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The Importance of Managing Culture

By Rinku Bhattacharya, DPS, CMA, CPA
June 1, 2021

Diversity drift—the lack of focus and prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) within an organization—often results in a slow, percolating problem.

 

It takes time for these issues to come full circle, yet eventually they come to a head resulting in a crisis-like storm, which can manifest itself in the form of poor employee morale and employee and stakeholder retention issues, to name a few challenges. When confronted with such a crisis, leadership is faced with decision making and assessment.

 

How these decisions are handled often shapes the direction of the organization in either a positive or negative manner. We’ll explore a case study to demonstrate how an organization responded to a crisis by addressing it and resetting itself onto its chosen track.

 

DIVERSITY DRIFT IN A NONPROFIT

 

The membership of ABC, Inc. (name changed), a nonprofit membership organization committed to supporting gender equality in the culinary industry, received the resignation of its board chair, who cited the lack of empathy and diversity within the organization as his reason for leaving the company.

 

As a result, Sandra Smith (name changed), founder and chair emeritus of ABC, was presented with a situation where the organization appeared to have moved away from its core commitment of bringing equality and inclusion to the industry. In order to address the company’s diversity drift, she used the process of recognize, reassess, and revitalize to realign the organization’s priorities with a clear focus and emphasis on DE&I.

 

RECOGNIZE

 

Recognition involves identifying the underlying problem. As an organization founded on the basis of forging equality and representation, Sandra was confronted with issues of diversity drift and recognizing the lack of evolution in the organization. As the company evolved, it had been reactionary or even passive about the many other dimensions of DE&I. When the company was founded more than 25 years ago, the issue had been gender. While gender equality still remains a hot issue in the culinary industry, it’s one of many dimensions of the lack of DE&I.

 

REASSESS

 

After recognizing the issue, Sandra moved to set the organization back on track. She discussed concerns with the outgoing leadership and didn’t want to replace governance without first tackling the systemic problems within the organization.

 

Sandra took stock of the changing demographics and needs of the membership and identified the legal and structural issues. To help charter the organization through the next steps, an interim governance and diversity task force was formed, and a diversity consultant was appointed. The task force was charged with working on the challenges facing the organization, developing a road map for the future, and working on identifying potential leaders who reflected all members of the organization and its revised values. The task force offered a four-month time frame to get the organization out of the crisis.

 

REVITALIZE

 

The organization’s process can be mapped through three key areas within the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Diversity & Inclusion tool kit: top-level engagement, establishing accountability, and communications (Click here for more on the IMA tool kit).

 

The task force for ABC organized itself into subgroups to analyze and identify the different areas that needed emphasis and structure. It was decided that there would be town hall-style meetings to solicit feed­back and input from mem­bers of the organization.

 

The following is a list of subgroups and their tasks:

 

Mission and definition: This included questions on what members would like to see going forward and how this would change ABC’s operating bylaws and governance charter. Since ABC is a nonprofit membership organization, it was also important to identify the expectations of its members.

 

Culture and needs: This consisted of identifying concerns with the status quo and identifying gaps in getting to the company’s desired DE&I goals. It also meant acknowledging that some of the anticipated changes would result in losing some of its membership. In the end, ABC felt that it was more important to have a collective vision and future that reflected the needs of the profession rather than focus on people who didn’t embrace the future vision. Consistent and constant conversation with the membership while charting out the path of change helped accomplish this task.

 

Plans and development: This consisted of identifying new requirements from the membership, including revised bylaws and a revised governance structure. A key objective was to ensure that DE&I was a part of the evaluation process when the organization measured the success of its future and outcomes. Planning for the organization also included defining the new governance structure as well as ensuring that DE&I was a part of the selection process of membership and governing leadership for the organization.

 

Implementation and engagement: The group created outcome-based timelines for reaching DE&I milestones. It was also important for this group to ensure that the entire organization had the same shared understanding of DE&I. The group developed a three-part training program that was relevant and reflective of ABC’s operations. This was deemed mandatory for its existing membership and a requirement for new members. A general consensus was that this education and understanding would shape the future direction of the organization, ensuring that DE&I will be reflected in the organization’s future operations, initiatives, and activities.

 

Measurement and adjustment: The identification and placement of the new governing body in accordance with the revised planning was the last step. The organization had three core areas in which it wanted to ensure that DE&I was adequately reflected:

 

  • Membership: ensuring that membership is accessible and equitable to all relevant people. The ongoing activities incorporating an increased focus on DE&I would allow the organization to track demographics for new membership and new member activities.
  • Programming: tracking that programming reflects and addresses the changing needs and diversity of the membership.
  • Leadership: measuring DE&I at the top since all change initiatives start with the tone at the top.

 

Almost a year into the process, ABC is in a significantly better place than when it had started. To ensure a changing culture that’s more relevant and reflective of the changing needs of the workplace, ABC now operates in a more engaged and transparent manner. Through the process of change, the organization engaged and energized its operations and membership. This, in turn, resulted in increased involvement and better communications across the organization.

 

The challenges within the organization were well outweighed by the positives resulting from the change. The key takeaway was the ability of a leader to identify, recognize, and be willing to tackle a problem head-on rather than ignore the problem.

 

Rinku Bhattacharya, DPS, CMA, CPA, is the CFO for Westchester Community Opportunity Program, Inc. in Elmsford, N.Y., and is an adjunct professor of accounting at Manhattanville College. Rinku is a member of the IMA Global Board of Directors and IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Strategic Planning Committee. Rinku can be reached at rinku_bhattacharya@outlook.com.
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