Knowing me, knowing you

A more introspective piece this week, on the role of self-knowledge in leading change on diversity and inclusion, prompted by reading an article on ‘The Self as an Instrument – A Cornerstone for the Future of OD’ by Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge which you can access here.  Mee-Yan is an organisational development (OD) guru and was voted one of HR’s top 25 most influential UK thinkers in 2012.

Her article – now over ten years old – is about the heightened self-awareness or self-knowledge required to be an effective OD consultant.  Getting to the requisite level of self-knowledge – or what she terms ‘instrumentality’ – isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  It means, in Mee-Yan’s own words:

–          ‘Devoting time and energy to learning about who we are, and how issues of family history, gender, race and sexuality affect self-perception.  It means also identifying and exploring the values by which we live our lives, as well as developing our intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities’

–          ‘Get to know your fears, blind spots and comfort zones. Use your emotional comfort (or discomfort) as data in .. the work you do’

–           ‘Dedicating time to the on-going maintenance of both self-knowledge and technical expertise’

Three things struck me about the article:

First, everything that Mee-Yan wrote about the self-knowledge required to be an OD practitioner and consultant I think also applies to diversity and inclusion practitioners and consultants, and indeed to managers and leaders wanting to see change on diversity and inclusion in their organisations.

We can’t hope to inspire change in the attitudes and behaviour of others around difference, or understand the resistance that such attempts at change provoke, without first spending time and energy on getting to know and interpret our own beliefs and behaviours and reactions to difference.  I know myself that that can be pretty discomfiting, but it needs to be done.

Second, self-awareness is something that is generally left out of the skills and attributes required of diversity practitioners.  The competency model for D&I practitioners to which I most often refer – and refer others – is published by the Conference Board, and is called appropriately Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners. It’s an exhaustive collation of knowledge, skills and behaviours under eight business-like headings: change management; diversity, inclusion and global perspective; business acumen; strategic external relations; integrity; vision and strategic leadership, and HR competencies.

Written in 2008, it’s stood the test of time for me – until now.  Because now I feel it has one glaring omission – possibly the most difficult competency of all to acquire  – that of real self-knowledge.  Mee-Yan Cheng-Judge refers to use of the self as instrument as a ‘cornerstone for the future of OD’.  I think it’s the cornerstone for the future of D&I too.

Third, Mee-Yan’s article was written well before the explosion of interest in unconscious bias as an explanation for the slow progress being made in many organisations towards real change on diversity and inclusion.  Unconscious bias awareness activities are now all about building self-awareness and self-knowledge, and form an integral part of many an organisation’s diversity action plan.

The thing is, unconscious bias programmes promise self-awareness in 90 minutes.  I’ve been part of such programmes, and it’s true they are powerful and enlightening.  But Mee-Yan sees the development of self-awareness and self-knowledge as an ongoing journey, in effect a lifetime commitment, which I suspect is a more realistic – though less palatable – timetable for real self-knowledge.

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