Managing Change: Part of the “Improving DE&I for SMBs” Series

Written by Heather Bussing

June 29, 2021

Managing Change: Part of the Improving DE&I for SMBs Series Hero

Assessing Your Organization's Culture

When we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a health and safety issue rather than a compliance issue, our focus shifts from protecting the organization against potential claims to building a workplace that is better for everyone.

When we're working to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, the first place to start is with culture. One definition of culture is "how we do things around here" (Edgar Schein). Another is "The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate" (Gruenter and Whitaker).

Culture is both a cause and a symptom of what happens in an organization. Culture reflects the history of the organization, the values and priorities of leadership, the unspoken rules, and who has to follow them. Here are some key questions to think through to better understand your organization's culture.

Who gets resources?

The best place to figure out what an organization's real priorities are is how resources are allocated. Does sales have the largest budget while everyone else has to scramble and justify the smallest requests?

How important is status?

Who has status in the organization and what is it based on? Are people focused on the quality of the work or maintaining and enforcing their status?

It's usually a combination, but what does it look like in practice?

How do important decisions get made?

Who makes the big decisions? Is it one person, an executive committee, a collaboration of people who the decision affects? If there are multiple people involved, does everyone have an equal voice or are some voices, like the CEO, given more weight or final authority/veto power?

Are there paths for growth, learning, and promotion?

What are people's incentives to stay with the organization? Is there room to grow and be promoted or are there many career cul de sacs with nowhere to go?

What is the organization's view of training and learning? Is it part of the job or considered something employees are responsible for doing after their 'real work' is done?

What is your organization's turnover data?

Does your company have higher or lower turnover compared to other organizations in your industry?

What are the demographics of the turnover in your organization? Who leaves and who stays?

Do people stay for years or leave after a year or two? If turnover is high, do you know why? If not, it's time to find out.

What does success look like?

Who is considered successful or high potential in your organization? What factors matter most? What behaviors or skills get rewarded? What gets overlooked or ignored?

What is counted as "the work"?

On both an organizational level and in evaluating individual contributions, there is usually work that counts and work that you have to do, but doesn't really count. Workers today have more administrative work that takes up a lot of time but doesn't create deliverables. Often management just looks at deliverables when there is tremendous time filling in project management software, learning new tool and information, and check-ins and meetings that are often supposed to increase engagement and improve quality of management but just suck time for everyone.

Also, the jobs with the most work that doesn't really count tend to be people of color, women, disabled people, and other marginalized groups. Are you inadvertently creating barriers to development and promotion?

What is the organizations work ethic?

Does everyone go home at a reasonable time? Or is there a competition to see who can be the last one out because the boss stays late?

For remote workers, are people expected to respond immediately to emails, DM's, and unscheduled calls?

Building a culture that makes room for difference

These are some of the key questions to dig into what your culture looks like and how it works. It's really hard to see from the inside because it's just the way we do things around here.

As you dig into some of these questions, ask who is affected most by the way things are? Do you have a culture where there is room for difference and different people can succeed?


How Business Leaders Can Build a More Equitable Workforce - Harvard Business Review

Rewiring the Workplace Mindset of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - Forbes

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about the author
Heather Bussing is a California employment lawyer and analyst in the HRTech industry. She writes regularly at and loves helping organizations prevent problems and build more human friendly workplaces. She also loves photography and posts a landscape every morning on twitter @heatherbussing.

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