In the US we’re coming up on one year since a whole lot of companies made a whole lot of Juneteenth-inspired Black Lives Matter pledges. Here are the 2 most important conversations I encounter every day in my own work and from other leaders in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and organizational culture space.
1--Impact matters more than anything
As they say on social media #SocialImpact is trending! What is your actual result? Donations and public statements might help you virtue signal but won't help your company be a better place to work.
What to do?
Think of a donation like your favorite sushi roll--the salmon belly might be the exciting part, but the seasoning and seaweed are what make it sushi, not just fish. Donations aren’t just money, they’re the chance to learn and create relationships. Get to know the people you’re donating to. Learn about the complexities of social impact and how deep, lasting change requires both will and worldview.
Then extend the same generosity of spirit internally as well.
In your own organization, focus on humans and relationships. Check-in with your users and with your team--Understand the lived experience of the people who interface with your programs, products, and projects. Hire a professional skilled in the fine art of checking in with your team and understand what it actually feels like to work for you.
The disclaimer “do not try this at home” applies here--employee and user experience are a craft, equal parts art, and science. In fact, just asking for feedback can cause more harm than good--research shows that spontaneous or non-curated check-ins put people on their toes and stimulates reactive “yes-ing.” Instead, unfold a valuable dialogue on how to make the team and company work so well it’s a place you can’t pay people to leave.
Bottom line: it’s not about giving more, it’s about giving better. Quality and quantity.
2--Shame doesn’t work, appreciation does
Whether you want to call this social science research, mental health, or just plain good sense, all of the evidence shows that shame is a quick fix. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an alluring drug. Shame is the stuff of ego, and research shows the human mind likes to feel correct. This is why, even when we’re hurting ourselves (or our organizations), we’d sometimes rather validate a harmful way of doing business than admit we’re on the wrong track.
Shame, specifically, sets up a good/bad dichotomy that shuts down the human mind (and I’d argue heart) the moment we make even a small mistake. For those enamored with Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, this might sound familiar. Being shame-free helps keep us focused on what works.
And what might that be?
Appreciation is not about being happy… although--you’ve been warned--happiness can be a side-effect! Appreciation is about harnessing the momentum of what works. For example, circling back to donations, infusions of money in the context of vibrant relationships is unstoppable. Research shows, if the focus is on cash for its own sake, the money rarely has the impact we’d prefer. If the focus is on the expansion of amazing work by inspirational leaders, the money is fuel for the fire of what’s already going well.
So the question isn’t what works versus what’s broken. The question is, what about the donation is actually creating the change. Since it’s the constellation of relating, learning, and growing through curiosity… then the money is the cherry on top, and impact is as delicious as it is deep.