Each company has what it thinks of as its suite of core competencies that are highly attuned to whatever they do to generate revenue and to stay in and grow their business.

Every company also has a bunch of “oh I’d rather not have to do that bit” set of overhead type activities that it doesn’t regard as sexy or exciting revenue-generating stuff. You know – this is what we often call the -back office, administrative costs of doing business.

And therefore it sometimes tends to not focus its attention on developing that area particularly well, and therefore it sometimes tends to not focus on developing the people who happen to be working in that area particularly well either.

So over time, those back office activities can tend to atrophy a bit, and the people involved in those activities can tend to lose sight of their own exciting future potentials.

And at some point someone has the idea, “Well what if we paid another company who’s efficient at doing that stuff to do it for us instead?”

“And since we’re going to do that, we’re not going to need these staff anymore, so maybe we should give them the opportunity to go work for the other company…”

Well, in the particular experience that I’m thinking of, I was working with the receiving company – we’ll call it “Company B”. We were about to receive all of the staff from “Company A” in a very exciting multi-million pound deal.

And as part of this – because for Company B, this is core revenue-generating activity – we were going to pour all sorts of training and development cash into our ‘new hires’.

In fact, we were planning to invest significantly more money into the staff than the old company had done. And we felt very good about this. But for some reason the people didn’t want to play along. So as designers and negotiators of the deal, we began to sweat.

The people who were going to be transferred in this undertaking were looking like they were actually intending to opt out of both companies and go work for somebody else – and that would have ruined the entire deal really.

We (Company B) needed those people. Not only for the insider knowledge they had of Company A, who was to be their new client – but also, we just needed that additional amount of “human resource” to provide the service.

So it was a very handy and critically necessary amount of “resource” that seemed to be slipping through our fingers despite our calculated generosity for developing the staff.

Our perspiration turned into desperation and we decided to take a time-out in the negotiations and talk with everyone involved, in-person.

Why didn’t the people want to play along, when their new company was going to put in all this extra effort and money and resource to support and promote them?

There was a very specific reason, and that is, at the individual employee level, they were going to be going home each week with less money in their pocket, less cash.

So regardless of the fact that this new company was going to spend far more money on helping them to develop, they were in fact going to be walking out at the end of the day with a smaller cash-in-hand pay cheque.

And at the socio-economic level in which they were working, this was simply not a margin that they or their growing families could afford or wanted to accept.

So are you wondering how this scenario is relevant to Diversity and Inclusion? Here’s the explanation. Company A and Company B both thought “hey, this is a good deal for the people. Significantly more money is going into their development and over time, things are going to get better and better for them”.

But neither company had actually consulted with the staff targeted for the move and so no one had noticed that the actual cash-in-hand effect was worse for the people involved.

We had only communicated to them – not with them.

So we didn’t expect the problems and we certainly didn’t understand it when people said “forget this, I’m leaving”.

So regardless of our organisation’s strategic intentions to be inclusive of a diverse workforce, what we should have kept in-mind was; how the actual individuals involved felt – what it was that they were measuring to feel included – at a practical level.

Once we did do this, once we understood their situation – and they knew that we understood – we were able to re-structure the deal so that no-one lost out on pay day. The deal was done. Phew!

What did I learn?

  • You can’t simply say “you’re included”, or “people are our greatest asset”. That just doesn’t work. You can ask them, “What is it that you need to see or hear or feel or know or do, or for me to do, that would result in your knowing that you really are included in what we’re thinking about doing?”
  • All value is context-dependant – and what you actually communicate can only be measured in the RESPONSE you get – not by what you intended to say or to deliver.
  • You need to step into your target recipients’shoes and walk a good mile with them inside their context before opening your mouth or your cheque book, so that you can deeply consider things from within their context first.

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