relationship. First, among the organization’s strategic objectives, you find a series of crucial performance areas. One of these areas focuses on an objective of improved customer service. Based on the importance of this area to the business, the diversity organization has created a corresponding strategic objective to analyze and improve service across all demographic market segments.

In the second step, you determine that for service to be improved in these targeted markets, the critical success factor areas must include “improved communication,” “culturally appropriate interactions,” quick access, increased satisfaction and accurate information.

Finally, these critical success factor areas lead you to select diversity performance measures and indicators that support each critical success factor area such as the “percentage of multilingual service transactions delivered,” “number of rings to answer” when a customer calls the organization, “percentage of favorable response on your diverse customer satisfaction survey,” and so on. This type of alignment drives improved performance and gains top management support.

Both diversity process consulting and diversity intervention consulting can offer strategic value to the organization. The key is how well each performance consulting method meets critical needs of the business to drive its goals, outcomes and success. At what value level would stakeholders rate your internal performance consulting methods today? What do you need to do differently to enhance your role as a value-added business partner?