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How to Improve Program Inclusion

May 7, 2021

By Sara Mudock

What happens when you realize your value proposition needs updating but your deadlines are right around the corner? And what happens when consumer appetite for DEI&B (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) reaches critical mass so products, programs, and services must shift to meet the moment? Even the smallest change in organizational culture runs on dynamic tension. On the one hand, rapid micro-adaptation is less scary because it’s so incremental. On the other hand, simmering, consistent change is sometimes harder to infuse into organizational DNA. Human beings and the companies we comprise simply take longer to adapt to abiding, foundational change than we might like. Culture is more like a crock pot than a barbecue — people take time to move past intellectual understanding and truly integrate new concepts into behavioral change. But all of this is intensified when we’re talking about inclusion, which is inherently emotional because it’s about who is “in” and who is “out.” With inclusion, we’re not only talking behavior change, we’re talking fresh worldviews from which behavior emerges. I’ve written about inclusion elsewhere, so here I’ll give an exceedingly brief definition. Inclusion can be relatively light-touch, such as time off for more holidays, paid parental leave for all genders, and encouraging mental health days for people impacted by violence. But we’re also asking, is a person like me welcome here? Am I valued? That’s why inclusion is requires a deliberate organizational design to support active participation for all. Done well, inclusion leads to belonging because it “sets up” the environment in which belonging flourishes. Landscaping your user’s needs means getting a snapshot of their experiences. Times change and what makes a program great now may not be the same next year. Adding value regularly and wherever possible means that we need to prioritize real-time feedback, and then adjust design and implementation as immediately as possible while we can be sure the feedback is still relevant. Creating a sprint gives just enough time to solicit feedback, while updates can happen right after, and significant improvements all happen in one season. The first step is to begin with an informed set of premises. To change, we must first understand. Getting a good read on your impact–what’s working and what’s not working about your program, product, or service–we have to gather and synthesize very specific and honest feedback. Strategy is only as good as the information upon which it’s built. The first step in improving any program is to see how intention and actual impact are aligned. How? Ask people. The second step is to craft a set of questions. Treat your questions like an a la carte menu for a superb meal–share with your fellow “diners” (aka people you speak with) in order to co-create a great conversation, but don’t use them as a laundry list of questions “as is.” The objective of crafting questions is to support an actual dialogue, not to play mad libs with pre-formed prompts. The third step is to refine. Don’t worry about the details yet, just gather like the quality of your outcomes depends on it, because it does. There’s no one correct way to collect feedback, but please do not stick to a script or you will wonder later why you got canned, surface-level answers. Let your prep work guide you and remain grounded in the premise of the inquiry. And then let the questions be a guide for rich conversation. The fourth step is listening to your data. Hang out with your data. See its contours. Find the little surprises that jump out with a “peekaboo” if you let them. Appreciate the clear themes and the places where there’s weighty consensus. Translate between what’s on paper (or in the cloud as it may be) and the story you have the privilege of sharing. Practice allowing it to affect you. Get to know the deeper message your users have shared with you. The fifth step turns your data into a format that others can ingest and act upon. The exact formatting of your summary is less important than giving as much value as possible, which requires strategic, actionable information. Yes, you’ll need to revisit over time as contexts change. But right now, we’re adding as much value as possible. Feel free to get creative in any format that will make your results portable and palatable. Keep it brief, clear, and specific. To improve program inclusion, respect both the power of what you can accomplish as well as the limitations. This month’s intervention is of-the-moment and you’ll need to assess user inclusion again in time. Respect the sprint for its brevity, and you’ll be able to harness the power of consistent value amidst nimble iteration. Follow through and watch your program inclusion skyrocket.

(Originally published on the Women on Agile website) )

For more of Sara’s work, you can find her at the following locations: website: LI: IG: @drsaramurdock

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