Magazine Article | October 1, 2019

Taking A Strengths-Based Approach To Diversity & Inclusion

Source: Life Science Leader

By Tessa Breslin

Organizations and their leaders often focus on what needs to improve, but research shows there is more to be gained from a strengths-based approach. Coaching around strengths, while addressing one or two developmental areas, yields greater optimism and success because people want to do more of what they do well. The same strengths-based approach can be applied to corporate diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives to develop and accelerate underrepresented talent.

Organizations leverage talent-accelerator programs as a way of identifying, investing in, retaining, and growing leaders who are women and people of color. The benefits of this approach include improved retention rates, the belief that the organization is genuinely committed to the individual’s personal growth, and, for many, career progression in the short term that creates a pathway to longer-term career ambitions. This targeted talent development can be a significant game changer for many who achieve accelerated professional growth.

Here are eight ways organizations can take a strengths-based approach to talent-accelerator programs:

  1. Anchor talent-accelerator programs in the overall business strategy, thereby overcoming any skepticism around the D&I initiative’s true purpose. In a large biopharma company, for example, accelerating underrepresented talent was a fundamental tenet in the growth of the business, so the progress of the initiative was tied to the success metrics of the business and closely monitored by the leadership.
  2. Marry a strengths-based philosophy with a program that actively matches high-potential people from underrepresented groups with the executive team to address a real business issue. Not only will this give the high-potential leaders access to decision makers, but the executive team also will receive input from the employees and the clients and patients they serve.
  3. Help the executive team advocate for their talent and teach them how to do it well. Typically, executive teams are well-intended but underprepared for leading and engaging people who differ from them. They don’t know what they don’t know, and they are often uncomfortable acknowledging this reality. This is an opportunity to take a strengths-based approach. Help executive team members become better leaders by giving them the tools, support, and feedback they need, and hold them accountable on progress.
  4. Get to know top talent really well, especially where they excel. In our biopharma example, the organization identifed where its leaders were distinctive and added unique value. The insights they gleaned were useful because talented people are motivated by knowing their organizations recognize their talent and are willing to invest in their futures.
  5. Provide talent-accelerator participants with high-quality coaching and opportunities to realize their career goals. Leverage all the positives of executive coaching whereby an individual’s leadership potential is realized through thought-provoking and challenging, yet supportive, relationships.
  6. Multiply the positive benefits of coaching high-potential employees by creating a forum wherein talented, yet underrepresented, leaders can share best practices, develop networks, and start the wave of change across the organization. We’ve seen organizations in which these forums have become self-managed groups that wield great influence and thought leadership in their businesses.
  7. Magnify the positive outcomes of these steps by encouraging those same leaders to replicate similar experiences in their own teams and businesses.
  8. Value the positive aspects of the existing internal talent pool. We often see organizations value external talent over homegrown leaders. External candidates may look new and shiny in comparison with the current leaders of an organization, but, interestingly, objective data does not always support the view that external talent is better, and, to be truly inclusive, organizations should nurture and grow from within.

Embedding a strengths-based approach to D&I in an organization’s business strategy enables talented leaders from underrepresented groups to realize their potential meaningfully within that context. It also builds interactions with decision makers that can result in accelerated growth for high-potential employees and can strengthen their connection to the organization for the long term, a valuable outcome in a competitive environment for talent.

TESSA BRESLIN is managing director, Americas at YSC Consulting, an independent consultancy that helps organizations understand whether they have the leadership needed to achieve their future strategies.