In the sports world, there are usually weeks and months of practice and iterations of lineups, offensive/defensive options, and overall strategies before the first game day. In many college sports, the athletes practice year-round and then play their seasons in a matter of a few months. Most of their time is spent diligently practicing, mastering their skill level, and trying to improve. Many athletes vie for an increase in playing time or roster spots in the starting lineup. 

Competitions are the fun part, but the practice is fundamentally the most crucial aspect of the improvement necessary for success. Not many, if any, can just show up without practice or preparation and perform their very best. 

As a team, coaches are drilling in the fundamentals of the sport, working on team building, teaching plays and techniques that construct to fit the current team, and motivating the athletes to continue fighting, improving, and overcoming challenges and obstacles.  

Some would call this process grueling, while others love the challenge. But all athletes and coaches must go through the process. 

A similar process exists within organizations. Employers and employees work months and sometimes years to reach the designated targets and deadlines. Employees work hard to improve both the company and their positions. Many vie for promotions and raises. 

There are four quarters in an organization’s season. Each quarter is an opportunity to evaluate, grade the current state, make iterations, and present in a new way. 

In this light, for leaders to successfully evaluate the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within an organization, they might initiate a process similar to that of an athletic team assessing its success in competition. Management observes the team’s makeup, constructs the practice plans based on the skill level and personnel, evaluates each member and strategy, and adjusts the plan to reflect the necessary changes. Repeat. 

This iterative process is perfect for evaluating and changing diversity, equity, and inclusion within an organization. But before we can develop an iterative process, we must understand the definitions of each term.  

Defining DEI

What is DEI?  Definitions from the DEI summit and produced by the Equity Hub are as follows: 

  • Diversity is the presence of differences.
  • Equity is the process of working towards equal and or fair outcomes giving each the resources they need to succeed.
  • Inclusion is the discipline of creating authentically welcoming environments, respecting, supporting, empowering, validating, among others, and purposed to involve traditionally excluded individuals or groups. 

With accurate definitions, we can build the iterative process with specific, measurable data. The basic steps are to discover the baseline, construct a plan, put it into practice, evaluate it in action, make adjustments, and repeat until the desired outcome is attained. 

Evaluate to establish the baseline

The first step is to obtain an overview and determine the makeup of the organization. Then, just as a coach would evaluate the current team to decide which steps are necessary for improvement, so does the manager assess the existing team to discover the baseline? What is the current DEI standing? 

One way to ascertain the current culture is to have the employees and management describe the company’s culture. Where are the gaps? 

For example, are the descriptions of company culture throughout the organization consistent, or are there differences? Where are the inconsistencies? Are the discrepancies around diversity, equity, or inclusion? The three prongs are very different from one another. What specific information can you gain from each of the three prongs?

Here are some questions to gauge the current state: 

  • First, do employees feel comfortable communicating their concerns?  
  • Are all members of the company free to be who they are?
  • Do they say one thing when in the company of other employees but become silent when upper management is present? 
  • Do top-level meetings have a cross-section of the company, or is leadership one-dimensional?  Who holds the top positions of the company? 
  • What opportunities are there for people of color or women within the organization? 
  • Which employees are getting plum opportunities, promotions, raises, and bonuses?  
  • How are teams and individuals performing DEI initiatives? 
  • Who is in charge of which teams?
  • What are the current measurements? 
  • How were they formulated, and by whom?
  • What, if anything, needs fixing? 

Having this baseline allows you to create a plan with specific actions to correct the concerns within the organization.  

Put the plan into practice

Just as a coach would describe the layout of the practice plan with the team, so must management convey the new DEI practices. The more communication, the better the understanding of the process.   

Once the baseline is understood, implement the plan. The team sees the next steps and the direction with which to proceed. At this time, it’s essential to explain the importance of each step.  

For example, if the team lead establishes that new hiring practices will be implemented, there needs to be coaching for anyone on a hiring team. Likewise, if adding DEI educational sessions to the employee workdays or onboarding, then the goal and vision for these sessions need to be shared.

Evaluate the practices

With a baseline in place and a new direction for DEI improvement implemented, it’s time to evaluate performance. A coach watches the practice and game film, looks at the stats (numbers), and gauges individual performance. It’s no different for team leads and managers with DEI. 

With a sports team, the coach evaluates the performance of every individual on the team during the practice. In an organization, the team lead performs similar evaluations with each member of the group or company against the DEI plan. 

What if you filmed the organization for a day? What if you filmed the interactions of teammates and coworkers, department heads, managers, and C-level executives. What grade would you give the exchanges, the team itself, the direction from leadership? 

I’m not suggesting you put video cameras all over the organization. Still, it’s worth thinking about how people treat each other without even knowing there could be issues with these interactions. If the organization could watch those interactions, what would they see? 

How could a “practice” plan help your organization? 

Questions to help evaluate performance: 

As you watch the game film of the day: 

  • Are people treating each other with respect? 
  • Are all groups represented in meetings and on projects? 
  • Do all team members have equal access to opportunities, whether high-profile projects, leadership access, or promotions? 
  • Do all members have access to a seat at the table? 
  • Is privilege pushing people out of the room? 

As you look at the stats:

  • Are new targets being achieved? 
  • Are the numbers up or down? 
  • Has improvement in the specific areas occurred? 
  • Where can we do better, be more strategic, provide more vision?
  • Do we need to gain buy-in at senior levels of leadership or grassroots?
  • What levers can we pull to help ensure that buy-in? 

As you look at individual members:

  • Who is responsible for improvements?
  • Who needs more specific direction or attention?
  • What is leading to the increase or decrease in numbers? 
  • Are there carrots or sticks that can be deployed, such as employee reviews, bonuses, awards, merit impact?

Is your practice plan working today? What are you observing?  

Make adjustments

Once a coach watches a game film and understands what specifics to correct, they can then decide which adjustments to make and with whom. 

Questions to help measure for adjustments: 

  • Which members could be applauded for good play?
  • Who should be called out for poor performance?  
  • Who is mastering the plan well?
  • What strategies need to be adjusted?
  • Which teams need a change in roster? 
  • Which team leads need to be held accountable? 
  • What are the barriers to the plan working, and what can be done? 
  • What is the most effective way to communicate the changes needed?

Whatever the adjusted plan, it needs explaining with the crucial new projections and targets for deadlines made clear.  

Once again, vision and communication will be essential. 

Change usually brings about improvement. Improvement is good not only for the entire company but also for the individual. And when change doesn’t bring improvement, it carries important feedback, which leads to more trial-and-error methods striving for new plans and more iterations. 

Review and repeat

As within a live athletic competition, adjustments, timeouts, and recalibrations are all part of the process. Coaches and leaders that can assess, mastermind solutions, and implement necessary adjustments with buy-in will move the company along the DEI continuum.  

With iteration after iteration, change happens. In looking at DEI through this lens, one can see a path that is easier to measure than trying to do it all in one fell swoop. It takes time, patience, understanding, teamwork, and diligence. Every participant must be in the room and at the table to ensure all viewpoints have a voice and are understood. Only then can valuable and significant change happen.  

Where will your company be in a year, three years, five years? 

I hope you can look back and know that your leadership was a driving force in your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

See also: How to Build a Thriving Diverse and Inclusive Culture

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