Innovation & Inclusivity: The Way Forward

Highlights, Takeaways and Key Ideas from ACHIEVEBLUE's February 26 breakfast seminar.

Innovation and Inclusivity EventOn Tuesday February 26, a full room of inquiring and forward-thinking HR professionals gathered at the Verity Club in Toronto to network, gain fresh insights, and hear from some innovative peers in the Canadian HR world.

It was the first of ACHIEVEBLUE’s 2019 HR industry learning seminars…and based on its overwhelming success, more will certainly follow.

Innovation & Inclusivity, the Way Forward, was a two-hour breakfast event designed to foster curiosity, creativity and empathy in an age of rapid change. What was unique about this event was that it featured three prominent HR leaders in the field today. Rather than presenting the typical HR expert or consultant with views from the outside, it shone a spotlight on three engaging executives sharing their real-world experiences working ‘in the trenches’ of different types of organizations. Our panel members spoke on the following topics:

  • Inclusion, Collaboration and the Science Behind Enterprise Success:
    • How a global financial institution used new scientific approaches to explore strong connections between inclusion and collaboration
  • Pioneering Diversity – an Electrifying First at the Power Plant:
    • How a leading Ontario energy provider, generated nationwide kudos with its first-ever diversity and inclusion strategy
  • Championing your people: fostering innovation through great conversations:
    • How this food processing leader shifted its focus from promotion for the few, to better dialogue, feedback and mentoring for each and every member of the team to drive engagement and a culture of innovation

For those of you who missed this inspiring morning, we are pleased to provide a brief summary, including some of the HR knowledge, stories and insights from our esteemed panelists.

Introduction by Melanie Dowhaniuk and Mona Mitchell

After everyone did a little networking and settled in with their hot breakfast, the event began with some warm introductions: Melanie Dowhaniuk, Executive Vice President of ACHIEVEBLUE welcomed everyone.

Mona Mitchell, President and CEO of ACHIEVEBLUE then took the stage to outline the agenda and provide some context. Mona emphasized how a culture of innovation, whether adopted in large or bite-sized chunks, was an important and highly valuable corporate asset today. Innovation, she emphasized, must become every successful organization’s mantra, and an innovation culture must be championed by its HR leaders.  She then introduced the panelists and highlighted the overarching goal of today’s event: to start a conversation.

Here are some highlights from our event to continue the conversation:

Inclusion, Collaboration and the Science behind Enterprise Success

Our first panel member shared her recent experience within a growing financial organization. The focus was on employees and governance and how to maintain an inclusive structure as the organization grew. Leveraging innovative HR approaches, the goal was to continue to champion inclusion and collaboration.

They adopted an informal approach with small groups and had discussions. Applying some simple principals of neuroscience – the study of how the brain works – they were able to reveal telling biases which uncovered unintentionally used language that was experienced as not-inclusive. Understanding the ‘hard wiring’ of the brain, emotional hijacking, reactions to risk and how people react when they feel unsafe leads the neocortex to shut down and one begins a downward spiral. This reaction can be triggered with difficult feedback, a poor performance review, conflicting viewpoints and even the start of a new job or role. The answer?  Through providing situational feedback, there was room to create greater awareness – and this also helped people recognize unconscious biases to foster an inclusive, collaborative culture. 

The long-term approach centers on ensuring that there is alignment across the organization - from shareholders through team members - and collaboration within and across all team members.

Pioneering Diversity – an Electrifying First at the Power Plant

Our next speaker talked about how “change” was important to make an organization’s culture and strategy align – and ensure an inclusive workplace for success.  Her more tenured and established organization (90 plus years) had a long history and a large employee base of more than 95,000, many of whom worked there for their entire career.  It is a highly technical, hierarchical organization with a majority of white male workers and leaders. Safety and security are part of its DNA.

She described how up to 2016, they went through a challenging period due to workforce reduction and negative publicity – but this period also saw performance improvement. The company brought in a forward-thinking CEO in late 2015, determined to do it right – and do it right now.

Under his inspired leadership, the executive team has now identified 10 enterprise initiatives to drive change, including creating a One Culture with a long-term goal to build a healthy, diverse and engaged workforce with the culture to succeed.

A baseline survey to chart a course forward

The company used a survey to obtain a leadership base line, and then worked with ACHIEVEBLUE’s Mona Mitchell using the OCI® and Leadership/Impact® tools to determine its Current and Ideal culture as well as the leadership strategies and impact.

  • Reality check: The results of the survey identified the opportunity to implement culture and leadership change
    • The journey was almost a year for the leadership team to work together and establish a way forward
    • A working committee lead the charge for change, with members of the executive team championing the initiative

Success factors for the One Culture shift and driving a diversity and inclusion focus included:

  • Three leadership forums were held per year to drive alignment and awareness, (one where the senior team demonstrated vulnerabilities in order to bring other leaders on board)
  • Careful following of an established process to ensure buy-in that drove an enterprise approach to break down silos and raise the bar on leadership
  • The strategy was developed around firm objectives built into people leader’s performance expectations to demonstrate visible support and changes as they were made, including diversity, inclusion and health and safety goals incorporating both conventional and psychological safety
  • Visible leadership from the senior team was a priority
  • Two enlightened courses served to help shift the culture:
    • An “unconscious bias” course that every employee was mandated to take, starting with the leadership team and a mandatory 2 hour in person course on “creating an inclusive workplace”
    • A Mental Health First Aid course by Ontario Shores: over 2200 employees took part and received >90% satisfaction rate on the course (time away for mental health issues has decreased since the course has been rolled out)

Early results of the One Culture shift are promising:

  • Number of absences have reduced
  • A Culture survey (two years later) revealed 76% of employees felt they were going in the right direction
  • Senior management went from comprising 10% to 30% female leaders
  • Overall corporate results have improved year over year 

Championing your people: fostering innovation through great conversations

Our next speaker gave us a window into how her traditional food manufacturing company has begun to champion its people and foster innovation through having some great conversations. As one of Canada’s largest fresh poultry providers (owned and operated by a family) its clients include giant retailers such as Costco and Loblaws. She described its mission, vision and values as “great”.  One value is continuous improvement, which comes up in 75% of meetings through the simple phrase “how might we?” It allows them to review traditions and find innovative ways to improve.

Although it is a large organization comprising of 2600 employees working in 3 facilities – with some great values - they have had to build HR processes from the ground up. No procedures had been in place and everything had been paper-based. In fact, most senior staff had no solid understanding of what modern HR practices could provide.

Having a clean slate and no ‘baggage’ was a luxury for the HR team, but brought challenges. They required a solid campaign to educate management in HR practices and the benefits of an innovation/inclusion culture to achieve buy-in. Steps they took included:

  • Addressing basic supervisory leadership skills
  • A focused talent review
  • Communications messaging/campaigns to spread awareness of why new HR processes and a culture of inclusion were important
  • Discussion/feedback based coaching and evaluation of talent based on demonstrated behaviours, without using “promotability” as a factor, eliminating the 9-box

And her foremost tactic for HR change:

  • Developing a champion in every role: someone who would perform well with a great attitude as an aspirational example of an engaged team player

How HR selected/created their champions:

  • Criteria for “champions” chosen that reflected inclusivity – and recognized those who incrementally excelled at both performance and demonstration of the company’s critical behaviours
  • Development of a list of core competencies and leadership competencies required to be a champion
  • Definition of “champion” behaviours: Made it clear to all employees what constituted bad behaviours and what constituted good behaviours
  • Scoring was between 1 to 4 to eliminate the middle, 4 being people leaders or champions; (forced people to think of their team’s behaviour)
  • Measurement was conducted regularly and tied to earnings

The core focus of her HR team was on conversations:

  • The HR team invested time and energy in improving how the company’s leaders have conversations through mentoring and coaching. (“Three Hats Training” – manager / coach (75% of time) / mentor (usually with champions)

The results? Before the HR team swung into action, they found that while only 25% of their manager and above levels are female, 42% of their champions are female.

Final tip for HR success:“Take the ten minutes to determine if the tools you’re using are achieving the results and, if not, redefine”

Innovation and Inclusivity Panel Discussion / Questions and Answers

Event Panel Questions

Our Innovation and Inclusivity Q & A session with the three panelists sparked a vibrant discussion. We had more questions than there was time for answers. Here are the questions for which we did have time:

Question 1: “As the team created culture and processes were applied, what was the reaction as it cascaded into the organization in terms of behaviour change and reaction?”

Answer: “Our values underpinning the approach ensured there was never a ‘no’ answer; it’s always ‘how’ or ‘yes’. Also, curiosity helps us find answers.  Subtle examples made a big difference.”

Question 2:What advice would you give to those who don’t have an enlightened CEO?”

Answer: “Don’t make assumptions: don’t assume they have the values you believe they do. “Build a bridge from the other side. Find out what matters to them and build common ground. More often than not, when a thought has been ascribed to someone, it’s not necessarily true once you get to know them. Make sure you know what matters to them.”

Question 3: “As you’ve been implementing the strategies, is there a layer where things have got ‘stuck’?”

Answer:Yes, they get stuck and it’s usually in the middle. Strategy was set by a council of general managers meeting on a regular basis. We listened more than we spoke, to ensure corporate goals were achieved. Once the council bought in, other middle management tended to buy in. The conversation framework was greatly beneficial, as well as other foundation details. The important thing is to constantly reiterate what the business principal or problem is that needs to be solved. Keep the message on point, especially the ‘why’. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself ‘why’ on a regular basis. If you’re getting stuck, it’s usually a sign that you have to ask yourself if you’re on the right track.”

Q: “Buy-in is critical from the top to the front-line employee. What has been the impact on front-line people when programs are implemented?”

Answer: “(Our company) purposefully used key influencers to ensure the cascade effect. In fact, key influencers did sessions in locations they don’t reside. This sent a signal that silos were to be brought down. Plants had an informal ‘huddle’ to address issues. We had a “One Day” to celebrate things that went well, showed our momentum and allowed new ideas.”

‘For anything to stick in an organization, it has to go, not only top-down but bottom-up. Influence is a great way to ensure there’s traction. Small things can really resonate, and little things can lead to great questions.”

Q: “Impact of change within the organization as the message is cascaded down. How have naysayers affected attrition rates and how do you safeguard employees?

Answer: “Loyalty to the company is long and strong and staff has ‘hung in’. There are some people who don’t like the change but stay because of the family. We are likely to lose some people along the way but are starting a program to help people transition out. It’s important to ensure you treat people with respect. Number one thing is to measure how fast people can change.”

Answer: “In terms of leadership, we tweaked the model, and some have not fit with the new culture. We hire for the new model. Largely, most people are embracing the new culture and when there are people not onside, we coach them to support the shift.

Do you have an innovative initiative you want to bring to life – or share with others?


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