First Secret to Success for Employee Resource Groups

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Suri Surinder
Founder and CEO,
CTR Factor, Inc.

So, you are an Employee Resource Group leader, and proud to be one. You are engaged in your mission, and proud of it. You are a believer in the cause, and proud to be contributing to it. Even though it is a second job that doesn’t pay the bills, and takes time away from friends, family, and other fun stuff.

You love the work, you immerse yourself in the effort, you identify strongly with the constituency that you represent through the ERG.

Yet…..

…you find yourself challenged in terms of enrolling and engaging others to the same degree in the mission, and end up killing yourself (and a few other passionate missionaries like yourself) to do all the work.

…you find yourself hard-pressed to get the senior folks at your company to support you with the time, effort, energy, attention, and resources required to deliver successful outcomes

…you find yourself struggling to get support and sustenance from the very community that stands to benefit the most from the ERG’s efforts, despite the best of intentions.

If you are in this position, let me tell you something, as a consultant and advisor to many different ERGs in many different companies over many years.

You are not alone.

And, the problem isn’t you.

Nor is it the leadership at your company, the employees you are trying to engage, or the community you are catering to.

For you, and for many others like you across the country, toiling against similar odds, battling similar forces, dealing with similar dilemmas, the problem here, as in many other situations in life, could be….

…mental models.

Aha, spoken like a true consultant, you say. Sounds good, means nothing, you aver. Here comes another 2×2 matrix, you scoff.

Before you disengage from this discussion, and dismiss me for a charlatan, just hear me out for a bit, and think for a minute about the mental model you carry around in your subconscious psyche around the work that you do on behalf of the ERG.

How would you describe your role in the ERG?

Do you….

…lead a voluntary organization within your company focused on education, awareness, and advocacy relating to XYZ group, whose unique needs and culture may have been ignored and neglected thus far?

…lead a band of worthy employees who have been disadvantaged and disempowered, in a momentous battle of right vs wrong with the leadership of your company, your community, and your government?

…lead a transformational effort around the divisive culture at your company, that aims to deliver a more diverse and inclusive environment for all, where the focus is not just on counting heads, but on making those heads count?

These are all alternative mental models for the good work being done within the ERG space at your company. And there are probably a dozen others like these not listed here to which you may subscribe.

So, are these models wrong?

The answer is: It doesn’t matter.

They could all be the right answers.

To the wrong question.

The right question, in my humble opinion, is not whether these models are right or wrong. It is whether they are effective at delivering the outcomes you are looking for.

And, IMHO, in most situations that I have encountered, they are not optimally effective models at delivering desired outcomes. (If you don’t know what the initials stand for, you just aren’t up to speed on the latest Twitter slang. Check them out ASAP, and BRB).

Here’s why.

They all look at one specific stakeholder group – community, colleagues, or company – instead of looking at all three simultaneously.

And they all frame the mission in an adversarial manner, instead of in a collaborative manner .

Instead of these mental models, please consider the following one, suggested by yours truly.

You are leading a business within a business.

Whoa there, killer, that sounds too much like a second, paid job, say you. I lead a business within a business already – my team in my day job. Don’t need another one, thank you very much.

I hear you.

Now, hear me.

You ARE leading a business within a business, whether you signed up for it or not. The sooner you realize it, the better off you will be in terms of achieving the traction you are looking for.

And if you don’t want the gig after realizing this, then you are better off resigning, and letting someone else lead the ERG who is comfortable with this reality.

Sorry for the tough love. I am sure I will hear about it in the comments to this post. Just be gentler with me than I am being with you.

And think about this.

There are a number of significant implications of this mental model that can make your life easier or more difficult, depending on how you deal with them.

Firstly, as with any business, you have investors.

The investors in any company are its shareholders. They expect Return On Investment in terms of share price appreciation.

The investors in your ERG are the senior leaders of the company. They are the ones investing time, effort, energy, attention, and money in your ERG and others like it.

They expect an ROI as well. And that ROI is – business outcomes.

So, if you want support from senior leaders of your company, and you are not getting it, focus your attention on pain-points and opportunities within their domains that keep these senior leaders up at night. Talk to them about these sleep-demons and dream-destroyers. And focus your ERG on addressing some of them through specific projects and engagements.

If you focus in this manner on your COMPANY, the speed with which your top management team will embrace your ERG will make your head spin.

Secondly, as with any business, you have customers.

The customers of any enterprise are the consumers and businesses it serves. They want products and services that meet their unique needs.

The customers of your ERG are the community that it represents, within and outside the business. They are looking for customized approaches to meet their needs in terms of products and services, economic development, financial growth, education and literacy, career opportunities, cultural awareness, benefits and rights, and so on.

So, if you want the support of the constituency you represent, focus on delivering the solutions that meet these needs of the COMMUNITY, stat, and watch how quickly they become aware and aligned acolytes of what you are doing.

Thirdly, as a business within a business, you have employees.

The employees of a business are looking to be engaged, empowered, and enrolled in a mission larger than themselves that leverages and develops their talents.

The employees of your ERG are your members who volunteer their precious time to its cause after hours and weekends, in order to serve the mission. They are in search of professional development and psychic satisfaction with the mission.

So, if you want the support of your members, make sure you are meeting their needs as COLLEAGUES through leadership development curricula, mentoring and sponsorship programs, succession program integration, experiential learning, and a networking platform that enables access and exposure.

That will make it a little easier for them to make the trade-offs needed to show up for ERG activities, and participate actively in making them happen.

It is not rocket science. Basic human drives dictate that the most popular FM radio station across the planet is WII-FM. What’s In It For Me. Changing your mental model and viewing our ERGs as a business within a business enables us to identify the 3 key stakeholders of our ERGs better – Company, Community, and Colleagues – and tune in to that radio station more consistently and clearly.

Let me know if the siren sounds you hear sing of success.

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