Where does DEI “Belong” When Creating Your Strategic Plan?

Awareness, concern, and motivation have never been higher when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within corporations across the United States. Thankfully. There’s much room for more progress and no one should declare victory just yet, but I do detect forward motion in this regard within the organizations I support. That said, as those organizations are pursuing strategic planning initiatives, the question of “fit” has arisen, so I thought I would share a few thoughts and experiences from my recent work.

Much of the focus within such planning engagements has been to transition from aspirational to actionable, from conceptual to concrete. It’s important to allow some breathing room for leaders to dream, to look up ahead and establish the big, hairy, audacious goals… but it’s also vital to remain grounded, developing the tactics that will help advance the organization forward down the desired path. Often, it’s a balancing act between these two extremes: big-picture-pie-in-the-sky and nose-down-baby-steps.

As organizations launch or enhance their collective efforts when it comes to DEI and seek to tangibly and demonstrably emphasize this work as a core value, it can sometimes feel tricky as to where to place it within the constructs of a traditional strategic planning framework. For some organizations, it’s important to name “strategic pillars” or primary focus areas for the future. These priorities are really just categories of work that, once accomplished, will help the organization achieve desired goals. So, why not lump all DEI work into one such pillar as a point of emphasis and as a way of communicating that DEI belongs at the top strategic level along with all other tip tier priorities? Makes sense, right?

Well, not so fast. I’m seeing that these organizations are finding that organizing their plans in this fashion actually (and quite accidentally) has the opposite effect. It places all DEI objectives into a neat box, separated away from much of the other ongoing strategic work. It fosters a mindset that you can assign one accountable executive leader or team to the DEI tasks and then that will suffice.

But there are other organizations who are resisting this urge. Instead of calling DEI simply one of the priorities, they are thinking of it as a unifying thread that seamlessly runs through the entire fabric of the strategic plan. At one client site, we asked executive leaders to review their tactical action plans with the organization’s DEI consultant who provided feedback and advice. These were ultimately reflected in the final plan and not only became that unifying thread but also served as an educational vehicle for all who were reviewing and then working to implement the plan. By considering the idea that DEI “belongs” basically EVERYWHERE in the plan, this organization better ensured appropriate focus and attention to their DEI commitment and objectives. I consider this now to be a best practice in this regard.

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