Photo by Jéan Béller
A couple of months ago, we hit the one-year mark since George Floyd’s death. The response and social unrest conversations reached a fever pitch last year, although racial inequality, police brutality, and race-related injustice are nothing new. However, many leaders and organizations took the opportunity to enact change. Good.
We are seeing positive strides in many organizations. They are adding diversity and inclusion officers, reprioritizing racial equity, and are doing a better job of listening. But what does this all really mean? It’s a question that shouldn’t be ignored.
An article recently spoke to me: A Year After George Floyd, What Have Business Leaders Learned? written by Dan Bigman, editor and chief content officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net, Boardmember.com, and StrategicCFO360.com.
In his piece, he tapped a phenomenal resource to break down how George Floyd’s death can serve as a lesson for the workplace. As a social scientist and Harvard professor, Dr. Robert Livingston spent 20 years at influential companies like AirBnB, Microsoft, Under Armour, etc. While there, he made a point to show leadership teams how to turn difficult conversations about race into productive instances of real change. Earlier this year, he published The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth About Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations (Penguin Random House, 2021).
Livingston shared a model for social change that I hadn’t heard of before, called PRESS.
“The P stands for problem awareness,” Bigman says in his interview with Corporate Board Member. “The R is root cause analysis. E is empathy or concern. Do you care? The first S is strategy. And the second S is sacrifice.”
He explains that many leaders are apt to jump straight to strategy, but they overlook some important diagnostic steps. The collective response to George Floyd helped open our eyes. It gave us problem awareness.
It reminded us (and taught some) that systemic racism isn’t anything new. It is alive and we should look at its roots. Where did it begin? What have we accepted as the status quo? Then we can–and should–care that this is today’s reality. Only then can we build strategies in our organizations that matter, which may include some level of sacrifice.
I have thought about this at length. George Floyd’s death and the resulting human response. Not the original response to the video itself, but the larger drive to enact change. The change can be felt by individuals, families, workplaces, schools, and society. True shifts in behavior modeled by leaders who understand that their role and actions matter.
Livingston spoke about the emotional life of an organization. At TalentCulture, we speak about this quite often. Any person who opts to ignore the soul–the people, and all that comes with them–is missing the boat.
However, let’s be honest about this. Even some of the most people-first organizations have still not found the secret to unanimous equity across all populations. It isn’t easy. It takes education, research, resources, time, money, and sacrifice. But it’s worth it.
What is your organization doing as a direct result of what we learned from George Floyd’s death? I’d love to hear real-life examples about what you’ve done. I’m also interested in the impact made and perhaps some early outcomes you’ve observed. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.