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Organizational Narratives™ - The Diversity Journal

This article was featured in The Diversity Journal in June 2015

Why diversity and inclusion efforts fail: lots of data, little insight

In today’s competitive and globalized work environment, diversity & inclusion (D&I) efforts are essential to increasing organizational adaptability, improving recruitment and retention, and boosting workforce productivity. Yet in spite of heightened awareness of the importance of D&I, leaders often struggle to achieve meaningful culture change in their organizations or measure whether initiatives such as diversity trainings make a difference. Why?

Traditional D&I initiatives are often shaped by intuition about a company’s diversity challenges or a select number of employee interviews. While some D&I professionals utilize more formal multiple-choice surveys to gain a snapshot of employee perceptions and satisfaction with diversity practices, they still lack insight into the “why” behind survey answers. Without deeper understanding of the beliefs that drive employee views and behavior related to diversity, leaders often launch D&I initiatives that fall flat—failing to see where they are aligned or misaligned with underlying employee mindsets.

Organizational Narratives: a new tool for understanding and shaping diversity and inclusion

One way to understand the mindsets that drive how employees collaborate with people of different backgrounds: Uncover their Organizational Narratives—the deeply rooted, emotional beliefs that employees hold about a company, its mission, culture, leadership, and future prospects. Like many other types of beliefs, Organizational Narratives are anchored in perceptions, not just objective facts.

While Organizational Narratives can be difficult to pinpoint, Narrative Analytics can help leaders identify, quantify, understand, shape, and monitor their Organizational Narratives. The first step is to analyze large volumes of qualitative employee data to surface opportunities to reinforce positive elements of employee diversity culture and address sources of friction that impact satisfaction, commitment, and productivity. Then quantifying these Organizational Narratives enables leaders to make data-driven decisions, set measurable goals, and track progress in shaping employee mindsets.

The Method: rigorous data-driven metrics to uncover beliefs for D&I

How does this process work? As an example, a major energy company asked us to help them understand how they could better promote culture change among its 30,000-strong workforce, which included the full range of diversity—from racial/ethnic to gender to ability to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Our client had reams of data from employee satisfaction surveys, but had little insight into the mindsets that shaped employee behavior and influenced D&I initiatives and other strategic priorities like safety, productivity, and retention. They needed a way to understand those mindsets so they could connect with this diverse employees set in more a meaningful way and effectively cultivate a more welcoming, more engaged, and more productive workplace.

To identify our client’s Organizational Narratives, we constructed a data set of internal survey comments and external material like Glassdoor.com reviews full of narrative-rich content capturing employee perspectives on the organization and its culture. We then analyzed this content based on thematic similarity, and applied social science expertise to decode, articulate, and quantify the deeply held beliefs underlying this data.

We surfaced eight key narratives that were driving our client’s organizational culture. These narratives spanned from positive beliefs about company progress; to stories of frustration with bureaucracy and structural obstacles; to entrenched negative mindsets questioning leadership intentions.

Landscape of Organizational Narratives for our Energy Client:

Organizational Narratives™ - The Diversity Journal

Together, these narratives pointed to clear opportunities to connect diversity and inclusion to positive beliefs that already resonated with employees, and to adjust strategy, policy, and communication to avoid triggering negative narratives that undermined D&I initiatives.

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