Are Your Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Communications Working? An Interview with Mary S. Miller

We are very pleased to welcome Mary S. Miller, of Miller Comms, Inc., to advise us on the measurement of diversity and inclusion communications. Mary is the author of The Measurement Advisor’s popular article “Using a Leader Say-Do Survey To Align Leadership,” which we will refer to in the interview below. (Visit this page for a list of our articles on how to measure internal communications.)

The Measurement Advisor: Hi Mary, welcome to the Measurement Advisor Interview.

Mary S. Miller: Glad to be (virtually) here, Bill.

TMA: We know you as an expert in internal communications. But just what areas do you specialize in? What do you have the most experience in? 

MM: My passion is performance communications: measurable business results for which the gains are greater than the cost of achieving the gains. My mantra is, “You have to win on the inside to win on the outside.” So I believe internal communications should be a priority in every organization. It’s where I’ve focused my expertise.

TMA: Got a personal measurement success story you’d like to share with our readers?

MM: One of my favorite go-to measures is the Leader Say-Do Survey. It’s an employee survey that evaluates how well leadership communicates the organization’s strategic priorities or goals (the “Say” part). Employees are also asked the extent to which they see their leaders taking action in support of the priorities (the “Do” part). You then compare the two to determine if employees perceive that their leaders are actually doing what they are saying.

**Read this article to learn how to conduct a Leader Say-Do Survey.**

It’s particularly useful in achieving leadership alignment and in elevating the perceived value of internal communications when brought forward by the function. The Leader Say-Do Survey was an essential element of the Performance Communications program I developed for Abbott Nutrition. It helped them exceed an annual margin improvement goal by 22 percent. That same year, the overall employee engagement measure was 90 percent, up from 59 percent just two years prior.

“Employees will tell you whether your communications are effective, but you have to ask.”

TMA: Congrats on that success! So, how can our readers tell that their communications around D&I are effective? Or more importantly, even working at all?

MM: Employees will tell you whether your communications are effective, but you have to ask. It’s important that you do, because your employee sentiment will be reflected in your customer perceptions.

Some companies I’ve worked with, such as Astellas and Abbott, have long had very active D&I programs. Of course, the current environment is causing many organizations to step up their efforts, or include D&I in their business priorities for the first time. Based on my personal experience reviewing employee culture surveys over the past decade, D&I has been a growing priority. I suspect it will be even higher now, and that employee expectations for measurable progress will also rise.

Measurement of D&I is not really that much different than the measurement of other employee vs. management concerns. Consider Facebook’s recent problems, or anything that involves a gap between management and employees on certain attitudes or expectations, such as working from home, wage disparity, open-space floor plans, or CSR commitment.

TMA: What is the best way for communications to assess issues around D&I?

MM: I rely on the old adage: “If the problem is well-defined, the solution is not far behind.” So, before launching a D&I-specific communications program, know what needs or concerns exist among your target audience, including examining their impact on achieving business results.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are popular in larger organizations with diverse employee workforces. They are an excellent avenue for insight into what’s working and what still needs attention. So I recommend you attend an ERG meeting and devote some time to a listening session. Focus groups (in person or virtual) expose issues that an organization would want to know about sooner than later, and they inform expectations of leadership. Leadership communications can be a very effective use of the communications function when it comes to D&I.

“If the problem is well-defined, the solution is not far behind.”

TMA: Can D&I communications be measured along with internal comms, or does it need a separate measurement program?

MM: Good question. I don’t believe dedicated D&I communications measurement is necessary, if you are including D&I in your other internal communications measures. You can always pull out the D&I data points and report on it specifically.

Employee survey fatigue can be a very real problem, so you need to be judicious about both the frequency of communications assessments and the format.  You can measure year-over-year improvements without using the same comprehensive baseline survey tool. That is, the same question is asked, but in a different format, or delivered via a different survey than the previous year. For example, measure incremental progress against D&I and other communications effectiveness via quick and short surveys on the employee intranet, Yammer, or whatever social network the organization uses. Survey ERG members. Even short cafeteria-distributed surveys that earn a free cookie when turned in are a quick way to measure your D&I communication effectiveness.

Consider the following measures, all of which are informative and not especially difficult to obtain:

  • Awareness and understanding of D&I initiatives
  • Alignment with initiatives: Are they comprehensive enough? Where are the gaps?
  • Satisfaction with progress toward D&I goals
  • Leadership commitment to D&I. You’ll get this as part of a Leader Say-Do Survey.
  • Member growth and retention in ERGs
  • Member satisfaction with progress toward goals/purpose of ERGs
  • Other indirect measures to consider are employee retention rate and the level of priority and assessment employees assign to D&I on employee culture surveys.

I should add that companies or organizations that have assigned a top leadership position dedicated full time to driving successful D&I initiatives requires the same commitment and resources (full-time employee support and an allocated budget) afforded to these top leaders. Until recently, most companies had someone in the HR Dept who was responsible for D&I. Increasingly, organizations are hiring a D&I leader who is a member of the senior leadership team. For that leader to be successful, their position needs to be more than one which checks off a CSR box. It needs full-time staffing and an allocated departmental budget, not just rolled into the existing HR budget. In companies that have invested this level of commitment, a dedicated D&I communications measurement budget would be realistic.

“Only real change, rather than rhetoric, will move the needle on D&I.”

TMA: How can I make sure that my communications don’t cause employees to walk out, or send letters to the NYTimes? 

MM: In any size organization, employees (and their customers/members/constituents) want to know the company’s position on inclusion and how effectively they are living it. All audiences examine whether leadership is engaged.

Not all leaders recognize that responsibility. Only real change, rather than rhetoric, will move the needle on D&I. That’s why I’m convinced that the Leader Say-Do survey is such an important and reliable measure. It’s not just management’s talk, it’s their behavior that leads to employee trust and confidence, which leads to action and accomplishment. Employees who believe the organization is moving in the right direction and trust their leadership are more compelled to take an issue to management than externally.

TMA: Oftentimes measurement can be a tricky sell to management. Because, for instance, they think it might make them look bad. Or perhaps the results get buried because the right person(s) weren’t really behind the effort. So, with specific reference to D&I comms measurement, are there any particular pitfalls to look out for?

MM: You’re right Bill. In fact, Leader Say-Do is especially contentious because it exposes senior leaders in the organization that are not walking the talk or even addressing issues. I’ve experienced plenty of senior leaders who score poorly on the Leader Say-Do survey and then reject the findings and create excuses for why the data is not valid. This is an important reason for including a professional research consultant in the process. And for being extremely detailed in explaining the methodology.

In the end, a Leader Say-Do survey is sold on the communication function’s ability to provide executive leadership a solution that helps align their leadership team to deliver business results. Once alignment gaps are addressed, follow-up Leader Say-Do surveys gain popularity, with both senior leaders and employees, and the communications function is viewed as an invaluable resource.

TMA: Thanks for the interview, Mary! Stay healthy.

MM: You are most welcome Bill. ∞

About Author

Bill Paarlberg

Bill Paarlberg is the Editor of The Measurement Advisor. He has been editing and writing about measurement for over 20 years. He was the development and copy editor for "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, winner of the 2013 Terry McAdam Book Award.