DEI In Decline: Navigating The Backlash

Although its roots go back to the 1960s civil rights movements, DEI has become a part of our office conversations for the last 20 years. After George Floyd’s death in 2020, many companies increased their DEI budgets, established DEI departments, and recruited DEI executives, which was followed by DEI training.

However, the latest data shows that all these initiatives have experienced a serious decline, if not a turnaround. For example, a 5% increase in DEI personnel recruitment during the first half of 2023 was followed by an 8% decrease in the second half of the same year. Furthermore, many organizations changed their DEI policies, moving away from their initial promises during the period and stepping back from their budgetary commitments as well. Additionally, a large number of legal complaints were filed by conservative organizations against large and well-known companies, and even a Supreme Court ruling in 2023 came into action in the US. Consequently, the Supreme Court ruling drastically changed the attitude of American universities.

In contrast, there is currently not enough tangible evidence that Canadian or European organizations are following their US counterparts. However, a shift will not be a surprise as anti-DEI speeches are becoming louder all around the world.

Recognizing that certain factors cannot be changed immediately, it is unfortunate that immature and palliative efforts, instead of nurturing DEI, harm progress and increase defensiveness. Upon examining the efforts of various organizations, it becomes evident that many engage in premature and artificial activities that require immediate change.

At this point, a major discomfort is arising from the staffing perspective of DEI. Discrimination goes both ways, and our focus should be on hiring or promoting the best person to fit the position rather than solely based on ethnic or religious similarities or differences. This principle should apply across all positions, as no one desires a less competent manager promoted for reasons other than job fit. The same holds true for DEI representatives who lack the experience to run such programs, resulting in less planned but sugar-coated actions. Recruiting and promoting based on their personal preferences rather than experience and knowledge continues to hinder business execution, results, and, ultimately, DEI progress.

Additionally, a notable issue arises from otherness. For example, we have quality departments that objectively control and report deviations from the ideal procedures and products. However, quality itself is the responsibility of the relevant departments and people. On the contrary, DEI is represented in separate departments rather than being integrated as a part of each and every department’s and individual’s responsibility. Mere visual displays, such as hanging posters and writing inspirational quotes on web pages, only exemplify the gap between the current practices and the ideal position. Silverlining DEI does not make it normal and acceptable, nor does making it solely the responsibility of another department internalize it.

It is crucial to recognize that change begins with people’s mindsets. DEI is a cultural change and must take root in individuals’ minds. From my perspective, respect is the keyword for DEI. We may not always feel or think the same way, but we can simply accept the difference. Honouring and respecting our differences, noticing what is behind the facade, and seeing the effects of diverse perspectives can lead to profound understanding and ultimately change the world.

Unlocking The Power Of Motivation Beyond Money

Motivating Employees – Does Money Matter?

Whether money really motivates employees has been questioned for decades. HR people might say no, it is a hygienic factor, but employees say yes, it is essential. However, the answer is straightforward for me; yes, it does act as an important motivator, but under certain conditions and for certain periods.

When it comes to salary, the increase pleases everyone. Who doesn’t want some extra bucks? As Maslow stated in his very well-known theory, the first level of needs, like food and shelter, must be met before other stages emerge. However, any fulfilled need loses its motivational aspect. Our needs are limitless. Once we have an income to satisfy our fundamental needs, the extra income goes to less important temporary factors. Assume that your salary is doubled. Obviously, doubling your salary will increase your motivation, but it is temporary. Consider your credit card statement showing you spend 30% of your monthly expenses on groceries, 40% on rent and 20% on others.

These percentages will shift significantly with the increase, and you will spend the extra income on many postponed expenses. You will buy a long-required shoe, replace the kid’s raincoat, and take the family to a nicer dinner. However, these ratios will slowly return to their original values over time, usually in three months or so. As everything settles down, you will normalize the new income and accompanying lifestyle. Now you’ll be questioning when the next increase will come.

Employee satisfaction surveys worldwide reveal that employees prioritize job enrichment, equal treatment, personal development, participation and teamwork over money as the top five motivation factors.

People want to know that their pay is not less than others doing the same thing. It is possible to have a transparent grading system linked to a transparent salary strategy aligned with the market actualities. This will create a feeling of justice.

Recognize exceptional results with special treatments, such as parking someone’s car next to the CEO’s, expressing personal appreciation, or granting an extra day off as a reward for a unique solution. Praise serves as an effective external motivator.

Developing a Culture that Values Delegation and Job Enrichment

Creating a coaching culture can increase individuals’ inner motivation and growth potential. Utilizing Daniel Pink’s three inner motivational keys is a great way to help guide this process.

To foster success, promote a culture that values delegation and job enrichment instead of micromanagement. Train your managers to stop carrying all the monkeys on their backs and encourage them to delegate more.

However, especially the last three changes require a sound leadership approach meaning the decision-makers themselves should change. It may look simple, but accepting the need, learning better ways and adapting some long-held habits is a significant mental and physical effort. So, in many organizations, leadership comes together and decides to increase the salaries a bit due to budget restrictions, preach about the hygienic nature of wages, increase or add gym membership to compensate, hang motivational posters all around, and expect the people to get motivated and retention rate increased.

Does this sound familiar?

Missed Lives Behind Closed Door

Have you noticed how children possess a certain gem that makes them brilliant, daring, and loving? How are these magnificent beings eventually turning into ordinary, dull, selfish adults far from the aspirations of the past? You, why do you become like this today?

Imagine a palace with many rooms. Think that this palace is you, and every room in this palace symbolizes a unique talent, thought or emotion that resides within you. Can you picture this palace with hundreds of rooms, or better said, hundreds of possibilities?

But some of these rooms are sealed off as you grow up. Perhaps you questioned your father running a red light, and he responded, “If they were capable of doing it, they wouldn’t hesitate.” You learned; If you can’t, you must respect; if you can, crush it. The lights went out; the room’s door was locked forever.

You saw someone smiling at you. Just as you were to smile back, your mother whispered, “Be careful. She is a foreigner”. Another room is gone. You wanted to say something, muttered nervously. Someone cut you off. Another room faded out about expressing yourself.

Now, after so many experiences, rebelling against your own destiny in a vicious cycle, you are trapped in a few rooms in this huge castle. Everything you couldn’t do, didn’t try, and gave up are locked in those rooms.

This is our story. I hear those saying they could sing well, threw the ball nicely, had good sketches, wanted to be a doctor, or liked acting when younger. Now they are living their lives distant from these dreams. There are people around us who had dreams once but lost them all now. Some resist new ideas and methods. Their egos take the ini6a6ve and search for flaws in others who try. They are imprisoned in a few rooms in their huge castle inside their heads, concentrating on threats rather than opportunities.

Have you ever observed your child repeating a TV character’s exact words? Shoshin calls this the “mind of a beginner,” which means that a child’s mind is as fresh as a blank canvas, ready to absorb every experience and piece of knowledge. As every touch leaves a mark, your past trials, humiliations, and setbacks accumulate on the page until no empty space is left on your “canvas.”

Some of these rooms won’t open again, but join me and open a fresh page to try. I ask for two promises from you:

The first is that you will try. Say, “I will try, for once, to do what I have wanted to do for a long time without worrying about failure or what other people say. I will try.”

Second, I want you to say, “I promise not to pass on my personal fears and biases to my child. I will not limit them. I will help them try and endure so that their rooms are not closed, that clean canvas is free from my nonsense.”

Come on; if you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. I want two promises that you’ll try, at least.

The Dilemma Of Employee Turnover

The Dilemma Of Employee Turnover

Is Employee Turnover Really Something to Avoid?

For the last couple of years, employee turnover has become one of the organizations’ major concerns, and this topic has become a common subject of HR talks. The pandemic, remote work possibilities, and, as a result, changing expectations have taken the blame (not the leadership, by the way). For instance, a colleague informed me about a sales team in the insurance industry that has a turnover rate of 60%, which left me baffled. Wasn’t turnover expensive due to the loss of knowledge, recruitment and training costs, as well as rising compensation? Interestingly, despite such high turnovers, companies still seem to be making record earnings.

We all know that having 0% employee turnover is detrimental as the organization and its people stagnate, making change an impossible dream. Furthermore, there are employees whom we may want to let go of at some point, such as low performers, energy vampires, and unethical individuals. Will losing them harm the business? Sure enough, the answer here is no; actually, we want them to go, preferably to the competition. Furthermore, sometimes, when urgent change is inevitably needed, it is easier and faster to “change” the people instead of changing them.

So I’m proposing that perhaps the question should be not the turnover number but whether employee turnover is truly something to be avoided.

After 30 years in business, I have concluded that high turnovers are not a major issue for companies, but losing talent is. While turnover is not desirable, it is often inevitable. The number of job applications has increased significantly in recent years, indicating a surplus of the available workforce. It’s not a myth that having happy employees leads to happy customers, but achieving this level can be difficult and costly. Consider we divide our workforce into two groups: talents with experts and leaders as one category, and everyone else; we can focus on the former group. Experts are vital to running the organization smoothly, while true leaders are essential for a successful future. By identifying the talent group and focusing on their happiness and sustainability, they can guide, mentor, teach, motivate, and for sure find replacements for those who leave.

In this approach, companies can invest more in the well-being, development, and retention of the talent group, which is by far smaller and costs less. The turnover rate of this “talent” group is far more critical and should be measured separately. The others will come and go as better offers will always be on the table, encouraging them to make a happy move.

EQ or not

Are you one of these people who sometimes receive feedback about being too much to the point or too quick to make decisions? Are you known as somebody who delivers results and solves problems, but you also feel that you are not pleasant or indulgent for some? Against all your success stories, were you blamed for not listening or showing empathy for the people around you?

It hasn’t been long since EQ (or EI) was declared one of the most critical aspects of leadership. There are even statistical comparisons like leaders with higher EQ deliver around 20% over those with high IQ. However, my question here is, is that really so?

It is evident that a person with higher EQ communicates easily, solves interpersonal conflicts swiftly, is more likable, adaptable, calm and, in the end, happy. They can work in team environments effortlessly, ask for help or provide support without hustle, and act skillfully under stress too. So what else may a leader and their teammates need?

Sympathy is a leadership curse. 

I know a newly appointed team leader in a direct sales organization. She was the most emphatic, easygoing and lovable person in the group and was chosen by the assessors as the new team leader. She immediately established good relations with her peers and subordinates. The meetings were pleasant communication opportunities, always ending with huddles. Top management was happy with their decision and expected superb results in the near future. Instead, after a short rise, they saw declining results. She wasn’t delegating at all, always postponing negative or constructive feedback, had issues saying “no” to the requests, and kept overloading herself and the team with unnecessary tasks. 

We sometimes mix empathy with sympathy. Being a lovable and easygoing person is often associated with high empathy. However, we should understand others’ viewpoints, relate to similar emotions or situations within ourselves, and communicate accordingly without diverting from the perspective. Turning it to sympathy may cause us to postpone some important decisions and actions or let the other person manipulate our hesitation.

Thinking out of the box

Do you have creative and successful people around you? If not, look among the artists and CEOs. You will find not all but many nonconformist people without higher levels of EQ. Sometimes we like, and sometimes we hate their whimsical attitudes. We blame them for all the caprice they demonstrate and occasionally judge them for their harsh behaviour towards the people around them. 

However, aren’t these impulsive moods with highs and lows giving them the ability to think out of the box, break the rules, and thus create new pieces of art or products. We can see these people leading successful companies, from small ventures to global giants. If not administered well, the two domains within EQ, social awareness and self-management, may cause us to obey the rules and patterns of the environment; consequently, we may stop challenging them.

Comfort zone trap

John F. Kennedy said that “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” as it will be too late when the rain starts. When I look around, even at my past, we, human beings, tend to think to change things after the storm hits. We consider starting a better diet or regular exercise after our doctor delivers the shady blood test results. Higher EQ people are so good at dealing with the situation and all the stress related to it that they continue to do what they excel at, hence why to take the risk when there is no imminent threat. There is a very well-tailored solution running smoothly, and there is no need to find other ways to do things. Changing those well-designed, well-performing solutions and processes may and probably will receive unhappy considerations and negative feedback from all concerned parties. So let’s keep the things as they are, perfect and easy as Bertram Lance said, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Changeability is also related to our capacity to take risks. High EQ people are known to be conscientious, resulting in risk avoidance. They may concentrate on excelling in the existing solutions to solve new challenges instead of finding new ones and taking necessary risks. 

However, leaders have to make unpopular decisions and take risks when necessary. If leaders are more focused on getting along with people than making unpopular decisions to deliver results, they are destined to fail. Even when everything seems perfect, leaders should oversee the opportunities or threats and take necessary actions against all the risks by initiating change. 

If you are asking about the solution, as a long-time leader and a leadership lecturer, I advise perfecting the art of balance. Understanding and practising high levels of EQ is definitely a leadership virtue where visionary leadership and delivering the results are also of critical importance. A thoughtful human touch and an emphatical approach are nothing shy of doing the right things to deliver better results.

May the EQ be with you.

Eren Ikiz