S03 E05: How Can Leaders Prevent DEI Fallouts & Improve Sense of Belonging in an Organization.

In this episode of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey, we have with us Shelley Smith, Founder & CEO at Premier Rapport, who discusses with us about how leaders can prevent DEI fallouts and improve the sense of belonging for their organization.

About Shelley –

Shelley Smith is a best-selling author, consultant, and Founder & CEO of Premier Rapport consulting firm. Her experience over the past 35+ years has earned her a reputation as the Creator of the Culture Inquiry in businesses globally.

Shelley has worked with mid-size businesses, enterprises, and national and multinational corporations that seek to create an intentional workplace culture that creates a healthy work environment and yields savings to the bottom line.

Her clientele includes well recognised organizations like – Marriott international, Ferguson, Mitsubishi chemical, Virginia premier, PB Mares to name a few.

She is also a notable alumni of Cornell university.

Here’s a gist of what Shelley speaks about in this video:

  • The importance of aligning vision and mission statements at all levels – from the leadership team to every other employee in the organization. She also discusses how a lot of organizations miss having a culture statement which often leads to confusion when implementing DEI policies.
  • The need for creating an organizational culture that is unique to any organization. Just copying something that a larger or bigger brand is doing will almost always result in catastrophic failure.
  • The importance of sticking to the process that organizations formulate for change management and keeping on that track to see visible progress. Building a great culture takes consistent effort.
  • The need to benchmark and have an understanding of what the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion objectives are. She also stresses on how a lot of companies collect employee sentiment but fail to effectively use them to take visible actions.
  • How not just HRs but everyone needs to be the custodian of employee engagement in an organization. Anyone who is a people manager needs to be all on the same page and needs to feel like they have that ownership of all of DEI elements.

Catch all this and more with Shelley Smith in S03 E05 of CultureClub X. Do read the transcript of the full episode to gain more insights.


Nicole – Hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of CultureClub powered by CultureMonkey. I’m your host, Nicole Patrick. CultureMonkey is a complete employee engagement platform that helps you as a leader to measure and improve your workplace culture, thereby enabling you to listen to your employees better.

In this episode of this season of CultureClub, we have Shelley Smith, Founder and CEO of Premier Rapport consulting firm. Shelley Smith is a best selling author, consultant.

Her experience over the past 35 years has earned her a reputation as the creator of Culture Inquiry and Business Globally.

Shelley has worked with mid-size businesses, enterprises and national and multinational corporations that seek to create an international workplace culture that creates a healthy work environment and yields savings to the bottom line.

Nicole – Her clientele include recognized organizations like Marriott International, Ferguson, Mitsubishi Chemical, Virginia Premier, and PPMeyer, to name a few. She is also a notable alumni of Cornell University.

Shelley welcome again to CultureClub’s video cast on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace from policy framing to effective implementation.
Before we begin, please tell us a little bit more about yourself and your organization.

Shelley – I’m very happy to be here today. I appreciate being one of your many guests that are on, so thank you so much. Gosh, I don’t know what else to add to that. Let’s see, Premier Rapport. I’ve been in business for just over 13 years. I came from the hotel industry and more than you realize  it was not about the brick and the mortar, but it was always about the people.

And so being able to every day get to work with different environments and different sizes just to help companies, individuals and leaders to level up that workplace culture. It’s a good thing. Let’s get into it. Yeah.

Nicole – Board members often overlook what’s essential  while formulating policies around culture. It could be because of hurdles or because this is just low on their list of priorities. What, according to you, are the key focus areas for senior leadership to build a better culture for their organization. And how can they ensure that this is embedded in their company culture in a meaningful way?

Shelley – Well, unfortunately, people look for the stamp the easy way and say, oh, well, Disney is doing this, so let’s do that. And it’s not that easy. Although we do over-complicate it. The core is and the secret is clarifying what the company’s purpose is, what is their drive, what is that mission and vision and then the values that assimilate with that. If we don’t have unity around that, then often the board and the leaders get confused and they can’t even quote something like a mission and a vision and a value statement in order to even figure out what it is that they do and to attract the right people.

And then their employees have no idea what it is. One of the simple ways that you can find out if you’re aligned or not is ask everybody in the room. I do this quite often to write down on an index card three to five values or value statements that really describe what the workplace culture is.

Shelley – And what I find is unfortunately, there’s no alignment. The descriptions are different. And then I say, okay, somebody read the vision statement, okay, somebody read the mission statement, okay, somebody read the culture statement. We don’t have a culture statement. Okay. Somebody tell me what the values are and how they are made actionable.

And then we have all these varying degrees of what right looks like. The easy answer is don’t try to duplicate something that you’ve seen in her because it just doesn’t work.

You’ve got to understand who you are and then to be able to have that trip and we roll off of everybody’s tongue. So I know that was abroad, but alignment is the key word I’m looking at.

Shelley – We have to have alignment between the mission, the vision, the values. And yes, you need to have a culture statement, too. That makes complete sense to me. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about the same DEIB and it’s interesting to see the alignment side of it, and that really you do want to have one thing flow to the next and trickle to the other.

Nicole – So it’s an interesting take on it. That makes complete sense. Absolutely.

And you can’t just be a company that, oh, everybody’s talking about DEI Let’s plug that in some place. Yeah. No, it doesn’t work that way. You have to live it, breathe it, understand that those are three separate pieces. And how are you going to pull that into your culture effectively and daily? Workplace culture is not built in a day. It’s built every day.

We cannot automatically wake up and say we have a diversified workforce and that we provide equity and we absolutely provide inclusion. It’s just not that simple in order to do that. So we have to start with backing up, finding out who are we and if we intentionally are going to be focused on DEI, then how and what are our values circled around that?

With that being said, there is no company culture framework that can be replicated as a copy paste mechanism.

Nicole – Once formulated, how can people leaders ensure organizational-wide scalability and permeability of good culture practices? What role can managers play in the process of change management?

Shelley – Well, first of all, to understand what change management process you’re going to utilize, and you’ve got to lean into that. One of my favorites is actually the ad part model, which allows you to stop the process deliberately, the accountability piece, the communication piece. So if your focus is on diversity, equity and inclusion, what elements are you now?

The first thing you have to do from a framework is understand where you are now to understand what benchmark you are going to go to? I call it the ACC system. So analyze it, then you’re able to curate it and get into the final creation mode.

And if not, then you’re lost along the way. And we literally are pulling and tugging on got to

the the moment, something that you read in the press for the day, maybe around DEI, it’s like, oh, we can go do that or oh yes, we do that.

Shelley – Okay, let’s ask that during the interview process. No stop, pause. Where are we, where do we want to go?

Ideally, how do we get there and what are the incremental stops along the way and what do we have to change? So to your question, that change management process needs to be deliberate, and then that gets it.

How do we reward and recognize our teammates for doing it the right way, for doing it the right way?

So again, I know that’s a bit of a broad perspective, but we’ve got to be able to report back properly only if we understand where we’re at and where we’re going. If not, we’re just all getting in the car and driving our own separate directions and saying, oh, we’re going to get there eventually.

Shelley – So we don’t have a plan and we don’t know if we’re there yet for the goal piece. It’s just like setting up a business. You wouldn’t just blindly say, oh, well, I know I want to do this, but I have no plan.

You have a business plan that you follow every single day. You take little steps to get where you want to be in a year or two. It seems like it’s no different with that than with this.

That every day you do a little bit, you follow that road to get to where you want for your whole company in a culture to be exactly. Intentionally, not accidentally.

So much of what happens around whether we think that we are where we want to be from a DEI standpoint or not. And the overall workplace culture, is happening by accident.

It was a design that doesn’t match the living and it never will if we don’t do it intentionally. So to your point, it has to be a daily measure, which is why I say it’s built every day.

Workplace culture shows up every day, just like we do. What are we doing about it and what role are we playing.

Nicole – Exactly. Recently, many big companies known to have a good company culture have reported a lack of proper DEI initiatives. How do you think that leaders can prevent such fallout and draft framework to convey the right message of DEI being an essential component of company culture?

Shelley – First of all, we have to own where we are. So again, going back, I hate to be repetitive, but if we don’t know where we’re beginning and why do we want to make a change if we don’t believe that there is a gain. We’re in business, but we don’t think that there’s any value in focusing on any of the elements of DEI.

We don’t think there’s any value in having conversations, deliberate conversations around culture. The reality is it doesn’t matter what you put around it, it’s not going to happen.

Shelley – So we’ve got to be able to benchmark and have an understanding of, again, where we’re trying to go. So step one is, as an owner, as a board member, as a leader on where we are, what are we doing right around the different elements of DEI and our overall culture piece and where do we want to do better?

And again, why it’s going to benefit our team if we focus here and if we gain this when we do what this is going to provide the branding that we’re looking for internally, externally, this is going to give the services that we’re providing in a better way.

When we do XYZ around DEI, if not again, it doesn’t become sticky when we try to take on too many things and we can’t put a frame around too many things. We need to focus on one thing a step at a time, have everyone in the organization focused on that and rewarding them around that. That’s when it truly does come to life and it becomes a pillar that cannot be moved when we do that consistently.

I use an example of if we’re going to do something specifically around diversity and everybody’s going to focus on that one thing over the next 30, 45, 60, 90 days.

Shelley – The reason why it works, if it’s one thing and it’s focused for a long haul, it’s just like when you buy a new car, all of a sudden you see that car everywhere in the same color that you just bought. Why?

Because you’re focused on it. So imagine the power if you have everybody on your team focused on that one thing, that’s how it becomes sticky and just becomes a part of the day to day. This is how we do things and this is how we don’t do things.
Again, anything that is related to the culture piece, the value piece, and certainly diversity, equity and inclusion, that makes total sense. And I’m sure, like you just said, with how you don’t do things, things that aren’t working will start to stick out like a sore thumb.

Shelley – You’ll really be able to find your own culture of what’s meant to be with them and the accountability that the rest of the team members have, they become a part of. Anytime anybody new is brought into the team, they’re going to very quickly go, yeah, no, we don’t do that. This is how we do it.

The guardrail that we put up of what’s right and what right does not look like as well, which is equally as important because that’s where all the gray happens, is when people don’t speak up to that point. And I’m sure they’re more comfortable than to speak up because everyone is in the same boat and everyone’s really trying to focus on it at the same time.

Instead of one person feeling a little off and not wanting to bring it up because no one else is in their mind, no one else feels this way and it’s only them. When in reality most people probably are feeling the same way if it’s not working, but they’re just too afraid to speak up about it. Exactly. Because they think that the wrong way is just natural. I’ve heard so many times and I’m sure you have to.

Shelley – That’s just how we do it around here. Oh, it’s always been that way around here. So instead of saying the opposite of yes, no, we used to do it that way, but we do it this way now or wow, that’s never been my experience. I’ve noticed that when I do say something, XYZ is hurt or it has changed.

So yeah, it takes the brave souls in order to stand up and to say something. But it’s easier when everybody is focused on the masses at the same time.

Nicole – Yes, exactly. Do you agree that HR are the custodians of employee engagement and the subsequent culture practices, not just the owners? If so, what are your thoughts on this?

Shelley – I might make a few people happy and a few people sad. I do not believe that HR should be the custodian. I know that the reality is that is where it typically starts and lands, and that’s where the ownership is. They are certainly a piece of the pie, but the effective, the highly functioning team, the custodianship is at all levels.

Shelley – Everybody needs to own that practice. Now, that doesn’t mean that they can’t bring the institutional knowledge and they can’t bring that expertise to it. And it doesn’t mean that they can’t be the ones to bubble it up and to show the value and to be the voice of reasoning, especially when it comes to the DEI and the statistics that we’re looking at.

But they should not be the sole proprietor owner and nor should it just be the owner. Again, it needs to be a multitude of lenses. Anyone who is a people manager needs to be all on the same page and needs to feel like they have that ownership of all of those elements.

Because if we don’t, that becomes a weak link. And it’s easy for the inconsistencies around what the wreck looks like. I call them. Leaks begin to happen when we don’t have it.

So we say that’s just you or that’s just me. So I prefer to say that all people managers need to be the custodians of this versus not one or the other. And again, it’s easier to do things by the masses.

Shelley – Especially when you talk about change management, when everybody is flowing from different angles all going into unison as well. I’ve asked variations of that question to a few people and it always comes down to that you have to empower more than just one group.

If you just empower the HR heads to be in charge of all of this, it’s not really going to work the same as if you empower all the different managers and that they can micromanage their employees and their team to all feel responsible. And that’s how everyone then feels responsible and works toward the common goal.

So I think you’re answering well, and this is how we create the Almighty grail of inclusion is that we feel like we’re all a part of that thing, that process, that focus, that purpose. Then we’re all holding each other accountable again. And when something all of a sudden doesn’t look bright, everybody is speaking up because they cannot not speak out. They feel compelled in order to do so because they have that accountability, ownership on them versus oh, that’s just an HR thing.

Shelley – That’s just sales, that’s just sales does that. Oh no, that’s just us that does that. So the more we can move away from that and have more of an agile mindset, the more likely the success ratio is, especially if you’re in a change management process where you’re really trying to shift the DEI perspective inside of the workplace culture. So food for thought.

Nicole – How can people leaders pay attention to their organization’s pulse and constantly listen to their employees feedback despite their workloads? What methods can they use to empower managers to use the right tech to gain actionable insights?

Shelley – I think it’s one thing. I think it’s a multitude of things. Absolutely. Using the right assessment, using the right survey piece in order to understand the team dynamic, the culture dynamic, the company dynamic, the management dynamic, all of that is predicated on the trust perspective. And it’s a three legged stool.

So the manager has to trust their employees. The employees have to trust the manager, but the employees have to trust each other as well. So having the right assessment that gives you the total perspective and not only satisfaction, but total engagement through those different lenses I think is key.

Shelley – One on one conversations with your employees is also a huge part of that dedicated check in time, stay interviews and properly rewarding and recognizing for aligned behaviors. All of those elements are a must. Will one thing help you ? Sure.

One thing to kind of help you and guide you, but it may not give you all of the information that you need. So if you do a survey a couple of times a year, you’re doing that to pulse check all the things that you get on the in between isn’t working and you’re able to pull in and to reinforce having the one on one conversations and the check-ins and the stay interviews allow you to create a two way conversation and then rewarding those right behavior.

So I think it’s all of those layers of the elements. So then you’re not just having a cake, you’re having a multiple layer cake with multiple icing that everybody loves and sprinkle an ice cream on top. That’s what gets the final culmination of really understanding if your methods are right through those different pulse checks.

Shelley – So I think the key word that you said is keeping that pulse on it. We cannot just check in once a year or once every five years or all of a sudden because we’re trying to be rated as the top workplace until now. We’re going to do that. No, you need to do it constantly as a check-in. It’s how you get on a Zoom call in the morning with your team and you check in on them first. It’s how you notice that there’s something off with a team member and you call them afterwards. Or you stop in to the office or maybe you’re a factory and you go out on the floor.

It’s those moments building rapport daily that truly keeps the pulse of what’s happening. And again, cannot stress enough rewarding and recognizing when things are done right publicly with a team member. So then again, it’s easy for me as a new team member to go, oh, this is how we do things around here.

Nicole – Exactly. And I think that it really is so important to constantly be checking and especially as organizations are trying to scale or pivot and making sure that what was working for an employee when they first came on is still working for them five years later or two years down the line as they’re growing with the business.

That’s also growing. And that is where tech solutions like CultureMonkey really do come in, where you can constantly check in with them, constantly see how things are going, and do that hand in hand with face to face or Zoom meets, and make sure that you really are able, even when you have a large workload, to keep that constant pulse check. Absolutely.

Shelley – I totally agree with everything you’re saying. Absolutely. And using that information, you system provides incredible information. So when you have that information, do something with leaders that have multiple layers. You’ve got to get out of your office and get out of your space to go have real conversations with the data that you inquired and say, hey, I saw this recently on one of our check ins, hey, I saw that there was a response because some of the information is specific.

You know exactly who said it, and then some of it is generic. So use that language so they must go hand in hand.

Nicole – Absolutely. Exactly. It’s such a beautiful take on a topic that is being talked upon by many organizations today. Shelley, I was going through one of your recent blogs in The Virginian-Pilot where you had said that the importance of keeping your ear to the ground and being a leader who has true insight on what’s happening with their team on the ground on a frequent basis.

It was very interesting and relatable to what we at CultureMonkey are solving for people leaders around the world. Thank you so much for your time, Shelley.

This has been such an enriching experience for all of us. I’m sure our viewers will gain insight immensely from your thoughts. Why don’t you please let our viewers know how they can connect with you if they want to have a quick chat or give you some comments.

Shelley – Great. Thank you so much again for having me on today. It’s definitely a valuable topic that everybody is talking about and absolutely should be talking about and taking pause to say how are we, how are we showing up?

So if you got more questions for me directly, you can go on. I’m on every social media platform. It’s just @ Premier Rapport.

You can also email me at shelley@premierrapport.com and I’ll be more than happy to give you some additional resources or to answer any questions.

So thank you so much for having me on today.

Nicole – Yes, thank you, Shelley for helping us understand the needs of a dynamically changing topic. I also think it’s important for people leaders to constantly listen to their people and cater to their DEI & B needs as well.

And honestly, that’s where an employee engagement platform like CultureMonkey can save the day for HR leaders. If you are a people leader who wants to listen to your employees better using the Superswift tool and improve your company culture, login to www.culturemonkey.io today.

Nicole – With that being said, it was an absolute pleasure to have spoken with you and get to know you better.

That’s all we have in this week’s episode of CultureClub powered by CultureMonkey. Until next time, this is your host Nicole signing off!