DEI Strategy Series

Program Best Practices

After surveying North American commercial leaders about their DEI practices, Alexander Group has aggregated some best practices for building a transformational DEI program.

The four main steps in our framework are as follows:

  1. Mobilize Executive Support: Executive stewards ensure program gravitas and align efforts to overall company philosophy.
  2. Assess Current State: Gathering feedback from stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders, regulators) helps identify gaps and set informed priorities.
  3. Prioritize and Execute: Set achievable goals that balance long-term investments with quick wins.
  4. Communicate: Share company priorities and associated progress with stakeholders and the broader community to realize ROI.

Watch the video and read the transcript to learn more about building a holistic DEI program.

Deima Tankus: Thank you for joining our video series on Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the Commercial Organization. I’m Deima Tankus, I’m a business analyst at the Alexander Group. And I’m joined by two leaders of our firm’s DEI strategy. We have Priya Ghatnekar, principal at Alexander Group, and Avrille Hanzel, who manages our consulting enablement practice. Priya and Avrille have both been instrumental in both shaping and executing on our firm’s DEI strategy. We’re going to be sharing learnings and best practice framework with you today. Priya, before we launch into it, can you give a quick introduction to the Alexander Group?

Priya Ghatnekar: Yes. Thank you. The Alexander Group is a management consultancy, and we’re focused on helping organizations drive topline revenue growth. So we tend to work with marketing, sales and post-sales arms of the business across a number of different industries. We do full commercial transformations or even some point projects, such as helping organizations design sales compensation plans.

Priya Ghatnekar: In our last video, we learned about the challenge commercial leaders are facing when it comes to their investments, such as just the difficulty in prioritizing the DEI initiative or the difficulty in executing those long-term builds instead of opting to focus on some of the more shorter-term initiatives. It’s important to have a comprehensive DEI program and strategy. This seems like a pretty big undertaking. Avrille, can you share a little bit with us around what are the first steps that organizations should take when it comes to structuring a comprehensive DEI program?

Avrille Hanzel: So when it comes to developing a comprehensive program, it really is a journey. The journey always needs to start by mobilizing support from the top of the organization, whether that’s the CEO or whether it’s a broader leadership team involved. It’s crucial because it not only reinforces their support for this across all levels of the organization, but it also ensures that what you’re developing is aligned with the philosophy of the company and where you ultimately want to go. So once you mobilize support from the top, you shouldn’t just jump into problem-solving. You need to take time to understand and assess where your organization is today from a DEI lens and then get data to help inform priorities for your organization to focus on in the future. Once you’ve identified what you need to work on, you need to create a plan and execute. So it starts with setting goals so that you can work towards and then organizing stakeholders who are actually going to get the work done and then align to a programming calendar to keep everyone on track. Lastly, there’s communication. Communicating this whole process is crucial, so this is not a linear process or a journey. You can see it loops back around and circles and will be continued part of an active and evolving program.

Priya Ghatnekar: Avrille, you mentioned the fact that there needs to be leadership involved in order to execute on this. Can you give us some strategies on how to actually effectively mobilize those leaders?

Avrille Hanzel: Yes. Yes. Well, first you need somebody driving this at the top. So if it’s not the CEO, then whoever it is needs to be working with the CEO and the leadership team to articulate why this is such an important business initiative and how it’s going to impact the company long term. So the most successful angle that I’ve found for getting leaders on board is bringing statistics to the table on how investing in things like inclusion and diversity can help top-line growth and talent strategies to help get leaders on board. So for example, a few years ago, McKinsey did a study that showed that companies who are in the top 25% for cultural or ethnic diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. So bringing these statistics to the table, these numbers are pretty hard to ignore.

Priya Ghatnekar: You know, after this mobilize step, what can companies do to assess the current state of their DEI program?

Avrille Hanzel: Well, I’d say the most common way is to listen to your employees, often in the form of a survey or focus groups. Actually, as I heard from one of my clients recently, they found that getting feedback through their first-line sales managers was actually not as accurate as they thought it was because they started hearing different things when they went directly to their employees and not via the first line managers. So just making sure that you’re giving all of your employees the opportunity to communicate directly is going to give you better data. Lastly, you can also conduct research outside of your organization looking at the market and what your competitors are doing. Part of the research could be participating in market studies and getting some insights into how your direct competitors structure pay and benefits, what kind of goals they set, and how they measure progress. So in addition to this annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion study, the Alexander Group also runs ongoing research efforts focused on your sub-vertical around things like compensation benchmarks and support ratios so that you can get a good look into things like if you’re underinvesting in employee benefits or if your competitors have started investing a lot more in sales support or account management roles in the shift to greater focus on customer experience. So getting this kind of external perspective can actually be essential when communicating to your employees that what you’re offering is as valuable, if not more valuable, than your competition.

Priya Ghatnekar: Great. So this sounds very much like some of our consulting projects you identify or you assess the current state. You bring some data to round out what is working well, what isn’t. And then once you’ve identified those gaps, can you share a little bit about what leaders should do with moving forward with the future state plan and execution?

Avrille Hanzel: All right. Well, my recommendation is to start by making a list of all of the things that your organization could go do based on what you heard from the organization, and then conduct what I like to call a materiality assessment. So what this is, is identifying what is most pressing versus what’s going to have the most impact on your strategic goals. And sometimes these are not always in alignment. So, balancing some quick wins with investing in some of those longer-term projects that you want to work on that you may not see immediate result from, but are very important to moving the needle in your organization. So once you’ve selected the things that you’re going to go do both in the short and long term, you need to assign leaders to get the work done.

Priya Ghatnekar: So you’ve talked a lot about leaders that are involved and the types of approaches that they should take in actioning on the strategy. Communication of where we are and where we’re going is very much top of mind. Can you share some best practices around the communication strategy?

Avrille Hanzel: Yeah, absolutely. So communicating from the top is number one most important. Making sure that people see executive leadership support for this and an ongoing and repeated basis is very, very important. I’d also say one oftentimes overlooked best practice is to make sure that it’s not just one-way communication to the organization, but that there are systems or tools in place that you can give opportunities to folks to give feedback back to the organization on what they want to see and how they think things are going. In addition to the survey, you might do regularly, other tools and resources are available for getting feedback from the organization.

Priya Ghatnekar: That’s great. So all of the tactics that you’ve shared with us are around communicating the progress to the strategy internally. But what about communicating where an organization is with their DEI strategy externally? Why should companies think about framing some of this to the external market?

Avrille Hanzel: So great question. Given that one of the main reasons for investing in DEI is attracting diverse and best-in-class talent. Companies need to communicate what they’re doing and progress against their goals when interacting with potential candidates. According to Glassdoor research, 76% of job seekers view workforce diversity as an important factor when evaluating offers and companies. So getting what you’re doing from a diversity standpoint and how diverse your organization is out there can be really important to prospective employees. LinkedIn research echoes this. Employees are spending more time evaluating the company before they apply. Actually are looking at twice as many posts before applying last year than they did two years ago, and companies that communicate their investments and employee experience attract more attention. So, for example, companies that mentioned flexibility in their job posts saw about 35% more engagement.

Priya Ghatnekar: Avrille, you talked about the need to align your DEI programs and goals to your organization’s philosophy as the very first step in the DEI journey. And it’s essential to anchor both your actions in your communication to the work that you do at the beginning. Leaders need to fully buy into the values such as the need for equitability, employee enrichment and diversity before they can really have their workforce follow these initiatives.

Deima Tankus: Thank you, Priya and Avrille, for your insights on how to structure a transformational DEI program. Viewers, we hope that you got some helpful insights to take back to your organizations. And if you have any questions around DEI best practices within the commercial organization, please don’t hesitate to contact the Alexander Group.

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