Turning Insight into Action
My next book, Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace, is now officially done and with the editor. The topic feels more relevant than ever in our divided, often contentious world. And although my focus, as always, is on how we can most skillfully navigate the world of work, there are many lessons that can be applied to policy, education and the arts, as well as our personal lives.
The topic of bridging divides gets at many of the big, pressing questions of the day: How do we create solidarity while honoring what’s distinctive about our own identity? How do we find common ground with those whose values we may not share? How do we make diversity a source of power rather than of division or distraction?
During the course of writing the book, I conducted some inspiring interviews, which I’ll be sharing in this newsletter. Here are some reflections from a CEO who’s been helping his people rise together for years. I admire his action-based approach.
Aha moment, now what?
Mike Kaufmann, CEO of Cardinal Health Care, is so passionate about advancing women in his company that he only accepts invitations to deliver keynotes to outside groups if he can speak on topics relating to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
About fourteen years ago, Mike decided to work directly with Cardinal’s women’s employee resource group, then a new and relatively small network. This hands-on experience helped him better understand both what women could contribute and the cultural and structural constraints that held them back. As a consequence, he took two actions aimed at more effectively championing women in the company and increasing female participation, especially at senior levels.
First, he hired an outside coach with decades of women’s leadership experience to work with him solely on gender issues. He says, “I needed someone who knew the issues and knew what progress looked like. And who would tell me what I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear.”
Mike made the wise decision to hire one of the giants in the field of women’s leadership: my magnificent colleague, Rayona Sharpnack.
Second, he enlisted 5 to-7 “truth tellers” from within Cardinal, internal people tasked with keeping him informed about the company’s successes and setbacks in regard to women. He says, “I meet with them regularly. After I give a keynote, I question them. What did you think? How did that work? What could I have done better? I also ask them what’s going on in the company, where there might be potential problems. They help me learn who’s a good apple and who’s a bad apple, who’s working to improve gender diversity and who’s not buying in. I won’t necessarily fire the bad apple–– though I have done that. But I’ll make sure whoever it is starts moving forward.”
Two years ago, Mike expanded this approach to include race. He brought in an outside coach, an African American with long experience, who would tell him what he needed to hear. And he assembled a group of internal truth tellers who meet with him regularly to give feedback on racial progress and roadblocks.
During the quarterly town halls Mike holds for all employees, he always spends two hours on topics related to DEI. He engages employees at every level to share personal stories, as individuals or on panels. These narratives spur plenty of aha moments.
One such moment came during a town hall when a couple of hiring managers discussed the apparent reluctance of many female employees to apply for senior positions when they became available. Several women joined in the discussion, making clear that they often hesitated to apply because they believed they lacked all the required qualifications.
Mike recognized that the company’s hiring managers could benefit by building prospective job slates based not on who volunteered to apply, but on who the manager believed were the most qualified candidates. Putting this idea into practice quickly resulted in more women being promoted.
Mike says, “I talked about this experience in a speech to an external group. Afterward, a CEO in pharma called to say that he’d been struck by my remarks about women’s reluctance to volunteer for promotions. He was looking to appoint a new CFO and two men had put their names in the ring, but the woman he believed was most qualified for the job had not. He’d been about to choose one of the men, but after hearing me, he told the woman he thought she’d make an ideal candidate. She thanked him and said it was a wonderful offer but then spent half an hour arguing with him about all the reasons she wasn’t ready for this kind of position.”
Suddenly, says Mike, the CEO decided to stop arguing with her. “He told her that he’d made up his mind. He believed she was as ready as anyone in the company and probably had more actual experience, so she was his choice. He later called to let me know that she had been successful in her new position from the start, and had just been promoted to president of the company. He said it would never have happened if he hadn’t heard my talk. That had been his aha moment.”
Mike notes that aha moments don’t amount to much if they don’t spur action.
So his personal motto, one he shares as widely as he can, has become: “Aha moment. Now what?” That is, I get it, now what do I do?
Interviewing Mike, I realized that Aha moment, now what? also describes what I’m trying to achieve in Rising Together.
The first half of the book provides Aha Moments by identifying eight common triggers that can hold us back from working well together with those we may perceive as different.
The second half of the book is devoted to Now What. It proposes specific actions that any of us can take to move beyond the barriers that divide us and keep our relationships stuck.
Rising Together focuses primarily on men and women–– what gets in our way, and how to address it so we can move forward together. But both the triggers and practices can help us break down other barriers and divides as well: those of race, culture, sexual difference and age.
Ultimately each of us needs to expand and enrich the constellation of people who comprise our web and enlist their help even as we offer our own. In the months that follow, I’ll be previewing the triggers and the practices that I’ve been working to identify over the last two years. As Zen practitioners say, may it be of benefit.