What #Ferguson teaches us about the failure of trying to diversify your team

Nilofer Merchant at HBR has a terrific thought on why Tom Jackson’s absurd claim of “trying” to address the comical lack of diversity  among the police force of Ferguson, Missouri is a lesson to leaders everywhere:

Ferguson is a tragic example signaling why it’s so important for leaders to be intentional about building a team that is different and inclusive. We pay a price when don’t include difference, whether that is women, people of color, the LGBT community, and so on. None of us can say that having a police force that reflected Ferguson would have avoided what has happened this week. But it would certainly have altered the events that followed.

When leadership roles reflect and include the people they represent and their shared purpose, then challenges are “our” problems, not “their problems.” And this is how we get to new outcomes – by seeing something as ours to care for, ours to build, our future to create.

I’d add that there is a reasonable chance that had the force been better connected to the community a young man might still be alive today.

Cell phones are ruining your relationships

A recent study:

Asked 34 pairs of strangers to spend 10 minutes chatting to each other about “an interesting event that occurred to you over the past month”. The participants sat on chairs in a private booth and for half of them, close by but out of their direct line of view, a mobile phone was placed on a table-top. For the other pairs, there was a note-book in place of the phone.

After they’d finished chatting, the participants answered questions about the partner they’d met. The ones who’d chatted with a phone visible nearby, as opposed to a notebook, were less positive. For example, they were less likely to agree with the statement “It is likely that my partner and I could become friends if we interacted a lot”. They also reported feeling less closely related to their conversational partner..

Why should the mere presence of a mobile phone interfere with feelings of social intimacy in this way? Przybylski and Weinstein think that modern mobile phones might trigger in the mind automatic thoughts about wider social networks, which has the effect of crowding out face-to-face conversations.

The conclusion: If the relationship matters then put away the phone.

Organizational Culture is…

Frances Frei and Anne Morriss  at HBR.org offer the best definition of organizational culture:

culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.

How do people act when you (or your boss) isn’t in the room?  How do you act?

Three tips for building thought leaders and do leaders

Mindjet has a great post on thought leaders verses do leaders.  The difference between them isn’t nearly as important as the fact that (a) you can play both roles and (b) effective organizational teams have both.  But, the question for me as a leader is: How do I build teams that have thought leaders and do leaders so you can get products?

Build switch hitters:  One of the most valuable players on any baseball team is the switch hitter (think Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Eddie Murray).  Having people who can switch between both roles is clutch for any project you are leading and sometimes you have to build those people by figuring out what their natural preference is and then giving opportunities that matter to learn the other style.  Who are your natural thought and do leaders?  What are the strengths in their natural style?  How might you give them real opportunities to build skills essential to the other style?

Change up your processes: Growth doesn’t occur without some degree of discomfort.  One way to create discomfort is to use process design to force people into different roles.  Asking your thought leaders to focus on service delivery may help them yield insights into service delivery than will refine the programmatic offering.  A great resource for this is gamestorming, but any list of design-thinking tools will be a great starting point.  How might you get people into new roles in your organization?  How can you  help people grow their learnings

Be explicit: Not everyone reads leadership blogs, social psychology books, and other resources like you do.  Sometimes, giving people enough information to understand where you want them to go, why it matters, and how you are going to get them there is quite helpful. How might you engage your team in a conversation about the thought leader/do leader framework?

How do you build teams that think in multiple frames?

The Case for Seeing Race

 HBS Working Knowledge has a great article up on the impact of colorblindness on relationships.  In one study:

Each participant was given a stack of photographs, which included 32 different faces. A partner sat across from the participant, looking at one picture that matched a picture from the participant’s stack. The participants were told that the goal of the game was to determine which photo the partner was holding by asking as few yes/no questions as possible—for example, “Is the person bald?”

Half the faces on the cards were black, and the other half white, so asking a yes/no question about skin color was a very efficient way to narrow down the identity of the photo on the partner’s card. […] Some 93 percent of participants with white partners mentioned race during the guessing game, as opposed to just 64 percent who were playing the game with black partners.

Later two independent coders rated the perceived friendliness of the white participants based on nonverbal cues and found:

the participants who attempted colorblindness came across as especially unfriendly, often avoiding eye contact with their black partners. And when interviewed after the experiment, black partners reported perceiving the most racial bias among those participants who avoided mentioning race.

The point:  Pretending not to see race (or, by implication other differences) is a poor strategy for managing diversity and inter-group differences.  In the nonprofit sector, many organizations attempt to deal with social problems that are highly correlated to race.  How can you do the work if you can’t talk about one of the critical variables in understanding it.

What do you think…how does colorblindness impact your organization?

Three questions to ask before beginning your planning process

It’s that time of year when nonprofits begin to make plans for the new fiscal year.  How do you build a good and successful planning process is one of the most important things a newly promoted nonprofit leader can learn.  The first step is understanding the questions you need to answer before beginning your process.

Why am I here? Planning requires a significant commitment of time and attention that is in short supply. Having a good understanding of what they are there to do and why they are there to do it is essential in allowing people to be clear about the priority it should be given. More importantly, this will help people figure out if the right people are in the room. If you don’t have a goal and you don’t have the right decision-makers in the room then you don’t have a process. You have a time suck.

Are we really going to go there? In most organizations there are a lot of doubts, questions, and concerns, that often go unsaid. While there are times when this is understandable, it is never helpful. While you should be clear about what topics can and cannot be discussed in the planning process, you should be very careful about limiting discussion unnecessarily. Topics of scope, focus, impact, scale, equity, capacity, and resources are central to any good process. Good planning requires hard conversations, good creative conflict, and decision-making.  If you can’t commit to that then you are just wasting time.

When do we get started on the real work? Spending time planning when children are going hungry seems frustrating. Yet, one of the ironies of this sector is that  to have any success applying finite resources to a problem of infinite scale you need a real plan. Your job as the leader is to commit the organization of a value of action that is informed, purposeful, and urgent.  To make the planning worth it you will need to have outcomes that are action oriented that contributes to the work that you are focused on.