Your Best Practice Is Not My Best Practice

One term we often hear in the diversity and inclusion profession is “best practice.” Sometimes we hear it as a question, such as “What are the best practices in diversity and inclusion?” Other times we hear it as a statement. For example, “That approach is best practice in diversity and inclusion.” Whenever I hear this, I ask myself: “Best at what, compared to what? What is the goal this approach seeks to attain?”

Here is why the answers to these questions are so important in determining if something is best practice. According to various definitions in Wikipedia and other sources, a best practice is “a technique or methodology that, through experience and research, has proven to reliably lead to a desired result.” So the bottom line is that, unless we clarify what we are trying to achieve, we have no way of researching, testing and comparing different techniques and methodologies.

If we talk about best practices in, say, increasing female representation in management positions within engineering organizations, we need to have a criterion to judge the various approaches to achieve this goal. Based on appropriate research, the approach proven to be the most reliable and effective way to meet that goal could then be considered best practice.

It is also important to note that what may be considered best practice to achieve one type of goal may not be the best, or even a good, practice for achieving other goals. For example, the practice we find to be the best, most reliable, and fastest way to increase the number of women in management, per the aforementioned example, may or may not be the best practice for, say, increasing profitability in that group of managers.

Over the next few months, this blog will discuss best practices to leverage diversity and achieve maximum market impact. I will do this by comparing the diversity and inclusion practices in high-performance organizations — defined as companies that report higher-than-average growth in revenue, profitability, market share and customer satisfactions for a period of five or more consecutive years — vs. those of mid- and low-level performers in their industries.

Specifically, I will look at how the high-performing companies leverage local and global diversity to support performance in the aforementioned four defining areas. The research information I will share comes directly from empirical studies conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, or i4cp, at the direction of the Chief Diversity Officer Board, a working group of representatives from companies whose combined annual revenue is more than $260 billion. The findings cited will be both academically rigorous and grounded in the practical world of business.

Among other points, we will aim to answer the following:

  • What are high-performance companies doing to generate millions of dollars in returns from their investments in D&I?
  • What are the foundational elements that support how these organizations leverage their D&I?
  • How does their D&I motivation — the reason why they invest in D&I — differ from lower performers?

I will also look at where high-performance organizations invest their time, energy and dollars to build diversity and inclusion best practices to continue expanding their competitive edge in the market. While many lower performers are perpetually playing catch-up with competitors, high performers focus on developing approaches that build on their lead and leverage diversity for market advantage. I believe the latter to be a better investment of time and energy.

In the end, the practices and research observations I will share here may or may not be the best way to win vanity awards at $20,000-per-table dinner events. These practices may or may not lead to higher diversity magazines rankings, affording organizations the privilege of buying a $7,000 full-page magazine ad, and bragging rights about their accomplishments to others in their industry. They will, however, offer the best approaches used by market-leading organizations that are highly effective at leveraging their diversity to reach and maintain high levels of performance.

I look forward to our continuing discussion about today’s and tomorrow’s D&I best market impact practices.