Fixer: Board prioritises reputation over taking proper action on I&D

How can we persuade senior management to properly buy in to these issues?

The board at my company only talks about issues like I&D and wellbeing because they are topical and make them look good – but in reality, their investment has no real depth (case in point: they’re all white). Our chief executive is all about reputation rather than actually addressing the issues, because that might highlight problems that would go against our image. An anonymous staff survey has revealed concerns about the lack of action. How do we get those at the top to properly buy in to these issues?

I learned early on that most senior management teams tend to base their decisions on facts – especially financial ones. So the key to this is to provide them with hard data. Just having an anonymous survey with some vague concerns raised will not be enough to make them act, even though you know they should. You need to ask more specific questions that will give you numbers. The board needs to have proof of how it will affect the bottom line – and perhaps in this case, if PR is so important to them, their external reputation.

You haven’t said what the image problem might be, but look at it from their perspective and try to use a bit of behaviour modification psychology – ask yourself what they’re trying to achieve. Can you come up with better ways of achieving it while increasing the depth in these aspects that you are looking for? If you can work out how to do this, you need to present answers in such a way that they think they’ve come up with them, so they have ownership of the solution.

Perhaps you could hold a workshop for the board to look at the organisational norms of the business, reflecting where you are now and where you want to be. You can position this as a piece of work to develop the HR strategy for the coming year. If you steer it in the right way, this will generate actions that will actually make a difference, rather than just platitudes. And if they have been involved in the process, you will have their backing.