Blog Post

Fueling ERG Performance with Executive Sponsors: Roles Made Visible

May 12, 2015

A collective goal we share at Diversity Best Practices and Jennifer Brown Consulting is to integrate D&I as a critical component of business strategy. Executive sponsors are critical to this next step for D&I – they are the decision makers and strategy players; they are a key catalyst to ensuring success in placing and developing talent.

Executive Sponsors Fuel High-Performing ERGs a white paper by New York City-based diversity and inclusion firm Jennifer Brown Consulting (JBC), a Diversity Best Practices Solutions@ partner, is a must-read. The study’s findings identify the roles and best practices Executive Sponsors can embrace as they lead Employee Resource Groups to reach new heights of engagement, as well as produce and measure results-driven business improvements.

“The fact is, if you don’t really work at it, diverse teams don’t excel,” advises Jim Turley, past EY global chairman and CEO, in the paper’s forward. “They are either off-the-chart fantastic or awful. The difference in success or failure is the ability of leaders to exhibit inclusive behaviors and adapt to our changing workforce.”

Executive Sponsors, the report shows, can be those leaders.

In this study, divided into five short sections, eight Fortune 500 companies made available 18 Executive Sponsors to engage in hour-long, one-on-one interviews with JBC, as well as a two-hour roundtable discussion involving 16 of the 18 participants.

The result, a 38-page analysis of the information they shared, affirms what companies as different as Cisco, Deloitte and AT&T already know: Executive Sponsors are the hinges connecting ERGs and the companies that founded and hope to benefit from them.

A key insight in the report is the focus on skills that exemplify five roles Executive Sponsors may embody: strategist, evangelist, innovator, broker and mentor. Discussion includes how Executive Sponsors serving in one or more of these roles can help plan, promote, innovate, connect and teach – all while having an impact on the bottom line. Illustrations of participants “in action” are sprinkled throughout.

In one example exemplifying the role of “strategist,” Tuan Nguyen, Executive Sponsor for CAAN, Cisco’s ERG for its Pacific Asian employees, instituted a “disciplined, focused process for selecting projects.” The lesson? Be sure every group initiative is screened to support the company mission and add “real value” to the company, the report states.

Critical insights can be found in the recommended paths to aligning ERGs with business goals. Three areas where the interviewed Executive Sponsors have increased the effectiveness of their ERGs are explored: time and talent management, governance and coordination, and inclusion and engagement. Ten metrics for aligning ERG goals with business goals are identified, including such approaches as measuring the number of new products or services where the ERG contributes.

Obstacles, not just successes, are addressed. For instance, some Executive Sponsors said that company middle managers often block ERG employees from using work time to assist in accomplishing group goals. Engaging more middle managers in ERGs was one participant’s solution.

Finally, the report synthesizes its findings into a coherent vision for sustainability that includes succession planning for Executive Sponsors and ways to spread ERG influence and enthusiasm across the entire corporate culture. Ultimately, the report asserts, diverse leadership pipelines are essential and can yield new business, even as relationships within those ERGs change.

“Smarter teams,” concludes JBC’s CEO Jennifer Brown, led by Executive Sponsors, can and will “play a key role in ensuring companies pivot quickly and effectively to capitalize on global competitive markets and manage the enduring ‘war on talent.’ As we strive to bring our authentic selves to work every day, ERGs will be at the nexus of workplace culture evolution.”

DBP and JBC are proud to be partners in this work with you and hope that this paper will serve as a valuable resource as you continue to develop your ERGs into smarter, active teams that deliberately benefit the business.

To download the paper, click here.