Higher ROI with DEI – UNC Research

Al Segars knows how to help businesses succeed. He uses this knowledge to help companies implement a research-driven approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that gets results.

Al Segars, PNC Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

History and success are the biggest enemies of change, according to business professor Al Segars of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. He makes this powerful observation in MIT Sloan Management Review on an approach called the Values/Principles Model (VPM) that he co-developed to help companies diversify their workforce to stay competitive.

According to Segars, VPM is the first to provide a solid action plan for companies striving to create a fairer workplace and an inclusive work environment. But this simple approach has taken years to perfect and is backed by research, real-world observations and rigorous monitoring.

“There are no easy-to-solve problems in business anymore,” says Segars, who also serves as faculty manager at the NC Policy Collaboratory. “The challenges facing an organization are more complex than ever. When I started looking into this about five years ago, many business leaders were promising change, but no one was suggesting a way forward.

That’s when Segars had what you might call a chance introduction to someone who would be the perfect research and business partner. Segars was a consultant for Disney Pixar when he met U.S. Army Film Liaison Anselm Beach.

Anselme Beach
Anselm Beach, Deputy Under Secretary (Equity and Inclusion Agency), US Army

The two bonded by the belief that if there was a clear path to successfully implementing DEI in an organization’s structure, leaders would follow it. They began their journey by looking for companies that they believed were setting an example of how this implementation could be done well.

“We knew what not to do,” Segars says. “You can’t walk into a workplace and only report what’s not working. We call this the demon exorcism approach, and it only adds to the dissatisfaction. Sometimes leaders don’t want to try to implement change for fear it will only make things worse. »

After a multi-year study of 17 companies in various industries, Segars and Beach found that positive change occurs by putting everyone on the “solutions side of the equation.” They learned that by targeting organizational systems that create exclusivity rather than individuals, you can bring everyone together on the same team with the same goals. Once they had their VPM framework, they worked on it in the workshop by introducing the model during customer presentations. Segars received feedback from Triangle companies such as Biogen, Red Hat and SAS, while Beach did the same with its network of customers. After informative conversations and positive feedback, the two submitted their approach for publication.

The Values/Principles Model (VPM) consists of four core values ​​and seven guiding principles.

The values ​​are representation, participation, application and appreciation.

The principles are: build a moral record; encourage deliberate questioning; develop new mental models; adopt entrepreneurial leadership; ensuring accountability; be ambitious; expand the border.

It took a year and a half of working with the editors of MIT Sloan Management Review to get their ideas published. Meanwhile, Segars and Beach decided to start their own company, Diversity Works.

“We’ve had great interest from a range of companies interested in our services, and that has provided us with an interesting challenge,” says Segars. “As a DEI-focused company, how can we develop our services responsibly and ensure we are included in the process? We have decided to be deliberate with the companies we choose to work with and to focus on the type of changes we can make, not the size or visibility of the customer.

After a year of consulting, the VPM has become a proven model of DEI success. By creating a definable, measurable, and manageable program, Segars and Beach achieve results that they can categorize and record in a new research enterprise. While some of the results are based on metrics and percentages, the most impactful data has been anecdotal; stories of employees feeling more included and understanding and appreciating their colleagues better. And now that companies are seeing the benefits of VPM, Diversity Works is seeing an increase in consultation requests from across the state, nation, and world.

“It’s not just an American problem,” Segars says. “We are currently working with organizations in Europe and Japan. Over time, every company puts up unintended walls that exclude certain people. Sometimes this exclusivity is based on race, other times on religion, class, or your family background. But if businesses want to stay relevant and competitive, they need to hire a diverse workforce to understand our diverse marketplace.

Albert Segars is the PNC Emeritus Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is Chairman of the Board and Head of Faculty for the NC Policy Collaboratory and is an active consultant for Apple, Disney, Pixar, The Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Workshop), The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Red Hat and IBM.