• Chris LeBeau

Beyond press releases

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

In the wake of tragedy in recent weeks, one piece of solace can be found in varying acts of support and solidarity: marches taking place globally, hard conversations being had in public and private, monies are being pledged, minority businesses and artists are being supported, policies are being discussed and are advancing.

In the last week the number of organizational responses seems to have grown considerably. Some are from long-time supporters in the space and many more are new. Among the array of statements, I feel it’s important to point out where the rubber ultimately meets the road. The other day I was on my home loan company’s website. At the top of the page there was a notice from the CEO speaking out against the violence against George Floyd among countless others.

It was well-written and seemingly heartfelt. The leader spoke of their own worldview of America as an immigrant and said in moments like these the country must return to its values. The leader took a moment to highlight the organization’s own core values: inclusivity, openness, respect, collaboration, and caring.

Despite the emotion and personalization of the piece, what I did not find was anything beyond inviting conversations to take place. This of course is an important part of getting to know any context that one may be unfamiliar with. One should certainly ask questions in a safe space and begin to take in what they did know or had previously failed to understand. At the same time I was reminded of a line I came across months ago from Charles Isbell Jr., dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing came to mind,

“Don’t tell me what your values are, show me your budget and then I’ll tell you what your values are. Because you spend money on the things that you care about.”

The mortgage company’s words are great but at least based on what I can see are only that. What resources are they offering up other than compassion? Are they promoting or furthering ABAR training to ensure their lenders are aware of biases that may affect lending? Are they committing new recruitment dollars to reach audiences they may have overlooked? Are they spending more time building relationships in communities they may have previously not paid much attention to? Do they have clients or partners who exhibit inconsiderate or damaging behaviors? Will they stop doing business with them as a result?

Will the commitment be temporary or ongoing? Does it have to be good for business or can it just be the right thing to do? Is it safe and small enough not to ruffle the feathers of shareholders or is this a feather-ruffling moment? Does the lender want to leverage its expertise and resources to play a meaningful role in addressing the issue or do they mostly want to signal they’re not part of the problem?

Another way to compare our words vs. actions involves our calendar. The venture capitalist Ben Horowitz once talked about speaking with an entrepreneur who said she was having trouble getting results from a department in her organization. After talking about the problem for a while Horowitz realized the founder was spending little time with the embattled team. Once she put regular meetings, drop-ins and touch bases with that department on her calendar, their engagement increased and results improved.

What does your calendar look like this month with respect to equity issues and what might it look like next month? Will your focus continue or will it wane? The things that matter to us are reflected in our time and attention. Do your employees feel unified behind the organization’s commitment or if asked would they be unsure what changes are taking place? If they do not know or have not been asked to participate is it possible for them to feel connected to change?

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