Developing an Organizational Change Plan in Workplace Diversity

by Maggie Finefrock, Director
The Learning Project, Kansas City


The most difficult stage in change processes is not initiating change as many people believe. The most challenging part, and the reason that more organizational change efforts do not work, comes during the persistence stage when the going gets tough and you look around to find out where the tough have gone.

In order to create strategic and long-term change with workplace diversity initiatives, we must develop a long-range plan and be mightily committed to following it to the desired outcomes. Otherwise, like a well-intentioned health or weight loss program begun in January, we may become lost, distracted and out of steam by March. Then we are in danger of a false start and developing some patterns and habits that can make the problem worse. We could gain back the pounds and problems that we lost and they could invite all of their little friends to join them, oh my.

In Part Two of this article, I will frame some steps to create a high-performance culturally diverse learning organization. But first let's play around with five ways to ensure that your diversity plan will NOT work and bigotry, low morale, sluggish performance and litigation will triumph.


1. Allow a hostile environment as the culture of your organization. Develop an adversarial "us vs. them" mentality. Use guilt as a motivating factor. Treat workplace diversity as a black/white issue. Leave out other groups and refer to workplace diversity initiatives as warmed-over affirmative action. Don't dispel the myths that this is just about more special treatment for the squeaky wheels. Dismiss new ideas and complaints as trivial or use them as fodder for jokes about "political correctness." Use the term "reverse discrimination'' to confuse people. Talk about the effects of racism and sexism as individual and not institutional. Make sure that organizational norms against scapegoating do not include white men. After all, if people continue to fight among themselves, they might leave you alone.

2. Remain in denial. Say "We don't have any of those people around here." Assume that because you have not heard any complaints about discrimination, inequity or hostile work conditions that there are none. Assume when you do hear rumblings that people are being "way too sensitive" and should leave the personal stuff at home. Invent history and deny that special rights and privileges have been given to certain groups and legally denied others. After all, the injustices of the past have been rectified with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, eh?

3. Value conformity. Be relieved that the more people like you that you hire and have as clients, the less energy you will have to expend in dealing with differences. Work to increase your team's adherence to your work and communication style, and maintain your authoritarian leadership methods. Make your team motto something like, "There is one right way to do things." Buy stock in a competing agency because they will get all the clients/customers/employees/applicants that you are not serving and you will need a reserve fund for the near future when you are out of a job.

4. Don't link workplace diversity to the bottom line. Treat issues of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities, economic class, etc., as "soft" issues that are not pertinent to the success of the organization. Do not embed your workplace diversity plan in the main business plan and strategy. Treat it as peripheral, something for personnel to "fix." Don't have an expressed and communicated vision, values and mission for the organization that values people as your greatest resource. Appease employees and lawyers with a little "workplace diversity awareness training" now and then so you can look like you are doing something and can justify your own racism/sexism.

5. Wait until you have a major problem to begin change. Continue management by chaos and shooting from the hip. Don't give in to those clich├ęs like "The cost of doing nothing is already too high" and "No one likes change except a wet baby." Wait for the forces of entropy and change to run your organization out of control while you worship the status quo. Planned change is, after all, messy and expensive sometimes. Healing may hurt. Proactive management and planning, democratic decision making and creating a diverse environment of respect and high productivity are just fads anyway. If you hold your breath long enough they will go away. Think of settling legitimate lawsuits as just one of the tools of organizational life. Try to patch over the problems with yet more training for the underlings and, oh yes, you'll need to form some committees.

6. Your turn. This is an audience participation article. You have got the idea now. Add some fun lessons of your own.


Don't you just hate it when people keep framing the workplace diversity issue over and over again, telling you all about what's wrong and never giving you any semblance of solutions? Here are some steps in a change process that have worked for some. These and the aforementioned items are at least worth arguing about (an important diversity skill).

1. THE WHAT: Include valuing of workplace diversity as a critical part of the mission, purpose, vision, values and daily strategy of the organization. This value should permeate every aspect of the organization---hiring, firing, policies, architecture, design, location, projects undertaken, clients and customers, promotions, celebrations, incentives, budget, compensation, marketing, management styles, training, deadlines, strategic planning, families, recruiting, retention, meetings, action planning, performance appraisals, investments, etc., in an aligned (not maligned) system. Define workplace diversity and don't assume you are all talking about the same animal. Challenge the assumptions of the old wine skins. Create dissatisfaction with the parts of the status quo that are not working to benefit all people.

2. THE WHO: Develop a workplace diversity strategy team to guide the change process for the next three to five years. It will take a committed and diverse group of leaders from all levels of the organization to drive this process to completion. They will decide direction, be advocates for change and workplace diversity, listen, monitor, evaluate and adjust the plan. Start the workplace diversity strategy team on learning and training plan for diversity. The goal is to be a high-achieving and culturally diverse learning organization. All members in the organization must be committed to continuous learning. There is no final destination in change but another horizon and another.

3. THE WHY: Determine where you are starting and where you want to end up. Develop the business case for why you are embarking upon this fruitful journey. Get consensus on what has been accomplished so far, what the short- and long-range outcomes will be, success indicators, ways to celebrate successes and how to develop a purpose statement. Conduct a workplace diversity audit of the entire organization by surveys, focus groups, interviews, data, etc. Solicit as much feedback as you can from employees and clients to determine the baseline of where you are starting and the goals and objectives people need to experience success.

4. THE WHERE: After the data gathering is completed, analyze it carefully with the workplace diversity strategy team and develop an action plan. Translate your vision into agendas of where you want to go. Invest time listening to the responses of all constituents. Spend time mushing around in the data to determine current realities and future dreams of one, three, five, 10 and 20 years. Tie it into the overall strategic organizational plan. Be creative in writing out a detailed action plan. State action steps, rationale, people in charge of making it happen, deadlines to meet, necessary resources and inevitable obstacles. Include every aspect of the organization but prioritize into what can be accomplished in a realistic time frame. Make sure it is aligned with your mission, vision and values. Contrary to popular belief, planning does not have to be dreary. It should be fun and energizing.

5. THE HOW: Start acting. Just do it. Implement your diversity action plan. Remember that you will be evaluated by others on outcomes that you achieve and not just good intentions. Start. Yes, you will be smarter tomorrow and your plan will change. Just remain in a learning mode and each step will lead to the next. Even apparently wrong steps will lead you to great insights. Continue to mobilize commitment to change. Create a shared vision of how things can be better throughout the organization. Give yourselves credit for what you are already doing as long as it does not put you to sleep. Build consensus, competence and cohesion. Conduct the necessary dialogues, training and education. Communicate agendas so that others will want to buy in. Without mandating, encourage creativity. Establish a learning community around the issues of workplace diversity and encourage a creative problem-solving mode. Celebrate small successes and keep moving, reflecting, adjusting and changing. The key is to create a healthy and productive system that removes prior discrimination without excluding anyone. Place high value on your sense of humor and your ability to fall.

6. THE NOW WHAT? Persist, persist, persist until the diversity action plan is accomplished and exceeded. This is the toughest part. Discouragement and impatience can creep in. Your baseline conditions were not developed in six months, so don't expect them to be eradicated in that amount of time or double that time. Some change, like the integration of the armed forces, is fast and overnight. Other change, like the years of policy discussions leading up to Truman's mandate and the subsequent adjustments in the 50 years after, are slower and evolutionary. You should come up against resistance. That is a sign that your change process is working. Take a non-defensive attitude and use the resistance to educate yourself and give you feedback. If something is not working well across the board, don't do it that way anymore. If you are paying conscious attention, you will find a better way to meet important goals. This is why you have a strategy team in this process. Use them. Individual change agents playing Lone Ranger can burn out without a support and tag team. The only rule is to keep learning and persist. This is a developmental process. Continually ask, "Are we getting better? Are we having fun yet? Is this the way to San Jose? (or wherever you have aimed to go)"

7. THE SO WHAT? The end result of all your hard work is a high-achieving diverse learning organization. In this discrimination-free workplace, all obstacles are removed that will keep any associate or client/customer from reaching their full potential. You are using close to 100 percent of your resources. There is a climate of trust, collaboration, productivity, innovation, shared power, healthy humor and creativity. You finally understand how "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" applies to organizational life. Barriers are removed and systems are in place for continuous learning and change. There are improvements in profits, products and people. The effects and results of your organization are influencing the entire community through employees' families and increasingly diverse and satisfied consumers of your services. Your model is being noticed and used in the community and beyond. Besides, through all this you and your colleagues are experiencing more harmony and energy and a lot more fun. You notice that this exists even when conflicts occur and the work is hard.

You have accomplished the breakthrough of a paradigm of separateness that has been dominant for centuries and has been holding back the progress of civilization. Someday ultimate success will be measured not by how many toys one can accumulate in a lifetime, but by how successful one is in ending oppression in any form. Congratulations for whatever stage you are in on this journey. Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. We make the road by walking.

About the Author

Maggie Finefrock is director of The Learning Project in Kansas City. If you want to add to and/or argue with these points, please contact her at 2615 Martha Truman Road, Kansas City, MO 64137.


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