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A Conversation with Fred Miller, CEO of Kaleel Jamison Consulting: Diversity and the Bottom Line

January 25, 2011

At the 2010 Leading Diversity Summit, I had the opportunity to sit down with Fred Miller, CEO of Kaleel Jamison Consulting, for a one-on-one discussion about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  We covered everything from the roadblocks that prevent employees from speaking up to the metrics used to measure success of D&I initiatives.

Tell us about Kaleel Jamison.

We are a medium-sized consulting firm. We have independent contractors and full-time employees. We are based out of Troy, New York, right across the river from Albany. And we have been involved with work around culture change for about 40 years. The company was formed by a woman named Kaleel Jamison. I was working internally at the time, and hired her as my consultant. We worked together in that capacity for a few years, and then I joined her. Kaleel died in ’85 of cancer, and I have continued the firm as one of the principal owners. It has been a wonderful experience and a wonderful ride.

What types of companies do you work with?

We work with mainly Fortune 50 companies. We work on strategic culture change. Where is the culture today? Where does it need to be in the future? What has happened over the last several years or decades has been that organizations have to change their culture if they want to be successful. There was a time when people were seen as expendable. People were just asked to do their job and shut up. Those days are gone. Organizations need people to really contribute, to bring their thinking, to bring their creativity, to bring their innovation to the organization. It means we have to create a different kind of culture than we have had in the past when the boss would just say, “Jump” and you would ask “How high?”

Fred Miller
Fred Miller, CEO of Kaleel Jamison

When you walk into an organization, what are some of the top things you see that need to be changed?

One of the big issues is people not speaking up and sharing their opinions and giving their ideas. Organizations need to leap forward, whether you are talking about marketing or sales or manufacturing or any other function in the organization. Yet, over the last several years, we have made many people in the organization fearful of speaking up. In fact, Judith Katz and I–Judith Katz is the co-owner of our firm–wrote a book called Be Big. It talks about how organizations need people to be big these days, at the very same time that people are being small and not speaking up. They are afraid that if they are too known in the organization, they will be on that next list of people who are terminated from the organization. Between downsizing and the economy, it has made people play small. Organizations need people to speak up, to speak out, to give their opinions, to challenge what is not right. That is not happening in a lot of organizations today.

What can an organization do to set up an environment where people do feel like they can speak up?

First, they have got to decide they want that. The first step is deciding that having your people really participate, having people’s voices be known, having people not be fearful but want to contribute–is something that you want. Make that known to the people in the organization. Then walk towards that talk. Often, the words are there, but the actions are not. The first person who challenges the boss or the manager or the leader is pushed out to pasture.

How do we have an organization where somebody speaks up, and challenges you? You say, “Thank you–that is great. Let me think about that, let me add to that, let me build on that. This is how we can use that.” That is not what happens in many organizations today. There is a real responsibility with leaders: if they want people to speak up, they have got to create conditions for that, and it starts with praising people who challenge them.

You talk a lot about the difference between “transformational change” and “incremental change.” Tell me about that.

We are living in extraordinary times. The speed at which change is happening, and the technology that is enhancing that change, is unique. Organizations that choose to stand still or just move slowly forward are going to be left behind. If you are not sending text messages in your organization, if you don’t have social networking in your organization, if you are not blogging in your organization, you are falling far behind. In fact, the next generation of employees will only know how to communicate this way. I have been saying to our managers and our leaders, “You had better learn text messaging because the workers of the future are going to expect you to text them, not send them a letter; not send them an email.”

A lot of leaders say, “I don’t like to text; I don’t want to do it.”

I say, “You don’t have a choice. This is where we are going.”

Things are moving fast; we are talking about leaps and bounds forward. The marketplace is changing. As organizations go global, an incident in one part of the world impacts everybody. It requires organizations to be really nimble and be able to respond to what is going on around the globe; and we have organizations that can’t respond to what is going on across the street. That is a real challenge for our organizations as they go forward.

Text Messaging at the 2010 Leading Diversity Summit
Text Messaging at the 2010 Leading Diversity Summit

How do you measure the success of what you are doing? How do you know when it is working?

For me, the best metric is the bottom line–what is the organization trying to accomplish? One of our clients is a women’s clothing designer. Her metric is more sales. Another client is in manufacturing: getting more product out the door. So I don’t want to make metrics around diversity and inclusion that is different from the bottom line of the business. In fact, it needs to be the bottom line of business. What we say to our clients is that by doing the work that we are doing around culture change, you will be a more successful enterprise. You will get more products to market, get more innovation, have greater sales. It is going to happen because people are going to feel more included; they are going to be working together in ways that they have not worked together before. They are going to be having breakthroughs in their thinking and that breakthrough is going to help the success of the enterprise.

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