Yes, I’m known for working on issues of inclusion, diversity, and safe spaces in tech but let’s be honest, this work is reactionary. It focuses on the effect and rarely the cause, which is that these issues and others that do damage to a business’s reputation and bottomline, are symptoms of systemic failures.
All too often organizational leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists AND YES customers focus all available resources on the development of a product or service. Rarely, if ever, thinking about the subsequent business components that need to be established and that are necessary in order to support the growth and sustainability of any market successful product or service.
Products and services are not businesses
As teams are iterating their product and service, as they are testing the marketplace, as they are incorporating what they learn into subsequent versions, they should also be designing and testing the policies, procedures, and processes that will guide their choices now and into the future.
The reason we are currently putting out fires related to inclusion and diversity, when they aren’t an outcome of intentionally discriminatory practices, is because little to no thought has been given up front to how the team intends to communicate their values amongst themselves, let alone to external stakeholders.
Let me pause here and explain what I mean when I use the word “values” in a business context. I mean, what are those “things” that the team wants to communicate, internally and externally, related to their product or service.
If this step is taken, it rarely extends to the more important step of determining how the team will operationalize those values.
Operationalizing values is all about the processes, procedures, and policies the team establishes that address how the business will be run. It's all about measurement. Because what cannot be measured cannot effectively be evaluated. It’s this step, which is ongoing because it’s a testing and evaluation process, that enable teams to better handle their ability to scale, hire, identify appropriate partnerships, etc.
To create a mission and values statement and post them on a website or office wall is nothing more than pretty words if the team, partners nor customers can articulate them as reasons why the product or service is better.
Pretty words cannot be measured. Teams cannot effectively improve products or services with feedback like “good” or “wasn’t a culture fit” because these words, and similar ones, mean nothing. These kinds of statements aren’t measurable because they mean different things to different people. It’s not until the team has agreed on the organizational values and operationalized them that they have the tools they need to create products and services that reflect those values and hopefully appeal to potential customers and clients.
It is this crucial step of operationalizing values that the team can spot potential issues with inclusion, diversity, and safe spaces in tech. By going through this process, particularly over time, the team can begin to identify and address patterns, red flags, that are surfacing that may become barriers to inclusion and diversity when recruiting, scheduling meetings or deciding between supply chain partners.
When operationalizing and evaluating values becomes part of a team’s culture, then they improve their ability to write the narrative and they are better positioned to address any missteps that may happen before they’ve had a chance to damage the business’s reputation in the marketplace.
And equally important, it is the operationalizing of the teams values that enable them to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and ultimately gain competitive advantage.