Make Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy a Winner with OKRs

Vessy works with clients across Europe and North America such as Soundcloud, RG, Typeform, and more. Her client projects include global D&I strategies, state of inclusion reports, ERG programs, and educational programs. In this Voices of OKR piece, Vessy explores which obstacles hinder D&I leaders and how they can take steps in the right direction. 

Which three characters can cause panic for companies big and small? D&I. Diversity and Inclusion.   

Which three characters can alleviate panic for companies? OKR. Objectives and Key Results. 

Generally, companies know that D&I is important. But not everyone understands its urgency or has a blueprint for D&I initiatives that are effective, aligned with the company’s mission, and sustainable. This is the value of OKRs.  

OKRs are built on transparency and measurable results. These fundamental pillars of OKRs are what drive impact for D&I initiatives. With OKRs, D&I doesn’t have to be a nightmare for your organization. D&I might be a vulnerability for your company, but vulnerabilities are an opportunity to make our teams stronger.  

Each unique challenge you face as a D&I leader has the potential to drive impact for your D&I efforts, all through the power of OKRs.  

Struggles in Gaining Diversity & Inclusion Leverage 

D&I leaders face obstacles at every level in their role. The main difficulty is with positioning D&I as an opportunity to improve your organization, rather than a problem to be “fixed”. OKRs counter this common difficulty, setting measurable Key Results as the core driver of action.  

Three large challenges can stall or prevent D&I leaders from driving change:  

  1. Leadership’s uncertainty with D&I
  2. Failing to align D&I with company values
  3. Lack of resources

Convincing leaders to buy into the idea of D&I is an overarching problem. If your leadership teams cannot get invested in D&I, the odds of getting employees on board is slim to none. OKRs bring an actionable game plan to D&I and reduce uncertainty. As a D&I leader using OKRs, gaining allies from the top levels helps motivate the bottom levels.   

A company’s DNA is crafted by its leadership. This DNA is important for instilling D&I as a sustainable initiative. Affecting D&I change is about affecting cultural change. Creating a culture of transparency and trust, i.e. a D&I-driven culture, requires a system that embraces those qualities.  

OKRs can’t function without company-wide transparency and enabling worker autonomy. Pushing for D&I initiatives in a tone-deaf way is the cause of many failed D&I attempts. Using OKRs as your methodology and as an example for D&I structure is the recipe for success.   

Finally, resources in any company are dedicated weeks, months, or years ahead of time. The last thing a CFO wants to do is eat further into the budget. Illustrating how D&I initiatives improve the lives of employees and have positive ROI is the challenge for resource obtainment. Transparency in results with OKRs is a valuable tool for D&I leaders making the financial case for their initiatives.   

D&I leaders are confronted with various understandings of D&I in the company, an unknown level of commitment from leadership, and a lack of clarity in their purpose. Overcoming the three outlined challenges are a critical move in the right direction for D&I leaders.   

Winning over Leadership

D&I leaders can’t do it alone. No leader can. D&I begins with planting seeds in your organization with leadership and with employees. Starting the conversation about D&I can gain you some allies to start with and put others in the consideration phase. These allies help magnify the voice and significance of D&I internally.  

As a D&I leader, expect to get “no” as an answer initially. Mapping out what D&I initiatives could look like in your organization gives your approach a sense of clarity, focus, and helpfulness. Bringing this clarity and focus was the focal point of  my work at Soundcloud , in an effort to align the DRG strategy with the business goals of a ≈300 member organization. Mapping plans makes it easier for leaders by giving them messages with power that they can communicate to other leaders.   

OKRs are gold for winning over leadership. How do you, the D&I leader, use that gold? Show how your D&I initiatives have a focal Objective that aligns with the company’s quarterly or annual Objective. Attempting to break focus from other leaders’ personal Objectives won’t gain you many supporters. Showing how your measurable Key Results boost the success of the company, however, will garner attention.  

With such a strong focus on leaders, don’t forget to learn and empathize with the wants and needs of lower-level employees. Working with the people who do the ground work helps you understand what your organization needs from D&I at a base level. Finding the cross-sections between these groups allows you not only to align your D&I efforts, but to better align their goals with their leader’s goals.  

This isn’t just a theory: the Diversity Resource Groups Program for Soundcloud, “managed to meet and balance the needs of a few very different project stakeholders: the DRGs, the executive sponsors, and the People team.” 

Good leaders don’t expect you to have it all figured out. You will have the greatest chance of success in gaining D&I allies by:  

  1. Bringing other leaders a plan of action through OKRs
  2. Showing the alignment between your Objective and other leaders’ Objectives
  3. Describing how their involvement will benefit them and the company

Aligning D&I with Company Values 

Authenticity is the soul of D&I. Arbitrarily pushing D&I initiatives to be trendy or put your company’s name into D&I discussions is a flawed method. Public image and CSR (corporate social responsibility) are their own challenges. D&I is about looking externally  and  internally for motivation. Going back to the OKR example, alignment with company values is a core component of building a D&I approach. 

Your company’s DNA is a great embedding point for D&I. By understanding the values of the company and the underlying motivation for its initiatives, you can incorporate D&I as a parallel to those initiatives. Going against the grain or making noise isn’t the purpose of D&I. D&I is meant to drive impact.  

If you structure one of your Key Results with a D&I OKR around employee satisfaction scores or retention, you have a connection point to success. Being able to score employee satisfaction involves surveying or interviewing to understand what motivates employees. This data doubles as a tool for you to structure your initiatives around, but also as a transparent benchmark to bring to your organization.   

 Cooperation with D&I from other leaders and employees requires:  

  1. Transparency on the goals of D&I
  2. How D&I goals increase the effectiveness of the company’s goals
  3. Alignment between the D&I goal and the company goal

OKRs work with bringing D&I success because they force you, the D&I leader, to structure your approach around measurable Key Results. In the pursuit of discovering where your company’s data points are, you can align your initiatives with the company’s goals from a quantitative and qualitative standpoint. Anything but an authentic approach tailored to your organization’s unique needs will likely fail in the long term, OKRs are a framework for gaining that critical context.  

Obtaining and Leveraging Resources 

Changes take time. Time is money. As a D&I leader, you may be short on both. Appealing to CEOs and CFOs for resources can work. However, a better approach is  showing  how a lack of investment in D&I wastes away a company’s time and money.   

Framing D&I as a solution, not a problem, is the answer to resource dedication. Applying OKRs to your initiatives and your company’s initiatives will help you identify the areas where resources are ineffectively used. Collecting primary data to set OKRs can show you qualitative data points, like employee turnover, and qualitative data, the motivation behind that turnover.  

From there, you can structure your D&I OKRs to drive a qualitative objective, like improving employee satisfaction, which will affect a company’s quantitative data point, employee turnover.  

The average turnover (attrition) rate can be anywhere between 10-50% depending on the industry, organization maturity, and culture climate. The investment lost in hiring and training these turnover employees is an opportunity for D&I leaders to step in. D&I initiatives can counter attrition problems by improving inclusiveness in work environments and the quality of the work experience.  

 D&I places last among business priorities via a 2019 Russell Reynolds  S&P analysis . While leaders find D&I important, there is a large drop-off in urgency. Importance = intent, not necessarily action. The common sentiment?  “Sure, we plan to work on it this year… maybe in a couple of Qs from now.”  

See more trends from the 2020 Diversity in the Workplace Report 

Changing this narrative, obtaining resources as a result, requires gaining allies. Swaying opinions and gaining favor in your organization shows the financial decision makes that D&I is a culturally-vested interest. 

Simply pleading for money or volunteers and not taking action = Driving blindfolded.   

Recruiting employees who care, showing a greater time commitment in D&I = Blindfold removed.   

To learn about the scale of strategic Diversity & Inclusion services that will help you make your D&I strategy a winner, or read into the D&I initiatives I’ve successfully implemented for my clients, check out  to see more or schedule a consultation. 

OKRs are the Winning Strategy with Diversity & Inclusion 

OKRs are a methodology that incorporates transparency, autonomy, and trust in organizations.  

Structuring D&I with OKRs is ideal for simultaneously building the business case for D&I and illustrating to C-level leaders how D&I initiatives can be executed practically. In building the case for D&I, leaders can position D&I as the counter to a business’s self-defeating practices.   

By collecting metrics on the unique weak points of your organization, you can implement D&I solutions to reposition these vulnerabilities as strengths. This research is the backbone of your argument for D&I initiatives being necessary for your company.  

Using OKRs to map out quantitative Key Results for D&I gives the hard data that leadership craves. Executing on the D&I Key Results will lead to reaching the qualitative Objectives, which is the change you wish to drive in your organization.  

The D&I role is deep and complex. The blueprint to the D&I role, leveraging OKRs as a methodology, and creating a D&I game plan encompasses much more than a single blog.  

To learn more about how old and new D&I leaders alike can thrive in the changing work landscape, download our whitepaper on  How D&I Leaders Can Drive Measurable Results.