Amri B. Johnson, CEO at Inclusion Wins

Speaker’s Corner: Featuring Amri B. Johnson, CEO at Inclusion Wins

Tell me about Inclusion Wins, its work, and the projects that are undertaken thereof?

Inclusion wins is an inclusion-focused management consulting firm. We deliver people focus solutions with an inclusion lens. So our core to the company’s brand is working with companies to answer the question, “how do we make inclusion accessible to all actionable meaning unambiguously prioritized, and sustainable, which translates into alignment with organizational purpose. 

So that’s kind of our core work. We also have a cooperative of partners that we work with that do other types of people-focused solutions from coaching, to various types of education, to even services such as HR solutions and recruitment, across various industries that we go to directly. 

The Inclusion Wins framework is a focus on what we call ‘Inclusion Systems design’ that’s building inclusion into all elements of an organization’s design process. And then we focus on cultural intelligence as a set of skills and capabilities to increase your ability to work across differences but also the skills that allow you to engage with people from any background in a way that produces results. 

And then the last is around social capital. In there, we do work around the building of our organizational informal networks, and what that looks like is we measure it, and then we work around solutions to enhance that. So our core is around inclusion systems design, cultural intelligence, and social capital. 

For most of our longer-term clients – we take them through a 12 to 18-month process of really designing inclusion into their organization. So that can mean a lot of different things. It could start with the focus on what people often say, as DEI. And then sometimes it can translate into an organization revisiting their values.

Like one of our clients are right now – where we partner with one of our cooperative partners to move that work, measure their value, see where there are gaps, and then work on approaches to create the new cultural values in the organization across the company, rather than just coming from the leadership alone. So that’s an example of our projects and a little bit of an overview of how we work generally.

What are the challenges within the management consulting industry today? What are the ways we can effectively mitigate risks?

You know, I don’t know what the challenges are across management consulting generally. But within the work that I do in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, probably the biggest risk is a lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon because there’s so much of an uprising after the murder of George Floyd. That a lot of people just got involved because they were passionate about it, and they wanted to, you know, make a difference. 

And that’s great. And it’s an incomplete reason why you get into a business. This is a business and you need to have some depth. And so I think the biggest challenge is a lot of firms have jumped in or a lot of people have started firms but may not have enough depth to take organizations from kind of a reductionist look at just a particular aspect of diversity versus what are we looking at across an organizational system so that everyone can thrive and contribute at their highest level. 

So while I understand passionate people building their DEI brand, but I think it’s incomplete and that’s where I think there’s the biggest challenge. 

We can mitigate the risk primarily by you know, as people who hire these consultants be very deliberate about what we are trying to create and talking to them about if you’re just doing a course, be it unconscious bias, anti-racism, it is just one part of what’s needed. You can take a course and there’s a lot of people that can do that kind of education. 

But if you want to create systemic change, you need to vet people for the process will they take for you to begin to create the capabilities to make this work accessible to everybody, actionable, and sustainable. 

So that’s what I ask of clients. And for us, if a client’s not interested in doing that, we probably aren’t a fit. So if a management consulting firm comes in, and the company that they’re pitching to wants is not focused on long-term change, you can hire pretty much anyone. Folks know the content, it’s out there. It’s publicly available. 

But the depth of work takes somebody who has a different type of skill and experience. And that’s the distinction that I see even in the big consulting firms. Because they hire people either right out of the school or sometimes right out of college. And they just don’t have the – what I call the ‘reps’, they don’t have the repetitions in the work. It’s like you’re not going to be Stephen Curry if you don’t shoot 100,000 3-pointers very well for a long time, you don’t become an expert. 

You don’t become one of the best at this without doing that. And so, I recommend that you get clear on what people have done, not just what they know. Because knowledge is just one part of being a good management consultant. And other parts, obviously beyond making nice Powerpoints, are the ability of the discussion you can have with a client that helps them change the way they’re thinking about something so they can do it extraordinarily impactfully and in a way sustainably.

What is your number one goal as a speaker?

My number one goal as a speaker is to always make a connection. And then it also meets my lower-level aspirations – to potentially develop a new client or a next speaking engagement. 

So, on the low end of the spectrum, I want to be able to build my organization and generate what you need to build a company, and on the high end, I want to connect. I want to move closer to a more transformational way of looking at the world through the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Share with us the points of discussion (the input that you provided) during the panel(s) at the Diversity and Inclusion Leaders Forum?

I talked more specifically about Inclusion Systems design. And so when you design an inclusion system, you have certain inputs that are intended to build capabilities with all of humanity that exists within your organization. And that’s all stakeholders, internal and external, to build capabilities and capacity to contribute to everyone thriving. And so that’s the output.

So the input is anything from psychological safety, some people are talking about engaging around dignity, you might be doing something on the impact bias and how to mitigate dysfunctional bias.

We work a lot on caring and what that means – caring is, you know, in a way everybody develops. People feel like they are cared about in terms of your policies and your rewards. That can be anything from how you design your parental leave policies to a gesture that some people might overlook such as having a neutral bathroom for somebody who’s transitioning or not comfortable sharing that they are transgender. So that’s a care element. The other one is openness.

Do you feel like people are open to you? Do they share information with you? Do they listen? Do they ask good questions? The other one is, do people feel safe? Have your policies led people to feel safe when you’re in a situation where there’s conflict?

Do you feel like you can move through the conflict because your colleagues all have the same desire to create something extraordinary? Or do you feel like you’re threatened when you’re in those situations, and how can an organization make sure it’s the former versus the latter consistently. And then lastly, that also comes down to trust. 

So the things that we want to build as inputs oftentimes, come in those forms. And you want to create this through humanity, which I talked about as a superset of all the various identities in an organization, which are those subsets of that humanity.

That’s about capability building, learning what outcomes you want–thriving can translate into a lot different things. It could be bottom line thriving, it could be people through surveys feeling like they’re growing and contributing at their highest level. People being able to take on expanded responsibilities. 

There are lots of ways you can measure the outcome of thriving, that are relevant to all the stakeholders that are part of your ecosystem. As an organization from the most junior employee through your customer base. So that’s what I talked about at the forum. I gave some similar frameworks that I shared in question one, as well.

As a leader, what are the factors both professional and personal that drive you? What keeps you going?

I’d say my faith drives me. My faith and my family. I don’t know if I have this distinction between what keeps me going professionally and personally. I guess it’s rare. You don’t always get to do something that is kind of part of your reason for being. So not everybody gets that opportunity in life. And so I’m pretty blessed that I can do that. I don’t have this – I go to work and I compartmentalize work, I come home and I shift to my home and just focus on my family. 

What I do, I believe is beneficial to my family and other families. And my work is in alignment with my purpose. And I think when that’s the case, it’s easy to keep going. I’ve built other businesses, but it was purely to make money. I didn’t care about anything else, i.e. invest in real estate, I want to get the biggest returns. That was it. But this work, I don’t always get the biggest returns in terms of financial returns, but I keep doing it because it’s my purpose.

In your opinion, do digital events give you a similar level of feedback/result vis-à-vis the live versions? What would you say were the biggest pros and cons of both formats? Which do you prefer?

The delivery of a session is the same to me. Now, you don’t get the audience response that’s immediate all the time. But now that folks are doing more stuff in chat, and people open chat up so folks can chat along. Even if you’re so focused on speaking and you see the numbers of chat going up, you’re like, oh, people are engaged. So you at least feel that that’s there. What you don’t get is the meeting after the meeting.

The ability to talk to people as fluidly as you would, like you were kind of strolling through when you have an affinity with somebody, you have that conversation. And it’s not always like transactional. You have a booth, it’s like, ‘hey, let’s connect and see what we can learn from each other, and maybe down the line, we might end up working together.’ But that’s not the point. So you know, when you’re at a conference as a company, you’re trying to generate leads. 

Absolutely. And I think you can do that through a digital event as well. But the deeper connection that you get from the kind of a sit down having a tea or coffee with someone, having lunch with someone at the conference is different. So that’s the pro and con. I think you can do similar things in terms of sharing the information or data with somebody, but the interaction was different. What do I prefer? I mean, honestly, of course, you prefer having some in-person contact. But we’re in the middle of a pandemic. 

So I don’t know if I have a preference. I have a preference for health, and for people to feel safe. That’s going to go way further than me being in a conference where people are a little bit nervous and standing away from me when, you know, hadn’t been out for a year and don’t know about how to connect. So when we get back to in-person events, it’s going to be a gradual easing into the flow.

What is your take on in-person events? Do you prefer in-person events as compared to hybrid or virtual? How soon do you think in-person events would return?

I don’t know how I feel about virtual. Because I think there’s sometimes some inequity that happens in a virtual event, depending on if you’re a participant or speaker. And, are you going to charge the same amount of money for an in-person versus a virtual, doesn’t matter? I don’t know how we value the distinction. I don’t know how you put a monetary value on that. But I think it has to be taken into consideration. So I probably would say I prefer in-person. I would rather be in-person or virtual. I wouldn’t necessarily want a hybrid; I’d want everybody where they are. Maybe showing the videos afterward, virtually. But not the actual conference being a hybrid. I’m not okay with that. 

I don’t know, it depends on where you are in the world, where in-person events when they would return. I think we’re further out in some parts of the world. And for right now, everybody is further out than we thought we would be. So I have no idea. But when the public health people say, that’s my answer. And I’m a public health person, but I don’t make the rules in every part of the world or any part of the world for that matter.

Eventible.com is a review platform specially catering to B2B events. Given how review-driven our lives have become today, do you think reviews will bring in a level of transparency to the events industry? Would you rely on event reviews from other speakers if you had to make a speaking decision?

Sometimes speakers have a bad day. They weren’t as good as they could have been that one day. And so if somebody didn’t agree with something they said, or they didn’t say it most dynamically, this particular time–You know, people love to cancel people and say negative stuff, that’s like social media’s kind of dark side.

And then there’s also the chance that people are biased, sometimes people give a better review than maybe is warranted in an objective sense. So, I probably just need to see the speaker and see if they meet the requirements of what we were trying to create at that particular time. 

If I was an employee, somebody hiring speakers or one of my clients wanted a speaker on a particular topic, I would spend the time listening to one or two other clips, and then having a conversation with them to see if they could convey what we needed to convey. I don’t think reviews sway me as much to decide on them, but it might give me to look at certain ones, more than I look at others just because of the reviews.

So if I was picking from five folks and three of them have four or five stars and two of them are one or two stars, I probably look at the four or five stars first as my criteria for who I was going to review but I’d eventually look at the others too if I saw some positive reviews for them.

Finally, do you have a favorite mocktail or drink?

I don’t drink really. So my mocktail would be like a tonic. Or if they have non-alcohol spirits. I guess they’re not spirits if they don’t have alcohol. But I like digestive vinegar, stuff like that. When I’m in a certain country that makes those, I really like them. In Taiwan, I would drink this non-alcoholic wine that was like vinegar. It’s good for your body. I like that if it’s available. But otherwise, I just have sparkling water. Sorry, I’m boring in that regard.

About Amri B. Johnson:  For over 20 years, Amri Johnson has been instrumental in helping organizations and their people create extraordinary business outcomes. He is a social capitalist, epidemiologist, entrepreneur, executive coach, and inclusion strategist. Amri’s dialogic approach to engaging all people as leaders and change agents (previously at the research division of Novartis, as Global Head of Cultural Intelligence and Inclusion) has fostered the opening of minds and deepening of skillsets with organizational leaders and citizens enabling them to thrive and optimally contribute to one another and their respective organizations. Presently, as CEO/Founder of Inclusion Wins, he is building a global cooperative of people-focused solution providers whose work is informed and enhanced by inclusiveness.

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