IN RECENT YEARS, many companies have implemented diversity training programs or other diversity initiatives. There is growing evidence that Organizations that support diversity attract and retain the most talented employees and keep pace With and succeed in a changing marketplace.
However, to realize the potential of a diverse workforce, diversity needs to be valued and supported in the organizations systems and processes. There is no magic bullet; the key to high performing organizations is a diversity strategy that supports the organizations goals. Each organization must design a strategy that is tailored to its unique culture and circumstances.
A diversity consultant can help an organization solve some of the complex challenges surrounding diversity. However, finding and productively working With a qualified diversity consultant can be a challenge.
As of now, there are no required Credentials or Certifications for 21 diversity consultant. Consultants who provide their services Without appropriate preparation and experience can hurt organizations more than help them.
Following are some guidelines to consider before you decide to hire a diversity consultant.
Using diversity consultants effectively. There are numerous Ways diversity consultants can assist organizations, and depending on Where the organization is in the diversity process, the needs will vary.
For example, as an initiative is being considered, a consultant can help leadership understand in which direction it
needs to move. A consultant can be objective and provide insight into the value and process of addressing diversity. The consultant also can share the experiences of other companies. This initial stage becomes the foundation for the diversity effort and helps build commitment from leadership. If there ís no commitment, it makes little sense to begin an effort and raise expectations that Will not be fulfilled.
Consultants can also help assemble and work with a diversity advisory team, which is usually a cross-functíonal leadership group that has some decision-making power to help guide the diversity effort. Such a team can coordinate the process as Well as secure buy-in from key constituents. Again, the culture and issues specific to an organization Will determine the teams role.
A cultural assessment is often invaluable in understanding the current diversity issues within the organization. Through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and the collection of archival and systems data, diversity issues are analyzed. Diversity consultants can provide insight into operating assumptions related to diversity, and can identify how specific systems and processes support or sabotage diversity objectives. This qualitative and quantitative data can serve as an internal baseline for developing diversity strategy and measuring progress.
Consultants can facilitate a vision.
A diversity vision describes the desired future state of the organizational culture. Once the current and desired state are determined, the next step is strategic planning to set goals and objectives toward achieving the vision. It is important to have a comprehensive, systemic strategy. Consultants can Work With Companies to develop comprehensive long- and short-term strategies and to disseminate information regarding diversity initiatives to Various organizational levels.
Diversity consultants are called in at various points in the Cultural change process. Sometimes they are asked to review an Orgar1iZatiOn’s predeterrnined strategy and process and to assist in implementing an ongoing evaluation. They are also used to coordinate specific action steps, such as enhancing recruiting efforts, changing the performance review system, developing 21 mentoring program, providing diversity awareness and skills training, focusing on employee Career developrnent, and implementing diversity incentive programs.
The many roles of a consultant. There are other Ways diversity consultants can be supportive, including providing diversity education, mediating conflicts between individuals or groups, teambuilding, and helping a team understand their diversity and how to make it an advantage.
Organizations may Work simultaneously with different Consultants who have expertise in Various areas. Some companies use a team of consultants in order to get a combination of skills and perspectives; this Often includes both internal and external practitioners. When more than one Consultant is Working with a Company, it is important to have coordination, cooperation, and agreement on strategy and philosophy. To use a medical analogy, when a patient has several doctors prescribing medication, it is Critical that the doctors cooperate and share information; otherwise, there is a danger of over-medication or negative reactions from combining medications. In an organization, the system is the patient. If the consultants and organizational managers do not Work together, or if there is not one primary person or group overseeing the process, the system Could be at risk.
Ways to identify diversity consultants.
Finding a good consultant involves the same networking skills that you use to find any other type of professional. It takes time to Check out a Consultant to see if both the expertise and the chemistry are right. Referrals from colleagues are usually the most common and effective Way to begin this process. Also, attending seminars and conferences, reading publications, and talking with potential consultants may yield suitable candidates.
In addition to finding an appropriate consultant this process will also serve as an education on diversity and diversity resources. By reading articles and meeting with potential Consultants, 21 lot can be learned about the differences in philosophies and approaches.
The diversity consultant you select should View diversity through the same lens your Company does. While a consultant may only provide training, he or she should still understand the overall diversity initiative for the organization and its Culture. It’s especially important that the consultant grasp the psychological dimensions and the complexity of diversity. For this, they should be knowledgeable of workforce diversity, organizational psychology, human interactions, cultural differences, and cross-cultural communication. A base of business and management experience is also valuable.
The most effective consultants Will be those Who have addressed their own diversity issues. Ask them to share some of these experiences and the kinds of issues they have resolved.
In addition select a consultant who:
- has the ability to custom-design processes, procedures, and for your organizations unique needs
- understands that diversity is a process, not a program
- has strong skills in organization development and training; analysis; facilitation; and contracting, including the ability to define needs and deliverers within timelines
- can communicate with all employee levels within the organization.
Personal characteristics of a diversity
consultant. A positive client/consultant relationship can mean the difference between excellent and just so-so results. When a partnership is formed with mutual respect, trust, and effective communication, the foundation is set for great accomplishments. During the initial interviews, take time to explore the process each consultant proposes to use.
Interview references to learn how the consultant has Worked in other situations. Ask the following questions:
- Does the Consultant devote the time and energy that a project requires?
- Is the consultant thorough and committed?
- Does the Consultant have integrity and operate With the best interests of the company in mind?
- Is the consultant able to deal effectively with resistance and concerns that arise with a diversity effort?
Diversity initiatives can be challenging. Inevitably, some members of the organization will vociferously question the proposed efforts. Ask references how the consultant responded to these challenges. If the internal and external consultants can respond to resistance in a way that supports learning and exploration, the process can proceed much more effectively. Furthermore, ask if the consultant collaborates with the company and teaches the process to the internal staff so they can carry on the work.
Look for evidence of the following personal characteristics which contribute to a healthy and productive partnership:
- an understanding of the human side of change, including resistance
- an ability to be goal-oriented and to keep focused on the specifics as well as the big picture
- a proven ability to be trustworthy when dealing With issues of confidentiality
- creativity and strong prob1ern-so1ving skills
- values that are compatible with the organizations
- strong communication skills
- sound judgment
- effective teaching skills
- an inquiring mind that challenges assumptions
- patience for delays and inevitable downtimes inherent in the Change process
- high energy level
- enthusiasm about the Work
- commitment to meet client needs.
Working with consultants to get the best results.
The contracting process ís important in establishing a strong foundation for the consultant/ client relationship. Once the project has begun, there is a tendency to become immersed in the details. However, focusing on the overall process, including working relationships, is also very important. This effort will prove beneficial in many ways throughout the project.
Assumptions held by the organization and the consultant should be openly discussed throughout the relationship. Expectations need to be defined and agreed upon. The specific responsibilities of both parties should be made explicit. Periodic check in meetings should be scheduled to discuss progress-what is going Well and what changes should be made. It is important to schedule this review time in advance because When things get busy-and they always do-there is a tendency to skip these meetings. The check-ins are an effective Way to stay on track. They are also an opportunity to discuss how the consulting process is going and any Concerns and fears that come up. Taking this time will make a difference in the relationship and the results.
Determining goals and objectives should be primary to the project discussion. Measures for evaluating success should be outlined.
Both parties need to understand that put of the consulting role is to be an educator to those in the organization. When the project is complete and the relationship is ended, the client should have learned from the consultant, be able to maintain the changes made, and be able to manage the project independently.
There are some possible snares in working with a consultant. They include:
- breaks in communication
- differing attitudes about diversity and how to proceed
- insufficient time allotted for a change effort
- not understanding the probability of an unforeseen roadblock
- deliverables not clearly defined ahead of time
- misjudgment as to Whether the consultant can design a process that best meets the organizations needs
- using a pre-designed package that is not suited to the specific company needs
- an unwillingness by managers to address their own diversity issues and to model being learners in the process.
All of the above pitfalls can be avoided or overcome by taking the time to establish a productive working relationship.
The final piece of advice for diversity managers is one that Was touched on earlier. It is important that there is a commitment, or at least a willingness, to explore diversity and to understand the complexity, effort, and time that is required. It is better not to begin the process at all if there is not real commitment; otherwise, hopes and expectations Will be raised, which once ignited, are difficult to squelch.