I regularly work with companies to launch, structure or revitalize their Employee Resource Groups. Recently, a client asked for advice on how to respond to managers who are “coming down hard on the ERG leaders.” Here are a couple of things to think about, if you’re ever in this situation.
First, it is helpful to have a structured message in the beginning stages with ERGs. I recommend creating a full education, communication and launch plan. This includes educating managers of potential ERG leaders and members, as well as others in the organization who may not be interested in ever being directly involved in the ERG. It’s important that ERGs are rolled out in a way that makes their value to the company explicit, and their work tied to company-wide strategic goals. If this doesn’t happen early, the chances are they will be “ghettoized.”
Regarding this specific issue with managers, the HR and Diversity representatives should begin by trying to establish a clear understanding of the issue(s). Why are the managers “coming down hard” on the ERG leaders? Is it time? Performance? Lack of information/understanding? Getting the answer to these questions will likely require a conversation with each manager.
- Diversity/HR representative talk directly with the managers and ERG leaders in question. They can openly discuss the issues/concerns to date and explore follow up actions. It’s better to deal openly with concerns.
- Another option is to call a meeting (in addition to the one-on-one meetings mentioned above) for all new ERG managers and the Diversity/HR representative. The intention is to provide a forum for asking questions, sharing ideas for how managers can support their employee/ERG leader, and give input to HR that will allow adjustments to be made, as needed. Such a meeting could be described as, “In an effort to position our new ERGs for success, and to balance that desire with our foremost commitment to our employees’ and managers’ success, we invite you to participate in a frank conversation with us.”
as I stated in the beginning, I strongly encourage structure at the beginning stages of any group process, particularly introducing something as important–and potentially misunderstood–as ERGs. Here are some ideas to think about when creating a structure for ERG success:
- Create job descriptions for ERG leaders that includes an overview of their responsibilities and estimated time.
- As a formal part of the ERG start-up phase, arrange for Executive Sponsors, Diversity and/or HR representative, ERG leaders and their managers, to meet and formally launch the relationship. These conversations will allow parties to discuss expectations and concerns, and how communication needs will be managed in the future.
- Create and maintain an updated FAQ with a section that captures some of the common questions/concerns voiced by managers and/or during the aforementioned conversations with managers.
- Incorporate managers into the ERG’s success metrics. Managers, ERG leaders and Executive Sponsors can work together to document performance feedback (ERG leaders’ increased influence/communication effectiveness; ERG leaders’ ability to juggle multiple demands; ERG leaders’ ability to take on stretch assignments, etc.) that involves and requires managers to see the whole picture.