To help your business prosper and grow during the Cultural Demographic Shift (CDS) we’re currently in, you can’t just sell to people. You to need follow these four steps:
- Educate leadership. Define and commit to what you’re solving for. Be committed, and build a strong foundation to educate others.
- Over-deliver value. Don’t sell; selling without understanding unknowingly creates tension. Instead, serve the unique needs of your workplace and marketplace.
- Embrace mutuality. Convert diversity of thought into opportunities previously unseen to benefit everyone.
- Define your platform. Evolve and multiply what you’re solving for.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the first of these steps to see what it involves. “Educate leadership” is about committing to evolve and changing the template -- re-educating ourselves and helping to define what we’re solving for. The reason corporate templates don’t work is that people don’t understand what they mean. They don’t know how to translate them into tangible desired outcomes and how their own leadership identity can best support them. Corporate frameworks become words that unknowingly create tension.
But “Educate Leadership” only gets you to the baseline. Given our inability to embrace the CDS populations, your starting line is actually more like -20 percent. For some companies, it can start or drop even lower if people believe you’re focused on initiatives that never develop any meaning or sustainable actions, and that offends any target audience and creates unnecessary tension because it looks like you’re throwing a bone to people, rather than presenting an evolved strategy that represents commitment. You’ll only get to zero percent when you engage with your employees, customers and external partners, and define and commit to what you’re solving for. And every time you don’t fully commit or take ownership and live the characteristics, you fall backward into the negative and must recommit yourself to get back to the baseline.
Not only do you fall backward, but you get into situations like the city of Los Angeles found itself in a few years ago. In 2013, the populations of the CDS had already become the majority in Los Angeles, with the nonwhite Hispanic population alone surpassing whites as the city’s largest demographic group. Moreover, the number of residents born outside the U.S. was approaching 40 percent. Yet fewer than 1 percent of the city’s elected officials represented first-generation ethnic populations. As a result, those leaders struggled to authentically connect with those populations. They didn’t know how, because they followed the old template -- right down to the voting. Los Angeles County may be home to the largest voting jurisdiction in the U.S., but voter turnout is at record lows, and whites are over-represented at the polls while shift populations are underrepresented.
As a result, city leaders kept falling backward from the baseline and starting over at -20 because they couldn’t engage with their local community from a leadership standpoint. This lack of education and connection affected the Los Angeles economy on a global scale by severely hindering the city’s ability to authentically reach out and enhance foreign trade across Latin America, Mexico, Asia and India -- populations that are clearly represented in Los Angeles.
Since 2013, Los Angeles has taken several steps to stay above the baseline, including investing more than $10 million in statewide spending to boost voter turnout and creating the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s New American Leaders Program, which was designed to find leaders who represented the city’s overall demographics and seize the broader opportunities.
But even if these and other programs succeed, the city would still find itself only at the baseline. Only when the education is complete do you have the opportunity to grow past zero and face the choice to lead people or sell to them. When you lead them, you’re advancing yourself by serving others (i.e., working with a generous purpose). You aren’t selling to people when you understand and serve them. That’s how you “over-deliver value” -- by serving others and embracing their unique needs. Selling without that level of understanding unknowingly creates tension. Over-delivering value eliminates the tension leaders too often unknowingly create (by feeling a sense of entitlement to force those who already don’t feel they’re understood or valued).
When you’re selling to people without being aware of their unique needs, that sale comes across as if you’re taking advantage of them rather than educating a community that demands reciprocal relationships. When you do that, you are embracing mutuality, creating opportunity with and for these shift populations and giving them influence in the process. Listen and observe what they do and why, and how they do it to understand their value of, approach to and style in the things that matter to them.
Too often, leaders and companies think they’ve reached the finish line after their initial successes. No! They’re still at the midway point at best and must evolve and multiply. We must be courageous and vulnerable enough to take ownership and reinvent the approach constantly to avoid slipping back into substitution after making so much evolutionary progress.
In some ways, this is just common sense. As Caroline Wanga, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Target Corp., says, “Nobody questions you when you give extra attention to a product that’s underperforming. You have to identify what to do about it before returning it to your total portfolio because your goal is for all your products to perform on par with what they were expected to do. So when we talk about diversity, it’s really an effort to get to parity, not to give competitive advantage to anyone. We have to dismantle that myth, because what it’s really about is giving everybody the same experience of opportunity. It’s about equality and equity. I like to say that my job is not to give everybody a shoe; it’s to give everybody a job that fits.”
What Wanga notes is not a Target problem; it’s a global problem. And it requires much more than businesses simply cutting a check for diversity training or sponsorships and paying lip service to the idea of an ideal.
Business today is becoming less about the business defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business. “We never bet on an industry; we bet on individuals,” says Mike Fernandez, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners. “The individual is the one who can make a business.” And when he doesn’t understand the individuals? He educates himself and finds partners to help him who already have that understanding. That’s how Fernandez and Magic Johnson ended up partnering in a business that served HIV-positive patients, of which Magic is one. The partners may seem like an unlikely pairing, but despite their different upbringings, races, professional experience and politics, they appreciate those differences and see power in respecting them to create another thriving entity under Fernandez’s company umbrella.