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Three steps to supercharge DE&I capability building

Thoughtfully designing a DE&I program around the behaviors and moments that matter most will help move beyond “awareness building” to true inclusivity.
Drew Goldstein

Advises clients across various industries in creating and sustaining high-performing workplaces with particular expertise in culture, organization design, diversity, equity, and inclusion

Sasha Goluskin

Partners with clients to develop change-ready organizations with a focus on culture and learning initiatives that drive belonging, inclusion, innovation, and performance

Supports organizations in developing talent as a competitive advantage, with specific focus on building more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces

Julia Sperling-Magro

Serves private- and public-sector clients on large-scale organizational transformations, strengthening performance and health through enhanced culture, values, leadership, and talent systems

Inclusion is a business imperative. In fact, employees who feel very included are nearly three times more likely to feel excited by and committed to their organizations. However, building an inclusive culture doesn’t happen overnight.

Organizations should avoid the most common shortcomings of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) training and focus on these three steps to create an effective capability-building program.

Step #1: Prioritize specific, observable behaviors that improve inclusion

Many employees struggle to understand what being “inclusive” looks like in practice. Our research has found 17 management practices and underlying behaviors that drive workplace inclusion—but it’s nearly impossible to improve all at once. Organizations must identify which of these practices and behaviors they uniquely need to prioritize and then link them back to the existing strategy, values, and/or competency model. This underscores that inclusivity skills are a natural extension of the current structure, not “extra” work. For example, inclusive behaviors can be incorporated into how values are evaluated during performance reviews. 

Design a program that translates these skills into practical examples. Be specific, pinpointing how exactly employees will practice these behaviors. Avoid vague platitudes like “accept diverse views,” and give specific advice such as, “intentionally encourage employees to express constructive criticism and offer their own ideas.”

Once behaviors are defined, organizations can benchmark them, measure progress, and reward those who implement them. This behavior-specific capability-building program should serve as the foundation for a broader change program, such as one designed around the influence model.

Step #2: Identify the “moments that matter” for employees to implement the behaviors

Employees already have a lot on their minds. Rather than instructing them to think about inclusion at every moment of every day, it’s important to identify and teach the most critical moments when they should be on heightened alert to practice the priority behaviors.

Examples of “moments that matter” include:

  • Interviewing candidates
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Providing feedback to a colleague
  • Conducting team meetings
  • Evaluating employees 
  • Talking to a colleague after a significant life event 

Use data, panel discussions, and other means to show how these moments may currently be exclusive. Translating inclusivity into practical, realistic examples helps people understand when and how they should most focus on changing their behavior.

Step #3: Design a program where employees can practice behaviors in the context of these “moments that matter”

Many employees struggle with a traditional workshop for DE&I-related trainings. They can be emotionally exhausting, time consuming, and too broad to translate to a participant’s specific role. Instead, consider how each employee segment would best learn, practice, and sustain inclusive behaviors for their “moments that matter.”

This will inevitably lead to a multi-modal program, tailored for different groups. The following are key questions to explore:

  • Scalability: Can digital courses be introduced in a compelling, effective way to reach employees more efficiently?
  • Theory vs. application: What is the right balance of data, role-playing practice, small-group sharing, and reflecting on lived experiences?
  • Measurement: How will you measure success and experiment with what works best for employees?
  • Sustaining change: What will remind learners to practice these skills after the session ends?

The answers to these questions depend on the organization and audience. For example, front-line employees might benefit from shorter “bursts” of content, simulations with colleagues, and real-time nudges about inclusive behaviors they can apply on the job.

Learning programs can be transformative when they include critical reflection, practice, and dialogue. Real impact requires getting learners out of their comfort zone. A psychologically safe environment, well-trained facilitators, and high levels of interaction are essential to executing this successfully.

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With employee turnover at record highs, inclusion has never been more critical. A well-designed capability-building program is a powerful DE&I tool. By focusing on specific behaviors, moments that matter, and applicable practice, organizations can maximize their program and truly drive a more inclusive culture.

Learn more about our People & Organizational Performance Practice