Episode 88: Getting Culture Right: DEI Focus with Michael Rolph

Aside from “pivot”, “culture” is a word that has been getting a bit of a workout in the business world over the last several years.

There are SO many reasons why a focus on “culture” is a clutch move for any organization. We are seeing a big shift in how people engage with businesses and brands, and when one can lead with culture, there are a variety of benefits to be had.

Attention to one’s prowess (or lack thereof) with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is an area where many organizations are also focusing attention these days, as these elements have a direct influence on team culture. That’s why this week’s discussion is so valuable.

My guest today is Michael Rolph, Founding Partner at New Sincerity. Michael and his team help with DEI awareness, training, and culture-building for organizations ready to up their DEI game.

Michael and I had an incredibly valuable conversation about how to work on building a great culture and how those efforts are not only rooted in “the right thing to do” but have spillover benefits to all aspects of any organization.

Our conversation was rooted in the idea that it’s important to not worry so much about getting it “right” immediately but to get it started and get better as it grows.

I hope you enjoy this episode. It’s jam-packed with goodness.

New Sincerity

Commit to one action this week and get to know somebody with a different lived experience.

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Michael: We have informal conversations during that training. And we center on unscripted conversations, kind of like what we’re doing right now, right. Where people can feel okay if they say, you know, I don’t know. Or I just noticed that. I said and gosh, is that okay? Or should we edit it out? The idea is to build trust, safety, and comfort for people to ask questions, to not know the answer.

And and when that happens and a personal relationship starts to form leaders then begin to model inclusive behaviors. And that’s where we see the, the, the change and the impact carried out throughout the, the rest of the organization.

Are you looking for ways to shorten your marketing, learning curve and help your organization survive and thrive? Welcome to relish this, the purpose marketing podcast, a show for purpose focused leaders who want to use marketing techniques to fuel their organization’s growth. If you’re a returning listener and you haven’t subscribed already, we love to have you also please consider leaving a review wherever you listen to podcasts.

Now here’s your host, author and marketing specialist. Stew swine Fort. Hey

Stu: relish. This listeners, my guest today is Michael Ralph, and he is the founding partner. At new sincerity, which is this really great organization outta the bay area that helps people with DEI training and awareness and culture building and all of those fun things that I know everybody out there is really interested in learning about these days.

Michael and I met through lunch club actually on a call a few weeks ago. And it seemed like just a perfect fit for the show because there’s so much traction and so much buzz right now around getting culture, right. Everything from hiring to retention, to getting stakeholders and, and, and your. Your donors on board.

It all comes down to culture and DEI is kind of the foundation of that. And this is diversity equity and inclusion in the workplace. Michael’s just a really great guy. He has a, a super cool background, both in nonprofits and tech, as well as finance. And he has a degree in in psychology. So he is dialed into this to this challenge and helps people figure it out.

We talked just a ton about, about DEI in general and how important it is to, to not necessarily worry about getting it right immediately, but just getting started it’s is so important. I, I encourage you to, to listen to this one with all your heart, because you know, Michael’s, Michael’s really pouring it out there and really helping companies and organizations thrive and, and just get better.

And I loved this episode, love this conversation, and I hope you too, too. I hope you do too. Here we go. Michael, how is your day going today? And it’s going wonderful.

Michael: It’s going wonderful. How about yourselves too?

Stu: It’s going well, it we are recording this in late may and it is currently snowing at my house.

So there you go. Wow. Standard, pretty standard late may activity actually. But people, people find that amusing you’re in the bay areas currently. Oh yeah. Yeah. Home

Michael: base is San Francisco and it’s a, and it’s a sunny sunny day for us here, which is which is nice that the fog starts to come in in the summertime.

But right now the sun is shining

Stu: out there. Yeah. I ran the marathon in San Francisco in 2000. 11 I think. And it was in at that time, it was in late July, I believe. And, and it was I mean, it was a great day for running, but it was definitely not a, not a Colorado day for sure.

Michael: yeah, that’s the, the weather, the weathers San Francisco is funny.

My wife always says that, that we, we, she wants a proper summertime, so she likes to travel over the summer and we’ve got an 11 year old girl too. So we try and get out and get a little camping and find

Stu: some sunshine. Fantastic. Well, it’s a beautiful area I was able to, to visit there last fall. Actually I have a friend who lives in Berkeley who used to live in the Boulder area and when he moved out there, I tried to get out and, and see him on occasion.

And we were able to go to the mere woods and, and just have a, a very nice, nice time there in the, in the bay area. And then went out to the winters area, actually to visit my wife and her. Her family. She was out there visiting them. So I met them out there, so, oh, nice. It was a fun kind of Southern California, I guess they call that the central valley trip.

But it was, it was a good time I enjoy coming out there. That’s nice.

Michael: Yeah. That’s nice. I worked at university of California Davis after graduate school. So I know the I know that central valley

Stu: area really well. Yeah. Yeah, it’s beautiful out there. So tell us a little bit about about new sincerity and what you’re up to in the DEI

Michael: space.

Oh, thanks for asking. Yeah, I mean, I, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to to chat with you and with the relish this community. I have I have a background in the nonprofit world. I have some executive leadership experience with a nonprofit based in San Francisco. Although the heart of my career is really kind of both in inclusion and in tech and new sincerity is a collective it’s a partnership that is working on building dynamic and high growth, inclusive company cultures.

And what it really is for people that know a bit about the, the diversity equity and inclusion space is is an opportunity to understand how culture and identity impact the the, of course the wellbeing. Of folks at work, but also the the growth and the way that the organization can thrive, ING everything from from recruitment and retention to to leadership development.

And then also is a big part of what your agency does. Just thinking about how the brand intersects with with cultural factors out there in the market.

Stu: Yeah, it’s definitely a topic of discussion that you hear more and more about these days. And so it’s really great to, to hear how there are, you know, little businesses popping up all over the place that, that help people kind of navigate the space.

Because I think that it’s, it’s a really important piece that has been missing in in, you know, the entrepreneurial and, and just business world for, for quite some time. And so it’s, it’s great to see people putting in an attention to this. How did you get into in, into this line of

Michael: work? Absolutely.

Absolutely. And it’s great that, that you’re hearing and seeing some awareness there as well. I’ve been in it’s hard to tell exactly. I have I studied black studies in sociology and undergrad, and I have a a master’s in multicultural counseling from from many years ago. So it’s hard to put an exact number on when I started to do this work directly.

But I probably would say it’s been about. Been about 12 years or so in 2000. And I first launched new sincerity as a digital media startup in 2017. The idea there came out of some work in grad school that was centered on bias and really trying to understand where bias was coming from in the broader culture mm-hmm

But I I’ve been in tech for 20 years. And the intersection between my work in tech and leadership, I was the CMO of a a cybersecurity company. And before that, I, I ran a digital agency, but the intersection between culture and leadership was, was kind of inspired by a lot of data that was being created by some of these big consulting companies, right?

Like McKenzie and Deloitte mm-hmm and Accenture. They started to look at how business growth was being slowed down by very real human problems, like pay equity and lack of representation of people in color and people with with different identities in the workplace. Mm-hmm . And and so I, I built new sincerity and we drove a lot of folks to, to the original content, had about 175,000 followers across social, but didn’t find a revenue model that allowed that to work.

So after leading some internal DEI projects in both my nonprofit work, as well as in the, the the cyber startup, I saw a chance to build kind of a collective of partners. So myself and and primarily women of color have a kind of a collaborative. Co-training model. And and that’s how we do do our work with clients.

And that’s this idea of intersectionality is something that’s that’s kind of fresh in the, the DEI world and we’re, we’re having some really good results.

Stu: Yeah. That sounds amazing. Are you, how, how do you facilitate these kinds of conversations when a, when a client or, or an organization comes to you and, and is seeking some help in the de DEI space?

Where do you start?

Michael: That’s a great question. It’s a great question. I think the, the foundation of our work is on building authentic and trusting human relationships. And and I have, I think I mentioned I have a, a counseling degree, so I’ve worked in, in tech for many, many years, but I have a, a dual masters in in MFT, which is the, the psychotherapy.

Side of that work and then also in career developments. And and so I’ve been able to bring together this tech startup background, along with the, the very human centered work of just, of working with people and understanding the kind of that emotional mindset. And the way that we begin conversations is really about kind of open inquiry, right?

And you’re, you’re an agency leader also, and you probably are very accustomed to asking lots of open questions and doing a lot of listening. And I, I, you know, I have a strategic framework, right. I have questions that I, that I, I really am curious about, but but when clients are leading, I get a sense of, of kind of goals and understanding, and then we can frame engagements around where the leadership in the organization is at.

And and then do some strategy road mapping. Training and coaching out of that.

Stu: Yeah. That’s that’s great. Do you, do you coach with leaders specifically and then trickle that down to the remainder of the team? Or, or is it really more of a, you know, bottom up kind of approach to, to building that culture?

What, what, what seems to work best in your experience?

Michael: You know, the, the data suggests that that change when it comes to inclusion, which is, is really about organizational change, it’s effective when when there’s visible, buy-in from senior leadership. So, okay. Our work really does begin with the leaders.

The one of the things that we’re trying to accomplish is to move folks away from the idea of, of needing to be an expert. In DEI, because what I found is that if, if people think they’re, they’re concerned about getting terminology, right? Mm-hmm , if they’re consider really focused on the language it doesn’t inspire open and trusting conversations.

So we use a train, the trainer model quite a bit, we’ll work with leaders and we’ll do, for example, a leadership training. And we’ll focus on a topic like psychological safety, for example. But but we have informal conversations during that training and we center on unscripted conversations kind of like what we’re doing right now, right?

Yeah. Yeah. Where people can feel okay. If they say, you know, I don’t know. Or I just noticed that I said in cost, is that okay? Or should we edit it out? The idea is to build trust, safety, and comfort for people to ask questions, to not know the answer. And and when that happens and a personal relationship starts to form leaders then begin to model inclusive behaviors.

And that’s where we see the, the, the change and the impact carried out throughout the, the rest of the organization. So it’s a, it’s not a lot of the DEI training right now is what we call performative. We’re we’re seeing organizations and leaders sometimes saying, Hey, let’s, let’s do that DEI training.

And we’ll, we’ll work on this this topic of unconscious bias, for example. And then, gosh, I’m sure, glad that we got that done. Now we can move on to, you know, to the, the core business objectives and. The data that I bring into the conversation shows that when inclusion is a part of, of all business objectives and values, the the, we see growth across the organization.

And and it doesn’t need to be simply a training exercise, but it can be something that’s embedded into standup meetings, for example. Right, right. Or for regular check-ins over email on slack. So we’re about embedded in, into into the business. And that’s where we start to see the change.

Stu: Yeah, when it becomes a, a true kind of a cultural adaptation.

Exactly. You, you really, that’s where you really start to see those, those key benefits. We do a lot of work in as you might imagine in, in marketing strategy. And one of the exercises that we like to help our clients with is really a values, vision, and mission exercise, where we start with kind of the core values and then build out what the long term kind of aspirational future state might look like, which would be your vision.

And then kind of bring that back. To earth a little bit with the mission, which drives the kind of day to day operations. But if all of that is built upon this set of core values that we’ve established first, it tends to have a, a much stronger foundation on which to, to, to grow and to, and to, and to anchor, I guess you know, everything that you’re, that, that one is doing within that organization.

And it tends to be really effective. So yeah, absolutely. Sounds like that’s a similar, similar kind of approach to that. Yeah, absolutely. Stewart it make, that makes so

Michael: much sense. That makes so much sense. I think that, so we have an engagement, that’s an, an inclusive principal’s engagement and honestly, it, it would wed with your values and mission engagement really well in that we’re, we’re not trying to invent something new.

Or certainly not create lots of cycles of new work for our clients. Mm-hmm because we know that everybody’s strapped for time, especially in the nonprofit world, right. There’s just so much ambition to create change and to serve the client that oftentimes nonprofit clients that, that I’ve seen you probably have as well.

They, they just bite off more that they can chew. And there’s a challenge with getting projects across the finish line. So an inclusive principles engagement would align with you working on values and mission by simply asking a few more questions about how both customers, clients the board, all of the different stakeholders is there aspects of lived experience, culture and identity that are impacting the folks that either were serving or that that are within the organization that are doing that work.

And and we can’t, we have to be who we are as human beings at work. So culture and identity is always a part of, of who we are and how we work. And when we get curious about how that intersects with the mission. People start to get to know each other better. And that’s where we get this idea of empathy and empathy.

Empathy is just a great, it’s a great company value, right?

Stu: Yeah, for sure. It’s, it’s interesting. I’ve heard you talk about relationship building quite a bit, which is essentially what we, what we think marketing is, is, is basically relationship building at scale. And, and this seems like there’s, there’s a, there’s a tie in there, right?

Where, where it’s, it’s really about trying to create a, a solid foundation and a healthy a healthy framework where conversations can start to happen. And, and I’m wondering, I, I mean, we see this happen in the, in the values vision, mission exercise a little bit as well from time to time is people start to get a little bit more concerned with getting it right than with getting it started and.

And I’m wondering if you see a similar breakdown with, with, you know, people who, who may be struggling with this and, and, and feeling like either the investments that they’re making in time or, or, you know, investing in your services is, is not working. Is it, is there something like that that’s that, that people can change the mindset about in order to, to kind of approach this in a, in a different way?


Michael: the, that is so smart, stupid. The, I made a note of, of this idea of changing the mindset, because it really aligns with where we’ve seen success. There’s there’s this idea of, of implicit bias, both in terms of like culture, but also just how our brains work. Right. We people have a sense or they think they know what DEI work is.

And. I know cognitively when I begin conversations through, you know, a discovery call or when we begin an engagement that everybody in that meeting or on that call is gonna have an idea of, of what they think is gonna happen. Right. Mm-hmm and and you’re a marketer and you’re trying to engage and persuade and I’m trying to do the same thing.

Right. And if I think about Hey, how do I drive engagement? If I drive engagement by reframing this discussion? And the, the way that I do that, one of the first tactics is to start sharing business data. Mm-hmm from sources that my audience really didn’t expect me to, to bring up. They, they didn’t expect me to start mentioning data from MIT, Sloan that talks about.

The, the financial impact of toxic corporate culture on top and bottom line revenue. And, and when I start talking about business, then all of a sudden folks like CS and CFOs, they, they lean in and say, okay, what is cause they, they really, I mean, I don’t want to be crossed, but you know, they, they probably were multitasking if we’re on zoom.

Right? Sure. They’re like, I gotta check this box. And and, and then they’re like, okay, so what is this guy gonna say next? And I’m, I’m really trying to earn attention. Mm-hmm by speaking to the, the language of everyone in the room I lean into my background working with VCs, launching a startup and running a digital agency, and then working in highly matrixed environments in, in the corporate world as a way to show connection and empathy for.

Senior leaders that are better thinking, Hey, Michael, I, I, I really want, I, I believe in what you’re doing, but we, you know, they’re thinking to themselves, we just don’t have time for this. And I mm-hmm, what a lot of practitioners are saying. Honestly, we, we don’t have time to ignore it, right. Because it’s, yes, it’s oftentimes there are people that are, that are struggling with with managers that have low levels of empathy, for example, but also we have data that show that that engagement employee engagement is extremely low and engagement is tied to productivity.

It’s also tied to employee turnover and that’s when I start to bring those, those elements into the conversation, people say, okay, I, I think there’s something new here in this di conversation. And if I can earn their attention and bring the engagement of senior leaders in, then then they start to invest personally in the work.

And then that’s when that’s when the magic starts to.

Stu: Yeah, it’s really funny how that works. We have done a lot of work in the environmental space over here at relish studio, and we hosted a kind of a get together with several environmental groups and, and even politicians in the local area.

Fantastic. And one of the interesting things that came out of that was how to. How do, how you just have to reframe the conversation depending upon your audience. And so, you know, speaking with, you know, progressive politicians about climate change is, is a, is different conversation and you frame it when you frame it differently.

From when you’re, you’re speaking with perhaps someone who’s more you know, on the conservative end of the spectrum, but essentially you can, you can figure out how to, how to create interest and, and get the end result that you’re looking for. You just have to have to, you know, rejigger that conversation.

And instead of coming at it from the, oh, you know, we wanna save the planet or we want, you know, a nice natural spaces for, for our kids, kids and grandkids. If you reframe that as an economic conversation then you can kind of gain the attention of, of this group that typically is less Invested in, in having that kind of conversation or that discussion.

It’s so true. Yeah.

Michael: It’s so true. And, and we can do that authentically, right? Like I, I think about if I think about kind of the relish the, the clients and folks that might be listening today maybe there’s an executive director and she has a lot of different stakeholders. She’s got the, the, the core team that’s delivering the work.

There’s the folks that are being served. Right. And then there’s the fundraising and the board element. And then there’s larger community and partners. There’s all these different stakeholder groups. And she needs to think about messaging that will engage. All groups and what the core goal of that message is.

Mm-hmm and there’s this idea of of code switching that we, we talk about in the DEI world, where oftentimes folks that are underrepresented within organizations have to they really have to adjust and, and switch how they communicate and engage colleagues because they are oftentimes the only one within the organization.

And there’s a lot of emotional labor that’s required to do that. It can be extremely exhausting right. It’s something that I, that I have empathy and awareness of, but as a CIS white straight male leader over 40 I realize that I have every expression of privilege that exists in the workplace.

And, yeah. And so when I’m, when I’m doing this work and thinking about everybody, That’s in the room. I just lean into being extremely vulnerable in in the way that I the way that I’m sharing these ideas because because modeling. Psychological safety and communicating, for example, the, the fact that I’m, I’m a part of the macro culture, right?

There’s right. All sorts of cisgender straight white men within the organ, this organization. I don’t have to, I don’t have to code switch to be able to communicate my ideas to, to exist, you know, to, to share, influence and to try and move my, my goals ahead and that expression of vulnerability and that empathy.

Oftentimes it’s just, it’s very uncommon from straight white male leaders and we can be vulnerable and express empathy. And honestly, we, we end up getting more buyin and engagement from our team when we do that. So there’s the, the benefits of a leader kind of being vulnerable. They, they translate into, to things that we wanna see as a leader productivity greater connection to the mission, all that good stuff.

Stu: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting too, how more and more businesses are starting to lead with culture in terms of, of even in their marketing. So the language around marketing has started to change in some, in some cases where it. It’s it’s more about the experience of working with, with this team is going to be the thing that you, that you take away from, from your engagement, with you know, with a, with an organization and, and with that comes hiring.

And so there’s just, everything is all kind of part of this, this ecosystem that we , that we live in. And, and it’s just interesting how so many things that you wouldn’t expect it to matter, or you wouldn’t expect that to be, have, have a great impact, you know, can across, across the board. So bringing, bringing in a de DEI expert or, or doing the work internally, if you’re, if you’re seeking to do it internally you know, can have, have really big effects in places that you, that you’d never even thought of.

Experiencing those effects. So it’s, it’s, it’s so true. Cool. Yeah.

Michael: It’s so true. We we’ve built very kind of shorter timeframe and more affordable engagement for nonprofits centered in a, in a couple different areas. One of which is looking at board diversity mm-hmm because oftentimes there’s there’s, there’s a, there’s a difference in prioritization of values on the board.

And and it can be challenging because board members sometimes they have personal goals or change that they like to see in the world that isn’t as directly related to the mission of the nonprofit. So my role there oftentimes is partially strategic and then partially it’s, it’s really about coaching and collaboration.

And I, I lean into my work in experience in mental health to to, to get people back to shared values and, and then get them back to, you know, maybe values that, that you created at relish to remind them, Hey, this is why we’re all here. Mm-hmm fundraising is a core part of our mission how we advance that mission and.

Understanding the cultural context of, of bias systems in America that that’s there too. And how do these things all coexist? So it’s work that I do with nonprofits that takes what for many people is like, Hey, this is gonna be a very disruptive engagement. A lot of, a lot of small organizations, nonprofits tend to put it off hoping that things will work themselves out.

But but unfortunately when that’s festering underneath the surface, it it kind of does harm to to, to everybody. And that’s something that that we try and that we try and peel back the, the layers and, and build that rebuild that. Yeah.

Stu: When, when people start to engage in a, in a process, when they’ve either identified that this is something that they would like to, to change about their organization or, or something that has been brought to their attention, that they, they should start to address.

What, where, where do you recommend and not, you know, obviously there’s probably not a, a single answer for this, but, but you know, where do you recommend people kind of start with their, with their exploration of, of either bringing in a DEI expert or or, you know, trying to figure, figure some of this stuff out on their own.


Michael: it’s a good question. That’s a great question. There’s a, there’s a couple different ways that that we begin our work oftentimes an organization will approach us and say, Hey, this is what we think our need is. And mm-hmm and do, do, does your firm do that work and how long and how much? And when we do discovery, oftentimes I can make a recommendation and say, Hey, maybe before I’ll give you an example.

I had a, a client and they, they try to do an internal survey to just assess needs and and current values and sentiment around around inclusion and belonging. And they didn’t, they quite weren’t, weren’t sure how to read the data that they had. Okay. And and what I realized is that That the employees felt a little bit over surveyed the, the questions, the way that they were asked it, that they were so broad that it didn’t provide for a lot of information.

And and really there were there was a need for more inclusive leadership training for leaders to actually think about how to create trusting relationships with with their team directly. So we were actually able to frame an engagement that was a little bit more straightforward and met more of an immediate need.

And because it was a, a, a leadership development engagement with a, an inclusive foundation. But because it was really about helping young and junior leaders understand how to do things like. Performance reviews. The the senior leadership across the organization, the COO especially said, oh, well, well, gosh, if leadership development is something we need, I thought this was gonna be this, this DEI work.

But if this is leadership development and we can wrap it in a DEI, then we have more budget available. So, right. There was a reframe there that allowed. Allowed, especially these, these younger leaders that have been elevated without training, and that’s very common. They’re just, they do a good job.

And so they say, Hey, congratulations, you’ve got three, three people on your team now. Right. And and they’re early stage in their career and they’re, they’re feeling proud and excited, but they’re also like, I don’t know how to run a meeting. right. And and so we’re like, Hey, let’s, let’s do some, some, some of that foundationary work.

We do a lot of video based training, which is super, super helpful. And then we try and create also, we have these shorter training experiences that allow for more touch. Throughout the week so that people don’t feel that that training is a burden, but but that it becomes additive. And and I think something that we, that I’ve just taken from my research and education is that, Hey, if we ask people to set aside an hour and a half for a training exercise and to go really, really deep oftentimes they’re just feeling the press of their calendar to move on to the next thing.

And they’re not as mm-hmm, , they’re not as engaged in the work, but if we, if we sneak in a little lunch and learn exercise or or a a lightning talk at the beginning of a meeting, for example, then we start to help people see, Hey, this is how inclusive leadership training intersects with the next thing that’s on my list.

Yeah. Yeah.

Stu: I, I really like the idea of, of kind of wrapping in some additional. Some additional pieces into that training where I, I think that a lot of people probably come into DEI training from the perspective of, oh, they, you know, they think something’s wrong with me and that’s why I need, I need this work done.

Yeah. And, and, and reframing that as, as like just, you know, leadership training or, or, you know, team, team building training or something like that, that it gives them additional tools that allow them to see how DEI. Can be applied in their regular, you know, in their regular workplace. Just as, as, you know, part of their, their regular activities and how, how it, it all fits together.

I think that, that seems like it’s a really cool way to get people engaged and not feel like this is something that that’s, that’s wrong with them. Yeah. It’s so that’s

Michael: so true. That’s so true. I mean, you’re reminding me of of what the, the DEI lead at eBay, Barack AEN said in a recent article, he’s he, he tries trying to move people away from this idea of DEI experts.

Mm-hmm and and and I’m a big believer in, in that approach as well. I think he’s really onto something. If we, if we get people thinking that they don’t need a specific title role or established expertise in inclusion, they get freed up to to get curious about their colleagues on a human level.

And that’s, that’s really what we’re going for. Right? If, if people are curious about identity at a human level, for example I happen to feel comfortable talking about my culture and identity and, and my awareness that, Hey, I have privileges, I move through the world, but I also can move on from that sharing and then ask people about what their, what their experience was.

And that can be really simple. It can be as simple as, as asking about. One’s weekend, but then asking a couple follow up questions to encourage people that share a little bit, right? Like I’m a, I’m a parents. And and for some of my younger colleagues, when I tell stories about about parenting. Depending on how old they are and where they are in their life and in their, in their kind of journey of life.

Mm-hmm , it may be a, a little boring and not interesting, or it, it may be kind of compelling, but I’m gonna share that because it’s an act of, of vulnerability to say, Hey, my daughter has, I had this pillow behind me that my daughter sewed. And sometimes when I’m doing zoom, facilitation, people will ask about the pillow.

And of course it’s there by design because it’s a conversation starter about a human element of my life that I’m really passionate about. You know, my daughter’s mm-hmm is a crazy person and she’s 11 and she’s in a band and that’s, it’s pretty neat. And then people start to think, oh wait. So Michael’s not just like this DEI nerd, but he also has a dad.

And like what 11 year old, what do they do in San Francisco? What’s an 11 year old doing in a band. And it becomes, it becomes fun and playful and that, and curious. And I think there’s some leaders that say, I don’t feel like I have time to get into those personal details, but but I think we’re starting to see the data show that building trusting relationships improves productivity.

So I think that there’s a, there’s a long tail benefit to spending a little bit of time saying no, but like, what did you really do over the weekend? Or like, what are your hobbies? And, gosh, I don’t know anything about rowing or crew or you and I both know mountain biking, but I’m at a whole different level than you are.

We enjoyed that conversation in the past. So I think it makes it fun and interesting and just kind of humanizes things.

Stu: Yeah, it is. It is. It’s creating a sensitivity towards other people’s experiences in their culture. Yeah. Like and, and the, the, the better. Any of us can get at that. The, the, the more fulfilling all of our relationships will be.


Michael: Yeah. And that’s, and, and that fulfilling relationship, I mean, you’re really, you’re really onto something. If, if the relationship is fulfilling and there’s trust, then when someone offers an idea and another person in the room, regardless of their power or title can say, Hey, you know what? I think we tried that three months ago and it didn’t work.

And when there’s trust, that person feels comfortable raising their hand and saying, maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t think that’s gonna, that’s the best course of action. That’s, that’s psychological safety in, in action. That’s a living example of it. And the relationship inspires that. And wouldn’t it be great if, if as an organization or a team, we didn’t make the same mistake.

Over and over and over again. Right. I don’t know if you’ve seen that with your clients where clients feel like, Hey, we’re just getting bogged down, you know? I mean, tell me, tell me a story about one of your clients in maybe one of these mission exercises, where there were some, there were some aha moments

Stu: well, it’s interesting.

I think one of the, one of the aha moments we had a client that we ran through of VVM vision values, mission exercise, and it was interesting. They had about five or six stakeholders and, and one of them was just fundamentally opposed to the exercise itself. And, you know, these are, these are major stakeholders in the organization and, and you could just tell from the onset that he did not really wanna be there or, or really had an understanding of why this was important.

He just wanted to go make money. And and so getting. Getting him to, to finally buy into it or at least accept the results of, of of the exercise based on the other, the other team members was, was an interesting it was an interesting journey. I think thinking back on it, I, I probably could have done a better job of, of coaching him in terms of, you know, some of the, some of the things that you’ve mentioned in, in terms of sharing data and why, why this is actually important from a from a, from the standpoint of.

Of revenues, for example, or, or company retention, or, you know, any of the things that you can actually tie back to DEI as well, which is like, if the culture is strong, it makes hiring that much easier. It makes retention that much better then, you know, gets productivity up and, and all of those things.

And similarly from a, from a values vision mission, that’s just starting to that’s that starting point for, for building that culture. And so when you have a strong aligned culture and everyone knows, you know, not only which direction that that we’re rowing, but why we’re, why we’re rowing that direction.

You know, it, it tends to keep everybody. Moving that same way. So that, so that you’re just that much more efficient.


Michael: that’s really, that’s really insightful. Steve. That’s really insightful at, at the idea at new sincerity when it comes to, to managing and understanding stakeholders and all of their different needs is to try and find that common thread mm-hmm and and I can understand, and in the nonprofit world we have we have a lot of people that have a lot of heart that’s that’s oftentimes why they’re they’re in the nonprofit world.

They’re certainly not in it for the higher salaries.

Stu: not usually no, they

Michael: and what they’re, what they’re looking to accomplish is to help as many people as they can. And oftentimes what I’ve found is that I need to, to, in some ways, Sometimes be be a little bit of a voice of reason with, with nonprofit leaders that say, Hey, we wanna accomplish these 15 things this year.

When I really think operationally, we’ve got, we’ve got the time and resources for five mm-hmm and and that can be, that can be also be a difficult message to to carry through because it, it gets to this issue of burnout. And there’s a lot of talk coming out of the pandemic. And a lot of nonprofits struggle with burnout because leaders are asking for more from from their team then then their team has the ability to give mm-hmm and that’s that, that also is, is kind of what empowered and inclusive leadership, excuse me, what empowered and inclusive leadership looks like is is being able to go to a, a, a leader and say, Hey, I’ve got five things on my plate.

And I think based upon our current goals, I’ve got time to do three of ’em. I could do all five, but we can’t go as deep. Which way do you want to go? And and people may say to me, Hey, that, that doesn’t sound like DEI to me. But if we have a foundation of, of safety where people can say, this is what, what I’m seeing, and this is what’s going on for me.

I think psychological safety is a core tenant of an inclusive culture. Mm-hmm and a specific output for a very business driven leader would be the the expression of, of raising their hand and saying, Hey, I don’t think we have time for all these things, right. If let’s get back to the mission and then and be honest about what we can accomplish.

Stu: Yeah. And it’s interesting when you, as you were saying that I was thinking about just DEI in, in general and how, you know, in society, we, we, we tend to, to try and try things out. We, we create our little ecosystems and, and sure. And our little groups, right? So we have our, our favorite football teams that, you know, that the, the people endeavor can’t stand the people in Seattle because of the football thing.

And there’s you know, or, and, and we break things down by, by all of these little segments. And, and if you’re, if you’re improving your inclusion, that can be applied to all of those kind of segments and you just get this holistic kind of team that, that that’s able to, to just work more effectively.

And I’m, I’m thinking about, you know, somebody, so inclusion could, could theoretically be. Applied to kind of the, this, the different levels within an organization. So you have upper management and then you have, you know, some like a, an, an intern. And if the, if the team as a whole is, is very good at DEI, then that inclusion’s gonna happen, you know, all in, in all aspects of, of those, those levels that we kind of self assign.

Yeah. Have you seen that? Have you seen it

Michael: work that way? It’s so true. It’s so true. I mean, it really, it, it, when it comes from the top it’s it’s much more impactful and lasting and and that’s why my, that, that’s why the, the work that we do is really centered on finding ways for senior leaders to adopt and express inclusive values, but to do so in a way that that fits into.

A very, very full schedule and and culture change and culture transformation can be, you know, at the enterprise level, it can be a, a seven figure and two year exercise mm-hmm and our engagements oftentimes much, much shorter. And I like to focus on small measurable outcomes that come quickly right, because there’s a lot of there’s people tend to think that DEI work and, and culture work hard to tie to business objectives.

Oftentimes disruptive because it is, it can be highly, highly personal. And if, if we can actually define some outputs from work that’s related to inclusive culture, and and we can set some goals that are not meant to be the, be all end all, because this is, these are the lives of, of, of who we are as human beings.

Mm-hmm so there is an endpoint to this work, but if we can identify some KPIs that are related to inclusive culture and we can reach those goals it psychologically, it builds a feeling of success and connectedness mm-hmm and and that’s, that’s, it’s like building a brand, right? It’s it’s creating that continuity and creating that momentum.

I mean, I have on my shelf here in the office, I have tons and tons of books that I read from in college and grad school. And when I do trainings, I, I refer to all sorts of books and podcasts. I draw from a really a wide, wide kind of international array of, of content because I like to give people chances to, to get curious about about learning about.

The different, you know, lives that are very different than theirs. And I wanna give mm-hmm opportunity to do that. And but I also have an understanding that if I, if I were to say, Hey, the key to success and inclusive culture here is for the leaders to read these three books. I, I know that that’s probably not gonna happen.

And so I want to say let’s set goals on a couple different talking points around a couple different articles or podcasts. And then for example, could one of the best practices be brought into a meeting in the next. and this is how we, we see success in education, creating sustainable reachable goals, right?

Embedding the growth mindset so that if someone quote unquote fails, they just see it as a learning experience and they move forward. There’s a lot of data around the, around the success of those types of structures, like including growth mindset. So we try and bring that into the conversation. And oftentimes what we hear, which is very encouraging is that people say, you know, Hey, this was, this process was I kind of thought it was gonna be really hard and really tumultuous.

And and I like that feedback. And then I also say, Hey, as a reminder, The, the work isn’t done and nor are the benefits that the organization is going to achieve. And then the, what we’re hoping to hear is that, okay, well, Michael, where do we go next? And I say, do we wanna look at inclusive marketing?

Right. Do we look at inclusion centered on on recruiting or retention or onboarding, or for example, a board. And and that’s, that’s just, it’s super rewarding work for me.

Stu: Yeah. It’s really it’s really cool to hear how you’re coming at this from this perspective of it’s. It’s not, it doesn’t have to be.

Torturous sort of work and, and there are measurable outcomes that, that will create a positive benefit to to one’s organization or one’s business and, and really coming at it from, from that perspective where, you know, yeah, there’s, there’s some hard things that we may talk about, or we may need to challenge ourselves a little bit, but, but at the end of the day, it’s, it’s not only for the good of, of the, kind of the bottom line, but also just the good of the cultural experience that, that we’re able to bring to the, to the table having this, this particular business.

Yeah. Yeah. That’s

Michael: so true. It’s so true. I, I think I I mean, I mentioned, I had this background in in, in the counseling practice and doing that, that the work of psychotherapy with this multicultural focus. So I know. I know what that very human-centered personal work is about. It’s extremely challenging.

And and my, my work at new sincerity is about understanding what we can hope to accomplish within the context of work. That that’s, it’s a very difficult balance to find. And when we have organizations where there are leaders, you mentioned a very resistant participant in, in one of your recent engagements.

And I run into leaders that are not being authentic about their, their willingness to, to do the personal work mm-hmm . And and that’s something that, that I need to help the, or organization address, right? It’s we need to be, we need to be extremely honest about folks within the organization that that may not maybe their values don’t align.

Right. And there’s a term in the industry called the toxic high performers. Mm-hmm and this is something that we’re starting to measure. There are people that That don’t have an inclusive mindset in how they live in the world, but yet they, they might contribute a great deal financially mm-hmm

And I think what we’re starting to see in these two researchers from, from who published an MIT Sloan recently, and this, this work was featured and Adam Grant from Wharton and bene brown, who everyone is listening to now, she has an HBO special. Yep. And the, the, the key takeaway from their research is that there’s actually a, a greater cost by retaining that, that toxic high performer, because they are they’re disempowering and excluding so many different people within their team group and the larger organization.

Yep. That there’s a, there’s actually an economic cost. And I, I, I would love to be able to reach that person and to get them to grow as a person, but I also. I’m also a realist and maybe maybe collectively we can, we, we can find ways for for the organization to say, Hey, our, our values and, and how we relate to people are, are more important than, than individual performance from someone who doesn’t who doesn’t share those humanistic values.

Stu: Yeah, cause they just come into a workplace and can just demolish the culture, even if they’re a superhero when it comes to production or, or creativity or whatever the thing is that they do a hundred percent. Yeah. It’s the,

Michael: it’s the, oftentimes it’s the elephant in the room. And I will have senior leaders who, after building our relationship, then they say, so Michael, I, how, how do we deal with, with this, this individual situation?

Right. And it can get, it can get really difficult. It really can get difficult. But I think that if we, if we can, once again, building trust within the engagement and within these individual teams, we start to see, it’s like a not loosening. We start to see people moving to a place of greater compassion and greater acceptance.

And sometimes that means that some people realize, okay, I. I guess, I guess I don’t fit within this organization anymore. Mm-hmm and and it’s hard to see those. There’s not a lot of transparency when you see those transitions, but but But if it’s for the overall wellbeing of of the people within the organization, there’s, there’s long term, there’s long term benefits.

And the near term benefits is obviously just the, the wellness of people and the fact that they want to get up every day and, you know, and go to work or, or hop on zoom and they’re excited to be there. That’s right. That’s what we all would want for them. Right.

Stu: Yeah. I know that a lot of this DEI stuff kind of happens behind the scenes, but are there any examples of companies that you have have seen, who’ve been a little bit more public about, about their approach to this that have done a great

Michael: job.

Yeah, it’s a, that’s a, it’s a fantastic question. So we’ve developed and you’re, you know, you’re a marketer, so you understand the, the value of content and we’ve developed content products that that, that seek to actually bring it to into the, the public both in terms of across the organization, but also to show these inclusive values to, to customers and clients mm-hmm

And one of the ways that we do that is through storytelling that we create with internal teams and other stakeholders, it might be a client. It might be it might be a donor, for example, mm-hmm and video based storytelling. Right. We could have a, we could have a, a YouTube video co podcast. You have this podcast here.

As well, but we can create a loosely scripted conversation with people within the organization. And maybe they’re talking to a donor, for example. And the, the flow of the conversation is about both a mission, but also this shared humanity, right? Mm-hmm and you began the conversation talking about snowing.

And I mentioned the fact that that we’re both mountain bikers. These are things that we are experiencing that are a part of our lives, but they’re not, they’re not related to marketing. And yet we somehow know that like, Hey, if we, if we have some things in common, we start to uncover those. We’ll probably discover more things that we have in common.

So this is a way that we could tell a story about. Shared humanity with, with stakeholders connected to the organization. And and we can share that with the world. It doesn’t need to be a sales opportunity and they don’t, as I mentioned before, they don’t need to be long, right. They can be these little vignettes.

So so video based storytelling also pretty easy to do don’t need a high production value. So so a smaller nonprofit could create a, a video storytelling series with donors or clients, and they could create six or eight of these things. It’s evergreen content because it’s people talking and then it gets all sorts of different people involved.

And it’s kind of fun. It’s kind of fun. So it becomes a, a team building and a marketing exercise, and I’m always trying to find ways. For, for any content or experience that we design to be able to be used in, in different ways because it just, yeah. It extends the value of it.

Stu: Yeah, absolutely. And we, we see that a lot.

And, and in fact, you know, in, in the current hiring challenges that people seem to be experiencing mm-hmm, you know, leading with culture and, and actually marketing for. For for team members is becoming something that, that not only needs to happen, but the materials and, and all of the work that you’re, that one does to tell the, you know, those cultural stories then can then be repurposed to market for you know, for business as well.

So you know, this idea that that culture is becoming, you know, and business culture is becoming more and more important is, is not just to, to build, build and retain your team, but you can leverage that material outside of, of that exercise to actually use it, to, to build your. Your donor base or, or your your revenue base as well?

Michael: Yeah, Steve that’s really, that’s really thoughtful. And I think that’s, it shows, you know, a lot of authenticity in how you work with your clients when you’re, when you’re thinking about what their investment in marketing, how could that be extended to other aspects of the organization to, to provide lots of different, lots of different benefit.

And what you’re saying is getting me, it’s, it’s making me think about this idea of talent and culture being the next competitive advantage. Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s that that’s, that’s, what’s coming up for me when you’re, when you’re talking about these strategic goals is that if, if we can tell stories about.

People within the nonprofit that are doing the work and delivering the service, it it becomes a recruiting and retention tool. And and then it gives people kind of a, an anchor back to the mission. Mm-hmm, , there’s just lots of, lots of really neat, neat outcomes. And we’ve, we’ve created lots of different video products.

When I was running my agency, we didn’t do quite as much video work, but certainly at the nonprofit that I was with we did, and then I did event based work and trained sales teams at the cybersecurity company and the cybersecurity very engineering driven lots of straight white men within the organization.

And when I was doing the that training in, in advance of a big event I. I I just needed to really be just really thoughtful and encouraging with with folks that generally not extremely comfortable with informal conversations and with with that level of spontaneity. So there’s there was a, an opportunity for us to, I dunno, just to dig into the, the human part of of conversations with people that are coming from different experiences.

And and they performed extremely well at the conference. I was I was really happy.

Stu: Yeah. It’s really cool to see people kind of step up and, and you know, many of us particularly, I mean, I’m, I’m in that same boat as you, in terms of you know, getting into my mid fifties, CIS white straight. Male dude.

And you know, we’ve been ingrained for our lives to, you know, not only have the privilege that we, that we do, but also just how to talk in the workplace or how to talk to other people and, and we can all learn to change and we can all learn to be more inclusive and to be just, just better people all around through You know, getting to understand other people’s experiences more, more effectively.

Yeah. A

Michael: hundred percent, a hundred percent. And I, and I’ve observed the enthusiasm that comes when people when they practice the skill of active listening and asking open questions, they, they realize in some ways, Hey, like if I ask a bunch of questions, I don’t, I don’t have to talk. I, I get to actually listen and then when we feel heard as human beings, all sorts of great things happen, right.

It’s really, it’s really, really fun to, to just watch these things unfold. My, my challenge within the context of our, of our training and our coaching work is to get senior leaders to realize that this is a productive use of the team’s time. And that’s really where getting back to those business outcomes and sharing the data.

I need to be very persuasive and say, Hey, this is, this is going to carry downstream benefits and I’m gonna show you why. And and and it ends up being, it ends up being a lot of fun.

Stu: Yeah. It’s a lot of, yeah, no, it sounds amazing. So how can people find out more about, about the work that you do and, and learn more about DEI and how they can, you know, bring

Michael: some of this to their work.

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I mean, I think so. I’m, I’m my, my aim. I’m very much a connector on LinkedIn. And I’m building and, and growing a, a national and now kind of an international community. Of practitioners from all different identities and cultures and experiences. So new sincerity is is easily found on LinkedIn.

Our website is new sincerity.us and can learn a little bit more about what we’re doing there, but I encourage everyone to reach out to me on LinkedIn. And if you work in the nonprofit space and if you’re looking for ideas or have some questions about about opportunities that your organization might face, the the, the best way to start a conversation is to find me on LinkedIn or find me@newsincerity.us.

And and to just schedule even a 15 minute exploratory call there’s we, we have really affordable engagements. I just, I try and make the work accessible for executive directors and leaders of boards and, and nonprofit teams because Because oftentimes money becomes a, a barrier to starting with the work.

So so although we do larger engagements for the startup world we also, I just, I wanna make sure that this work is accessible to to nonprofits as well. So, so find me find me on LinkedIn and follow a new sincerity there and and then reach out to connect, cuz I love to connect people.

Stu: Yeah, for sure.

That’s so, so cool that you’re doing this work and, and that you have the ability to, to serve, you know, kind of anyone who’s, who’s really looking to, to make a change in their, in, in the way that they handle their culture in, in their business world. I love having these conversations as you’ve probably have heard since I know that you’re a listener on the show.

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And one of the things I like to ask at the end of every episode is, is if there was one action that you’d like for people to, to take after listening to our show today, what would that action be?

Michael: Gosh, what a great question. And thanks to, and thanks to you and your community for for investing in the conversations.

It’s a way of it’s a way of giving back and it matters. It definitely matters. I guess, if there was, if there was one thing that I’d like everybody to do would be to to simply commit to one action this week to to get to know somebody from from a different lived experience, just simply that and perhaps that would be a catalyst to create curiosity and, and and ripple that forward through their organization or even through their personal life.

Stu: I love it. I would encourage everyone to do that. I’m gonna put that on my list of to-dos here this week and see who I can, who I can meet to to, to kind of get to know, get to know them a little bit better and create a new relationship. Thanks so much for being on the show today, Michael, I really had a great time talking with you.

Everybody go out and check out new sincerity.us and thanks so much for being on the show.

Michael: Yeah. Thanks to you and relish, dude. Take care. Bye bye.

Stu: And there you have it. Another great episode of relish this. Thanks again for listening. You can find past episodes of the show@relishthis.org. And remember if you liked what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts.

For more information on purpose marketing, grab your free copy of my book. Mission uncomfortable. How nonprofits can embrace purpose driven marketing to survive and thrive. Get your copy now@missionuncomfortablebook.com. Thanks again for listening. Come back next week. Won’t you.