Emma: So, Andy. I think we should talk about race in the workplace.
Yeah, I think we should. As I unpack the knapsack of white privilege, I’ve found that I don’t spend a great deal of energy to simply be myself in the office. I’m not on guard bracing for the prejudice and microaggressions Black people experience, I don’t think about my race in large part because it hasn’t negatively impacted my ability to succeed.
Emma: And I’ve also found that I can co-write 85 issues of a newsletter about work and managing without ever addressing race. Which makes sense because the content I write is driven by my personal experiences. I’m white, the teams I’ve been on have been mostly white, and so have the companies I’ve worked for. So it also tracks that I, like 75% of leaders, have selected proteges who look like me.
Andy: Same. I remember once someone asking me how my team’s hiring practices promoted diversity and inclusion. I stuttered some nonsense about skills tests, scanned the office to reveal we had hired zero Black people — and then changed nothing. I didn’t even Google “How to make our hiring process racially just.” My advice to that former self: Don’t brush off the question. Listen and take action.
Emma: We’ve talked a lot about listening on The Bent: how listening alone can be enough, how to listen without solving, and how to have conversation in which nothing actually gets solved. Listening is always the right thing to do, and right now so is taking action. I think one of the coolest superpowers a boss has is the ability to support growth and create change, both with our reports and with ourselves.
Andy: This guide from The Racial Healing Handbook has been a really helpful way to frame my next steps as an individual: to read and educate myself; reflect on what this means for developing a white antiracist life; take action to challenge racism and support Black people and people of color even when it feels like a risk; and learn from the mistakes I’ll make.
Emma: We can also turn a conversation into actionable goals that have nothing to do with our teams’ KPIs. I don’t mean asking Black people to SMART goal us out of racism. I am thinking specifically here of white people like me who are working among other white people and feeling the urgency — the need for growth plus a desire for growth. How do we keep going with accountability, every day from here on out?
Andy: This long view does a lot of things for your teammates: it engages them, pushes them, and puts action to conversations that might otherwise feel like culs-de-sac of frustration and sadness. It’s part of being a Good Boss: you help your people get where they want to go.
Emma: Last week, as we were talking through this newsletter, Layla Saad posted on Instagram, “Welcome to the work.” Work is something I know how to do.
Andy: Let’s get to it.
A Quick Guide to Turning a Conversation into an Actionable Goal
There’s a lot already out there about setting SMART goals — TED Talks has a 48-video goal-setting lineup. We won’t recap that stuff here right now. Instead, here’s how we’re approaching the turn from talk to action. This formula applies to any goal, but is especially relevant now when lots of conversations at work are about stuff other than our jobs.
If you’re in a position to support someone’s growth
You don’t need to be a subject matter expert to help someone work toward their non-work goal. Supporting someone’s growth does not mean you’re outlining the entire action plan, taking the goal on as your own, or doing the work on behalf of someone else. (You might want to make it your own goal, in which case: great.) All you are required to do is honestly share which support you can and cannot provide. This is our formula, with some helpful sentence starters.
Listen and acknowledge what you heard
- I hear that you’re wanting…
- It sounds like you’re feeling…
- I appreciate you sharing that ________ has had such an impact on you.
- That makes sense. Thank you for telling me….
- I imagine that feels ______. Is that right?
Ask if they’d like to take action with your support
- Would you like to set a goal around this?
- Is this something you’d like to continue discussing with me regularly? I know it’s not in your KPIs, but if you’re interested, I’d love to support your growth in this area. We can map out a plan and use our 1-on-1s to track progress, just like we do with your other goals.
- I wanted to let you know that if you ever want to, we can use our time together to work on this. It’s one of my goals as a manager to help you get where you want to go, and this is absolutely part of that. You can resurface this at any time in the future.
Determine next steps
- How can we use our time together focusing on this?
- What would be helpful to you?
- What’s one problem we could start with?
- Is it okay if I bring this up in a month or so and check in?
It might sound something like this:
I hear that you’re wanting to feel more engaged with Black Lives Matter. Is this something you’d like to continue discussing with me regularly? I know it’s not in your KPIs, but if you’re interested, I’d love to support your growth in this area. We can map out a plan and use our 1-on-1s to track progress, just like we do with your other goals. What would be helpful to you?
Or like this:
I appreciate you sharing that last week’s demonstrations had such an impact on you. I wanted to let you know that if you ever want to, we can use our time together to work on this. It’s one of my goals as a manager to help you get where you want to go, and this is absolutely part of that. You can resurface this at any time in the future. Is it okay if I bring this up in a month or so and check in?
How to ask for support on your goal
No need to wait for someone to offer their support. You can also ask for what you need: help brainstorming, an accountability system, time, access, introductions, funding, sponsorship. Here’s how we would do it.
Tell your impact story, or why you’re talking about this
- I’ve been thinking about…
- I’m really motivated by…
- I’ve been paying attention to..
- I learned…
- I saw that…
State your goal or what you want to do
- And so, I want to…
- It’s really important to me that…
- I have a goal of…
- Right now, I’m working on…
- I think we should…
- I’d like to be more involved with…
- I’m wondering if…
- It’s got me thinking that I could…
Ask for support
- Would you be willing to…
- Can you support my effort by…
- Can we use our 1-on-1 time to…
- To do this, I need ______. Can you help me with that?
- How can I make this happen?
- What blockers do you see that I might not?
It might sound like this:
I saw 13th last night, the Netflix documentary about systemic racism. It’s really important to me that I do my part to increase awareness. Would you be willing to help me figure out how to do a film screening here at work?
Or maybe like this:
I’m really motivated by the energy of the moment. It’s got me thinking that I could be more involved in representation and inclusion at the office. How can I make this happen?
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Every Day Edition