Robert H. Johnson Jr.

As companies leave behind the financial uncertainty of the pandemic, they’re focused on getting back on track by optimizing organizational performance. 

Unfortunately, in that process, they often leave behind essential leadership training. As a result, teams suffer and experience lost productivity and disconnection. Most of all, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts fall by the wayside. 

To learn how orgs should invest in their managers, executives, and C-suite with an emphasis on belonging & inclusion, the Kunik team sat down with Robert Johnson, Jr., a coach and consultant who’s spearheaded DEI at companies like DoorDash. As one of our Kunik Experts, Robert coaches Kunik users on leading with both efficacy and empathy. 

Below, he provides his expert-level views on: 

  1. How simple conversations can transform company culture
  2. Why inclusive leadership is tied to business performance
  3. Three tactics for investing in your leadership development

Let’s dive in. 

“It used to be that marketing was the first budget that was cut. Now, in a lot of cases, it's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — when, in reality, everything will take care of itself if you take care of your people.” - Robert Johnson, Jr., Global DEI Practitioner and Culture Consultant

Why leadership development fell by the wayside — and how to fix it

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted countless companies to reprioritize and restructure. Unfortunately, in the process, genuine investment in leadership development (and emphasis on DEI) fell by the wayside. 

For instance, Robert notes that while many individuals are promoted to leadership positions because of their functional competencies, they often do not receive training in team leadership or people management. They can execute basic tactical functions of the job — but that’s about it. 

The solution? Starting a conversation about great leadership at every level. 

Fortunately, the solution to this widespread struggle is simpler than we think. According to Robert, honest conversations lead to team-wide (even company-wide) transformation — and that’s especially the case for conversations about org leadership. For instance, he advises starting conversations around what empathetic, impactful leadership looks like at every level. 

  • What do direct reports and individual contributors want from their managers? 
  • Conversely, managers are often suddenly thrust into leadership. Without a proper ramp-up, what unanswered questions do they have? What basic best practices are they missing? 

This emphasis on the power of workplace conversations is also exactly why Robert loves being a Kunik Expert. In his words: 

“The Kunik team has never wavered from their values. They’re still leaning in to deliver exceptional experiences and connections to experts. I just love how the business is set up to emphasize conversations.” 

Plus, these conversations can take many forms, such as: 

  1. Roadmap design meetings to build team-wide DEI initiatives from the ground up
  2. Employee strategy sessions to build effective ERGs (employee resource groups)
  3. A one-day leadership retreat focused on high-level DEI strategies for your C-suite

Whether your org has openly prioritized leadership development and DEI in the past or this is the first time, Robert guarantees that simple conversations can pay dividends for company culture. 

 “The biggest opportunity is in the conversations and education. It’s the result of asking questions like, ‘How do we leverage our experiences to lead in ways that create exponential results?’” 

3 tips for investing in leadership development

Kunik partners with our extensive network of Kunik Experts to address the most challenging yet valuable elements of the modern workplace, including how leaders can improve on every front — especially when it comes to DEI. 

Robert is a prime example: As a Kunik Expert, he brings over two decades of experience, both as a line manager and as a DEI executive, to the table. Below, he shares some of the expert strategies he’s passed on to Kunik clients in the past: 

Tip #1: Reimagine your company values from the ground up 

Many companies are still playing by their pre-pandemic playbooks. It’s time to throw those methods out. In 2023, the workplace is (more often than not) multi-generational, flexible, and more diverse. It’s time for orgs to take advantage of that, which often means reimagining your values and culture of leadership from scratch. 

For instance, Robert often finds that while most companies care about belonging, they don’t know how to weave those inclusive values into leadership development. When companies don’t define their values or build them into leadership and management training, those leaders have to play it by ear. This leads to uncoordinated and inconsistent experiences across teams and a highly variable employee experience. In response, Robert strongly recommends: 

  1. Starting from zero to define your company’s values and culture of leadership
  2. Imparting those values through structured leadership development
  3. Keeping tabs on how those values come through in your leaders’ day-to-day efforts

Tip #2: Invest in your leadership now — before challenging market conditions arise

All too often, Robert sees companies that only care about roadmaps for DEI or leadership development when the business as a whole is doing well. As soon as they’re in the red, they are not inclined to care about anything that doesn’t directly bring in revenue. 

In Robert’s experience, this is a flat-out mistake. Investing in leadership — regardless of how well the business is doing at any given time — enables your leaders to motivate workers and ensure things don’t fall apart on the team level during actual hard times. 

Tip #3: Your employees notice genuine vs. cosmetic efforts

There are countless statistics about the correlation between employee turnover vs. job and workplace satisfaction. On this front, Robert affirms that an overwhelming amount of employees notice when their leadership genuinely invests in integrating DEI initiatives with leadership training — and when they only invest in it at face value. 

Either way, the impact can be felt throughout the organization and even impact business performance. Employees who feel their employer cares about them as people — not just as sources of outputs or metrics — are far likelier to stick around. 

“Investing in leadership now — regardless of the season of the markets — means your leaders will feel your care, attention, and investment. That way, when the time is right, they can run that much faster. You’ll see exponentially greater performance.” 

Connect your people. Advance your culture.
Bring Kunik to your workplace today.