Diversity, inclusion and belonging: cross-team accountability for L&P* as well as P&L

*Leadership and People as well as Profit and Loss

We’re looking at diversity, inclusion and belonging, as we prepare for our upcoming seminar on this theme on 27 March (see below if you’d like to join us). We’ll be exploring the impact of belonging on high performance culture, productivity, and effectiveness.

It’s easy to take diversity and inclusion for granted as a ‘good thing’, or belonging as ‘straightforward’. But it’s nuanced and not always obvious. You need to know where to look and how to make the difference happen. It takes a systemic approach – and sometimes what makes the difference is what you hold people accountable for. 

What gets counted tends to lead people’s behaviour. Are you counting what’s really important? Leadership and People as well as Profit and Loss?

This is a reflection on my experience in a large creative consultancy, in a media group, some years ago. The lessons translate to many sectors.

We were a diverse business and gradually more inclusive, but this was not enough for us to be fully productive.

Compare two scenes of cross-disciplinary teams. In both, there is a diverse team of talented people bringing different skills and experience, different ways of thinking, different cultural heritage.

Scene One
Colleagues from different practice teams are shoved together on a project. Meetings are awkward and stilted, with people cutting into, even contradicting, each other, everyone pushing their own discipline or preferred method. It becomes a contest of who can shout loudest or thinks the most of their own idea.

In a blokey agency, that means the loudest bloke wins.

The creative process gets caught up in sludge.

The client is bewildered, then frustrated. We spend a lot of time not really getting anywhere, interesting avenues for exploration were blocked, potential routes not properly considered. In the end, we cobble something together in a rush and just about get away with it. No-one is happy.

Neither the client nor the agency is thriving. Everybody leaves the meeting shoulders down and grumpy. 

Scene Two
A smooth conversation around a multi-disciplinary team, one clear image of the project plan, shared goal and approach, nuance of particular insight from different disciplines, all coming together. We are confident about what we each know well, and respectful of what the others know.

We listen to all the voices: male, female, established and less experienced.

We involve the client easily. We shake ideas around, challenge and stretch. We know how to disagree about ideas without making (or taking) it personal.

The results are fast, direct, and effective. The whole process is rewarding and enlivening. People actually smile.

Creatively, the work is stronger and deeper. Commercially, our overall productivity and profitably are much higher. 

The difference?

It’s more than diversity and inclusion, it’s the ease of belonging together.

In the earlier set-up we all belonged firmly to our own practice area (‘Digital’, ‘Brand’, ‘Investor relations’) . As a larger media group this was ring-fenced with legacy agency-names that the group had acquired. 

In the later meeting we all belonged to one company, a collection of different disciplines committed to one project.

In shifting our culture we made it easier to include all voices, and to make people from many backgrounds feel they belong. A company that had been heavily male gradually recruited, and retained, more and more women – crucially, establishing female leaders and a balanced gender-mix.

A lot of things contributed to this new culture and nurturing a sense of belonging. One factor was a shift in our accountabilities that made a big impact.

Accountability: L&P as well as P&L
The P&L (Profit and loss) is often the most significant marker of belonging, in all kinds of sectors, especially after mergers – and it can kill cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Instead of focusing only on separate P&L we focused on shared L&P (leadership and people). In the old style, leadership meetings were built around a series of reports from each of the practices/discipline teams as separate business units.

This made financial sense, to contain profit costs and loss within each practice. Otherwise how can you tell how you’re doing, and this way it isolates risk, like the bulkheads in a submarine. A persuasive argument, but it reduced all our work to gladiatorial combat over the P&L.

In the new style the focus of accountability shifted to quality of work, effectiveness of collaboration, and overall company profitability and the success of our clients.

We also moved people around physically, making it easier for people to cluster around projects or clients, rather than space being defined by belonging to one discipline. We shared our learning and insights.

Belonging around projects, not discipline
Sharing a sense of belonging made it much easier to reconfigure the right mix of people around each client’s challenge, rather than in fixed teams. A flexible and agile use of our breadth of talent. 

The same is true for effective inclusion in any cross-disciplinary group or integration post-merger. A sense of belonging that transcends business units, and inclusion beyond silos, means you can truly make the most of your diversity of talent.

We’re exploring how to make the most of diversity inclusion and belonging, for commercial success and a thriving culture, at our seminar on the 27th of March. Email francis@belongingspace.com to book your place.