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Get Customers to Know, Like, and Trust You by Building a DEI-Focused Brand

In our volatile, uncertain, and chaotic world, trying to find the “secret formula” to consistently drive growth and revenue can be challenging. How do you stand out from the pack? Reach prospective customers? Keep them loyal to your brand?

The answers to these and similar questions come down to that age-old marketing advice: get your customers to know, like, and trust you. And the way to do that—according to a fascinating report by Kantar—is by building a brand that consumers see as diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

If that surprises you, consider these findings, pulled from the Kantar report: 65 percent of the US population believe businesses have a responsibility to make society fairer. Sixty-three percent of respondents experienced discrimination within the last 12 months, and 44 percent of those people experienced discrimination at a commercial location. The monetary loss to US businesses as a result of these incidents: a whopping $5.4 trillion.

These findings impact businesses in every industry. And here’s the thing: historically under-represented and marginalized groups have strong spending power. Taking steps to better serve these populations by promoting DEI—both in terms of employees and customers—is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also key to driving revenue growth in this ever-changing economy.

Build the Right Culture

To create an organization where DEI is more than just a buzzword, you need to build the right culture. More specifically, you need to create a company-wide culture of antifragility. And, you must foster a culture where every single person at your organization, from the cleaning staff to the C-suite, feels comfortable sharing opposing views and talking through differences in a respectful manner. 

These goals may feel aspirational, but I guarantee you that they’re absolutely achievable. The key is to give your people the tools they need to work through any triggers safely, without being shamed or belittled, and without shaming or belittling the person who triggered them.

If the idea of allowing your employees to openly address and deal with triggering situations makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Many of the leaders we work with have some initial trepidation about their people engaging in what might be perceived as “difficult” conversations. On the surface, it makes sense: what if the potential fallout from those conversations disrupts productivity, decreases morale, and causes other personnel problems? However, in reality, the opposite is true. 

When you try to stop people from talking through differences, it doesn’t make those problems go away. All it does is contribute to an environment where people feel psychologically unsafe. That’s a huge problem, especially for businesses, because psychological safety is crucial for motivation, engagement, and improvement. Not only that, but when you prevent people from working through differences, you set the stage for discrimination, which will eventually trickle down to your customers.

Pause and Regulate 

The goal, then, is to build an antifragile culture that fosters and supports DEI. To do that, start by coaching your employees to first check in with themselves anytime someone makes a comment or does something that makes them feel triggered. The trigger could be something they overheard (or witnessed) or something that happened to them directly.

In both cases, they should ask themselves if they’re uncomfortable or truly unsafe. They should pay attention to how their body feels—for example, noticing if their stomach is tight, if they feel lightheaded or frozen, and so on. They should also pay attention to the emotions they’re experiencing. And, they should ask themselves what story they’re telling themselves in response to the situation. 

This step is key to regulating themselves so they can engage with the other person in a productive way. Because it sets the stage for the rest of the interaction, they shouldn’t rush this step. If they still feel triggered after they spend some time reflecting on their emotions and thoughts, they may need to give themselves more time. Trying to move on to the next step too quickly will only escalate the situation, which isn’t conducive for building the kind of culture so crucial to DEI and antifragility.

It makes sense, if you think about it. If people don’t give themselves time to regulate, it’s likely they’ll react to the person instinctually. In other words, if they tend to go on the offensive in difficult conversations, they’ll default to that approach. If they habitually withdraw, they’ll do that. Neither approach supports antifragility, psychological safety, or DEI, so it’s imperative they take their time and make sure they’re truly regulated before moving forward.

Dig Below the Surface

Once your people feel more regulated, they can move to the next step: interrupting.

Interrupting is simply an invitation to dig below the surface. It offers both people the opportunity to engage in deeper conversation. One of the best ways to interrupt is to ask a simple question from a place of genuine curiosity. For example, the person who felt triggered might say something like, “Your comment doesn’t reflect what I’ve experienced. Can you share a little more about what you meant so I can better understand your experience and where you’re coming from?” Sometimes, interrupting is about sharing how a statement or action impacted the person who was triggered.

No matter how someone chooses to interrupt, they should keep in mind that interrupting has two main goals. First and foremost, it provides an opportunity to address the triggering behavior or comment. Second, it lets both parties get to the root issue. 

Accomplishing both of these goals is fundamental to building a practice of open communication. Done consistently, it will drive a culture of antifragility and DEI throughout the organization, which will benefit both your employees and your customers.

Support True Growth

“Sure,” you might be thinking. “This all makes sense, but what if my employees blow up at each other? Everything feels so divided these days. What if all we’re doing is opening a can of worms?”

Remember at the beginning when we said that most leaders feel this way starting out? These are valid questions, so we’re going to tell you what we tell them: engaging in these steps is the only way to build a thriving antifragile, diverse, and inclusive organization. But make no mistake: as important as these steps are, things will get messy, at least at first. 

It’s just like when you’re planting a vegetable garden. When you start digging in the dirt, worms and grubs are going to come up. The solution isn’t to avoid digging—if you did that, the garden would never get planted! The solution is to figure out which worms and grubs might harm your plants, then take steps to get rid of them. That takes discernment and a willingness to put in the work needed to make sure your garden thrives.

The same holds true for building an antifragile organization. Be willing to dig in the dirt—to engage in the process of interrupting; that will allow you to determine what steps are needed to foster DEI and antifragility. Just as importantly, it will equip your people to discern that information for themselves.

Repair and Move Forward

When you teach everyone at your organization to regulate and dig deeper anytime they feel triggered, you lay the groundwork to repair any issues that are festering below the surface. This is far more effective than trying to jump straight into fixing any existing issues—or, even worse, trying to force people to stuff their feelings down. By guiding your people to reflect and use discernment, you equip them to address problems in a safe and compassionate way.

Remember, your organization is made up of people. We’re all human; it’s normal for us to misunderstand each other and experience conflict. Those things can lead to chaos, but if your people have strategies in place to regulate themselves and dig deeper into what’s really going on, they are far more likely to find solutions that enable them to (eventually) move forward in harmony.

So, guide them through the steps described here. And, make sure you model these strategies yourself. If you do, your organization will be able to tap into the many benefits—monetary and otherwise—that DEI, psychological safety, and antifragility offer your employees and your customers.

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