Real talk at work: How Amway created a better office for more people
Being real at the office? Some workplaces would frown at the idea, but Amway embraces it (and is all the better for it).
Claire Groen: As part of our drive towards developing an inclusive environment, we wanted to address both people's uniqueness and their sense of belonging. In order to do that we needed to be able to have conversations about somebody's uniqueness in order to achieve a sense of belongingness in the workplace. And therefore we felt like we needed to be able to put on the table conversations that were difficult topics – that people were wanting to shy away from maybe, because they were worried about asking questions, or they were worried about bringing up the topic. But yet those topics were critical to really understanding each other. And we launched a series called RealTalk series in order to be able to put those more difficult things on the table.
It happened a little bit as a coincidence that there were a lot of current events that occurred as we were going through that RealTalk series. Things like natural disasters, a lot of the immigration changes that were happening in the U.S. And then also the events that happened in Charlottesville. And those became great platforms for us to be able to have some of these difficult conversations to understand how people view things differently. So people may see an event like Charlottesville and they feel badly about it. They're unhappy about it but they sort of go on about their way. Whereas other people in the workplace feel very personally affected by it. They may be angry. They may be very sad about it. And they need to be able to come into a workplace where people could recognize those emotions and show that they cared that they felt that way.
We wanted to have our participants get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. And that was the guidance that we gave to the leaders for those sessions to make sure that we were raising up issues where people understood that it wasn't going to necessarily be an easy conversation. And people had to come prepared to be vulnerable and open to some level of discomfort.
One of the things we asked for from the participants was to assume a positive intent. And a positive intent is simply necessary if you want to have these difficult conversations and have them be productive. It's so easy to go in and actually become defensive. That's usually the issue that creates the obstacles in having a productive conversation. It's not so much that people go negative but it's that they become defensive. And so we really asked people to come in and say let's assume a positive intent on the part of the other person so that we didn't go to an area of defensiveness immediately.
As we engaged in this series we wanted people to understand that it was a dialogue and not a debate. Dialogue is open-ended. It's a conversation about how I might experience something and understanding how you might experience that exact same thing but in a different way. In a debate you're looking to win. You're looking to convince and have the final say in something. And that's not the purpose of these conversations. The purpose is to make sure that we can understand each other better and become better advocates for each other.
All the experiences that we had going through the RealTalk series really summed up to leading people to commit to having ongoing conversations about things that matter even apart from the series. And it really led to a practical takeaway for people to just simply say "I'm going to sit down with somebody. I'm going to ask their perspective on an event that happened. If something happened over the weekend in the news I'm going to commit to asking what was their experience around that?" How did they feel about it and what impact might it have had on them? And also sharing how I might feel about it without judgment as to what it should have been but just understanding each of our own perspectives on that event.
So it was a very good experience for us. It was a very significant impact for leaders in the organization but also people who were participating in the series as individual contributors to know that leaders cared and wanted to engage in those conversations.
Most people approach talking about difficult subjects as if they were at a debate. That is, arriving at the table (metaphorically speaking) with preconceived notions and ideas. But Amway's VP of Global Litigation and Corporate Law, Claire Groen, knew there had to be a better way. She and the leaders at Amway devised what they call RealTalk, which brings people together to hold conversations on current topics. And when the topics happened to turn into hot-button issues like immigration, the racism at Charlottesville, and so forth, these talks became an incredible conduit to a more inclusive office. People were heard, and in turn listened more to ideas outside of their comfort zone. This resulted in a better and more inclusive culture at Amway. Amway believes that diversity and inclusion are essential to the growth and prosperity of today’s companies. When woven into every aspect of the talent life cycle, companies committed to diversity and inclusion are the best equipped to innovate, improve brand image and drive performance.
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