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Aug. 4 Author Talk with James McKim on ‘The Diversity Factor: Igniting Superior Organizational Performance’


MANCHESTER, NH – With an increasingly integrated workforce, Diversity Equity and Inclusion is a term that has gained consistent momentum over the course of recent decades. Employers need to continuously elevate, meeting the requirements of a millennial population of employees who, with a multitude of choices at their fingertips, have the ability to select their most aligned options, compelling employers to reassess traditional business practices.

The cause for diversity is one of mutual benefit, not only in the support of workplace inclusivity but also in relatably serving an international community. How and why does the current landscape require diversity, retain its employees and create an inclusive multicultural atmosphere? 

With plenty of supportive research of his case and 30+ years in the business sector now serving as President of the Manchester chapter of the NAACP and Managing Partner with Organizational Ignition, James McKim’s new book, The Diversity Factor: Igniting Superior Organizational Performance answers those questions and more, mapping out impact and gain at the organizational, individual, and societal levels.

Join James McKim at the Bookery Aug. 4 in Manchester, where he will leading a discussion and holding a Q &A, as well as signing copies of “The Diversity Factor.

CC: Why did you write the book?

JM: I wrote the book because as I looked around, I saw a lot of talk, and writing about diversity for social justice reasons, which is absolutely needed. What I saw was missing, as I talked with various clients and organizations, was the notion that diversity is actually good for organizational performance. I only saw one book that started to touch on organizational performance through diversity. It was really, diversity impact on organizational performance. I thought, well, it’s time to write a book on that. There has to be more to it than that one book that I saw, so I started doing research. I’d already been doing research for a book on diversity, good or bad, from an individual person’s perspective. But, I think in writing that, I did see a number of books that were already talking about that and I thought, well, you know what, this content that I have, will work very well put into an organizational performance context. That is how the book came about.

CC: What are companies not recognizing?

JM: I think a number of companies are not seeing that this (DEI) is a culture change. This is not something that is a quick fix. This is a culture change which takes time and we know that the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. That is one of the things they are not seeing. I’m not seeing that appreciation of the idea that this is a long-term continuous process, and that it’s an attitudinal shift that needs to be incorporated into the DNA of the organization. I’m also seeing that most management teams are not knowledgeable about how to make something significant happen in their organization. PricewaterhouseCoopers — and this is actually a chart that is in the book — identified barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion and right up there is support from leadership. Also, not believing that diversity is important, and a lack of resources to make it happen.

CC: From a corporate perspective, it would seem there could be more pitfalls than wins. How do companies navigate especially with social blowback as a potential?

JM: I actually talk a bit about this in the book too. It’s not just that you create a diverse organization because diversity by itself doesn’t cut it. Diversity by itself can actually get you into more trouble, and this is why I added the formula that I created in the book. High-performing teams, and organizations that have a real culture of belonging exhibit equitable inclusion of diverse people. The fear that is out there is, we’re going to bring all these diverse people into an organization and cause trouble. And it’s mostly the people who have the mindset that diversity is really just around race, they call it diversity, but it’s really in their mind about race.

Sometimes it’s about gender, but mostly, it’s about race.

So there’s this fear that once we get all these diverse, meeting people of color in the organization, there is going to be infighting. People won’t like each other, so they won’t get along. They will be putting more demand on the management team than if we weren’t so diverse. That is the kind of fear that we see happening in organizations. It’s going to take more work from a manager’s perspective to relate to someone who is not in lockstep with their way of thinking, which is true. Yes, it does take more work because they are not like you. They don’t have the same thoughts and thought processes as you do. They are not seeing the benefit on the other side.

But those managers are not seeing that it’s worth that extra energy that it’s going to take to really engage. We talked about the definition of inclusion, being the active, intentional, ongoing engagement with people in your organization. So yes, that takes energy and if you are not doing it already, with your people at the office, you are going to be doing it with people who have a different mindset than you do, maybe even different expectations than you do. That is a challenge. So there are so many managers who are just looking for the easiest way to manage their reports.

We also have so many managers who were just put into management positions, because they’ve been there the longest. They know how to do the work well, so give them a management role. And yet, that work they know how to do well is not really what a manager and a leader does. A manager doesn’t just know how to do the work, the manager knows how to motivate people and how to lead people. They are supposed to know how to motivate and lead, yet many managers have just been promoted because they have seniority. They do not understand that difference. They’ve not been taught that there are some personality types that should never be a manager.

What you are looking for is a person who doesn’t even necessarily need to be a person who knows the job extremely well. Sometimes the best managers are extremely good soft-skilled people. They know how to read people and know how to motivate people, who do know their job. They know how to learn from people who know the job and know how to fill in the gaps of their own knowledge. There is a saying that good managers are the people who surround themselves with the people who really know what is going on, and this gets them to the next level, how senior managers should operate. Senior managers need to know how to hire managers, not just individual contributors. And that is a skill that is lacking in so many organizations knowing how to hire a manager, which is why you get the people promoted into management positions who just have seniority.

CC: As an example, there are privately owned businesses that display deities or practice religious traditions during work hours, which is acceptable as they are the owners of those businesses, but from a corporate standpoint, that could prove challenging. How can companies foster accommodation?

JM: This gets to differences in management approaches and organizational cultural approaches. This is something Curt J. Howes talks about culture in his book Organizational Performance: The Key to Success in the 21st Century, and I riff off of him quite a bit.

There are cultures that are “command and control”, which is the traditional business style/management style. There are different management styles that are more collaborative and democratic in nature. That balance gets dropped depending upon what the management style is in the organization. What we are seeing in management science, is that the more collaborative and democratic management styles are the more productive styles and are the styles where the culture achieves that sense of belonging that we know is going to help everyone bring their authentic selves to work.

The balance has to come with, and it also has to do with this philosophy of, you have a right to do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t impinge on my right and my environment. How is your office structured? Are you able to give people their personal space where they can bring their deities into that space, as long as it doesn’t encroach on anyone else’s space?

If you can structure your physical office space like that, then there is a balance to be struck that way. If you’ve got this open office, open desk kind of policy and everybody’s in one big room, then the balance is a little bit different. It means you probably can’t bring your deity into your space because your space is open. Now, can you give people also in those open spaces, places where they can, for a period of time, bring their deities in? Sure. In larger companies, they have the open office concept, but they also have these pods that you can reserve or go into for a period of time where you are totally isolated. So there are ways to skin this balanced cat. You just have to be innovative, which is what I talked about in the book. And research has proven that you are more innovative when you have more diverse people who are engaged, and included, and in discussions and decisions.

CC: What can be done on a personal level by management to make company culture authentic?

JM: That’s an interesting question because individual managers only have so much influence over company culture. The overall company culture gets set by senior-level management and HR. The values and the principles get set by senior management and HR. What the individual manager can do, though, is within their set of direct reports. They can be inclusive. They can understand how their direct reports are motivated, what motivates the individual, and try to bring the resources of the company into access, such that each individual is treated equitably and gets what they need to be successful in their jobs. That is what an individual manager can do, and that is really the job of a manager to understand what the work is, understand what motivates their direct reports, and understand what resources they can bring to the company to make sure that that work gets done appropriately.

CC: A very good point. How can senior-level management translate authentic company culture?  

JM: This is the value of strategic HR. Many HR organizations, especially in smaller companies, if they have an HR function at all, it’s very tactical. Legal compliance is their focus. Making sure all the paperwork is done, all the I’s are dotted, and all the T’s are crossed. They are following EEOC rules, following OSHA rules, very tactical. What HR needs to have is a strategic view. Not having a strategic view is through no fault of some HR folks, because some HR folks are brought into a smaller organization, and the tactical work has to be done, that is legal compliance. If that tactical work is not done, the organization gets shut down in a week. So what is needed is an HR staff, or at least a focus on being strategic and helping senior management to understand culture, and about how to change culture and how important it is for senior leadership to drive that culture, because HR can’t drive culture. It has to come from the senior leadership.

CC: Define a gracious space.

JM: This is a term that I first heard from Dr. Eric Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute and the way he explains it, is that we’ve probably all heard of a safe space. A safe space is a place where there are multiple people and everyone can feel like they can just be there. We don’t have to do anything, we are not going to be attacked, just being there in a safe space, and that is good. But, if you are trying to institute a change, especially in culture, there needs to be a discussion about topics where people can’t just sit back and be safe. They need to engage. They need to feel like they are free to engage without being attacked by what they say.

Some people say the next evolution of a safe space is a brave space where people can feel brave enough to speak their minds. Well, why should we need to be brave enough to speak? We should feel comfortable speaking our minds no matter what. The concept of a gracious space is that not only can people feel safe to just be there, they don’t need to feel brave in speaking up. They need to feel like I can just say whatever I want, and I’m not going to get judged. What makes it that gracious space, is that everybody in the room, everybody in the conversation, has committed to lifting people up, no matter what they say, no matter how offensive what they say may be. That is what makes it a gracious space. It is the grace that if someone says something bad or wrong, or what people think is wrong, that person could be held up in love and there can be a discussion about what was said. It’s not just the judgment that oh, what you said was bad; it’s a discussion.  As Sheila Heen and Bruce Patton and Doug Stone say, we should take a learning stance. Why did they say that? What makes you think that? Help us all understand, because we might be wrong. You might be right, we don’t know. But it’s that space where this conversation can be had, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. 

It is a skill of facilitation. Facilitation skill set is so necessary to create these gracious spaces, even when there are people who can be contentious. Knowing how to create this gracious space where people can, it’s kind of like going into brainstorming mode. It’s just letting people say what they think and not judging. When I do my workshop, one of the first things I do is I have a slide that I put up, that has nine conversational laws, and those conversational norms are built to teach people how to behave, to create that gracious space, because not everybody knows what it is, or how to actually make it happen. We have to teach people to do it over and over again, so that it becomes the norm, that this gracious space is what we create when we want to address issues.

CC: Your company serves various sizes of organizations, correct?

JM: We do. We work with organizations from Fortune 500, all the way down to five-person organizations. And, interestingly enough, even though they are Fortune 500 companies, there are teams within those companies who want help from somebody on the outside, because their corporate HR isn’t quite doing the job for them. I can tell you, many large corporations that are dealing with DEI, have only really gotten to the point where they have affinity groups, and that is their DEI strategy. They have affinity groups, where people of like mind can come and speak. They don’t tie that to helping the organization to improve, and there are some people within those organizations who do want to figure out how to leverage the diversity in a way that is going to help the organization improve.

So those organizations actually do come to me, and it’s the same, pretty much, as the smaller organizations who don’t have the resources to go out and take a course because big companies aren’t giving these interested parties the resources to do it on their own. They are putting their resources in these affinity groups.

For those people and for people in smaller organizations, there are online courses that can be taken. LinkedIn has a number of them. There are a couple of other places that have the DEI courses. Individual consultants make online courses available but also how some of those online courses are, self-paced. Some are live. The DEI series that we offer is a 12-part series that we just completed. It ended with a DEI hackathon.  There are plenty of resources out there that are very inexpensive. There are books, Jennifer Brown, How To Be An Inclusive Leader, is a fabulous book that any manager can learn so much from, and it costs $17. There really is no excuse for not learning about this, or I should say, money should not be an excuse and time should not be an excuse.

CC: Do you foresee yourself growing your team?

JM: Absolutely. I’m working on that right now. Meanwhile, we also partner with others who are already doing this work. We have partnered with Jermaine Moore, of the Mars Hill Group, Talmira Hill of the T. L. Hill Group, and with Dr.Trinidad Tellez, many people know her, she used to be with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. So we are all partnering but we know that there is so much work that needs to be done, we need everybody, as many people as possible working on it.

CC: You are considering turning this book into a series, correct? 

JM: Yes. I’m thinking the next book is probably going to be focused more on individuals, which was actually the original focus when I first started writing this book. The focus was going to be on an individual level. I think there are some things I’d like to say that I haven’t seen said yet about the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion for an individual, not even related to the business context, per se, but as interpersonally. So, The Diversity Factor. Good or Bad for an Individual?  is the working title for the next book.

CC: What is your ultimate hope for the book?

JM: Well, there is a saying, in consulting circles, that your goal as a consultant with a client is to put yourself out of a job with that client. To get to the point where they can be self-sufficient in doing the work. And that is the difference between a consultant and a contractor. A contractor is doing a very specific job, that the company doesn’t have the resources full time to do. And that person is probably going to be around as long as that job needs to be done. But, a consultant is an advisor,  and advisors are advising the organization on how to do something. Hopefully, once you advise them that they have learned it, they are going to do it on their own.

For a limited time, purchase The Diversity Factor and claim a bonus 30-minute DEI consultation.r

Want to be part of the solution? James McKim is hiring: Contact:james.mckim@organizationalignition.com




About this Contributor

Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.

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