Michael Bach is the founder and Chair of the board of directors of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. He is nationally and internationally recognized as a thought leader and subject matter expert in the fields of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility, bringing a vast knowledge of leading practices in a live setting to his work.
His 2020 book Birds of All Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right is a Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Amazon best-seller, and recipient of the silver 2020 Nautilus Book Award in the category of Rising to the Moment. His new book Alphabet Soup: The Quintessential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work will be released on March 29, 2022.
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We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Michael Bach: My name is Michael Bach. My pronouns are him/him/his. I’m an award-winning and best-selling author and subject matter expert in inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). I’ve been working in the area for over 15 years, previously as the head of IDEA for KPMG in Canada, and the Deputy Chief Diversity Officer for KPMG International. I now run CCDI Consulting, a management consulting firm that guides clients on how to create inclusive spaces for all. I am also the founder of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, an educational charity that helps Canadians understand the value of IDEA.
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Michael Bach: I started CCDI, and in turn CCDI Consulting, with the objective of making the world a better place. I’m not as motivated by wealth as others may be, and having faced a lot of discrimination in my life (because of my sexual orientation and mental health), I wanted to do something that was focused on the bigger picture, as opposed to personal motivations. I wanted to be able to “do well while doing good.”
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Michael Bach: I love the depth and breadth of our work. We work with thousands of employers that trust us to be their advisors on IDEA, and we get to see behind the curtain where most people would never have access to this view. That work covers the full spectrum from helping to develop a business case, to conducting a full IDEA assessment, and executing on that work. The downside is, as consultants, we don’t get to stick around to see the fruit of our labor. We can provide the most amazing advice and guidance, and then the client can ignore it completely… and sometimes do this.
If I could make any change, it would be that when clients hire us, they commit to implementing the changes we recommend. Not a blind commitment – the process has to be collaborative and make sense to them – but if you hire a subject matter expert, let them do their job. It would make the work far more satisfying.
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Michael Bach: Our culture is very diverse and inclusive already, simply by the nature of what we do. We work hard to practice what we preach. Where our focus needs to be now is on work-life flexibility and psychological health and safety. We must have a workplace where people can have the flexibility to do their work, while also living their lives (a constant problem for all consultants).
We also need to protect the psychological health and safety of our people. Considering the work we do, it can be quite impactful on the team’s mental health and we have an obligation as an employer to ensure we are creating a safe space. What that looks like is still evolving but it includes training in psychological health and safety, increased mental health treatment offerings, and training for managers in how to spot potential mental health risks. This is an ever-evolving process.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Michael Bach: Our culture is one that is very open and collaborative. I know every employer says it but we’re really a big family. We genuinely care about one another. People don’t leave their personal lives at the door when they come to work, and why should they. We want a culture where people can (as much as they want) integrate work and life – where they can connect with their coworkers on a much deeper basis. The result is that people genuinely care about their work, the success of the organization, and their colleagues. People are incredibly dedicated to what we do at CCDI Consulting.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Michael Bach: I disagree with Sir Richard slightly. You should treat your people how THEY want to be treated, not how YOU want to be treated. It’s the difference between the golden rule and the platinum rule. By treating everyone as you want to be treated, you make the assumption that everyone wants and needs to be treated the same as you. That’s just wrong. It’s imperative that we acknowledge differences (in every sense) and respond accordingly.
I agree that in creating a great organizational culture, you are ultimately helping your business. Culture makes or breaks an organization’s success. If you treat your people as your most important asset, then they will in turn be more engaged, more productive and you will be more profitable. It’s a pretty simple equation for success.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Michael Bach: We have moved permanently to a “work where you work best” model. That means people can work from the office full-time, work from their homes full-time, a combination of the two, or frankly work from wherever they want. We are a “results-oriented work environment”, meaning that I don’t need someone sitting at their desk to do their job. While that’s always been part of our philosophy, it’s also something that our clients are now buying into. It also means that we have broader access to talent.
We now have colleagues that work in locations where we don’t have offices, and likely never will. What we’ve done is put the power in the hands of our people to make their own decisions about what works best for them.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Michael Bach: Diverse: Our 60+ people are made up of a huge number of different backgrounds – women, LGBTQ2+ people, people with disabilities, immigrants, different languages, religions, etc. It’s an incredibly diverse group.
Inclusive: We value and embrace the differences of our people, and we put into practice the advice we give to clients. Our people are trained on the same content that we provide to clients so that we know that they are educated on the topic. And then we hold them to account to ensure the culture is as inclusive as we want it to be.
Creative and innovative: We value and encourage people to be creative and innovative in not only the way we deliver our services but in what we deliver. Our eLearning solutions were the result of a suggestion from one of our team, who then led the development of content. And that eLearning has now been used by hundreds of clients and tens of thousands of people.
Collaborative: We don’t work in silos. We really rely on one another. I don’t have all the skills, so I am regularly calling people into meetings to help address challenges – even if it’s not their job. One of my favorite stories is when we were coming up with a name for a new service and a group of us just couldn’t figure it out. We brought in a colleague from IT and explained what the service was and in one second he came up with the name, and it was perfect. That collaboration is why we are as successful as we are.
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Michael Bach: Our values are as follows:
- Lead by example
- Be partner-centric
- Be knowledgeable and strive to learn
- Communicate truthfully, usefully, and kindly
- Be guided by evidence to evolve and innovate
- Treat everyone with caring, dignity, and respect
- Believe positive intent; consider the potential impact
These values affect our daily life in that they guide how we behave toward one another, as well as toward our clients and the communities that we serve. They’re relatively new value for us, so the process of embedding them is ongoing, but they have become an important touchstone for everything we do.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Michael Bach: First, the virtual door is always open. I am perpetually encouraging people to come to me with anything. Everyone has my cell number and I work hard to create an environment where people can come directly to me for and with anything.
Second, there is no job I won’t do. And if I won’t do it, no one else should have to. That means that I clean up the kitchen, and I get my own coffee. I even painted the office when we first started out because we were trying to save money. I fundamentally believe that if something needs doing, then I should be willing to do it.
Third, every job is valuable. I don’t operate in a world of “one job is more important than the other”. My assistant’s job is just as important (if not more important) than mine. She enables me to do my job. I was always taught by my parents that the receptionist and the mail clerk were just as important as the CEO.
How well has it worked? Well, that’s debatable. Not everyone takes me up on the offer to talk. But I do believe people see me as accessible and part of the team. It’s a work in progress. I learn from my team constantly.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Michael Bach: Beyond wine? Well, we deal with conflict directly, openly, and honestly. First, we try really hard to ensure conflict doesn’t fester. Allowing things to sit, means they may boil over into something much bigger. That’s really the most important piece.
Then it’s about being open and honest in the dialogue. We remind people that we are part of one team and we should be working together, not working against one another. This is where the values come in.
Occasionally we’ve used mediators to help work through a situation. Not in a punitive manner but like a coach or referee. Sometimes you need a third party to guide the conversation. Think of it as work therapy.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Michael Bach: Well, most of our team – 60% – are women, which is consistent throughout the organization (for example, 50% of our leadership team are women, and the same goes for our executive leadership team).
It’s also part of my leadership style to function in a very collaborative manner. We discuss things quite a bit, listen to people’s opinions, and come to conclusions as a leadership team. We then push that decision out to the entire organization. The result is that people feel they have ownership in the decision. We also work to make sure that everyone – however they identify – is heard. That takes a very active role on my part to make sure I am creating space for everyone.
What role do your company’s culture and values play in the recruitment process and how do you ensure that it is free from bias?
Michael Bach: They play a huge role. We’re a small consulting firm so we can’t compete with the bigger firms on things like pay and benefits. As I’ve said to everyone who works for us, our value proposition is our culture and values. You’re not going to get paid as much as you might somewhere else, but you’ll have a safe and creative environment in which to do some really amazing work.
Managing bias in the hiring process (because you can never be “free” from bias) is an ongoing process. We interview in panels, ask candidates a standard set of questions, and put our hiring managers through our own training to ensure they have awareness of their own biases. But at the end of the day, the most important thing we have is a culture where we are able to call out each other’s biases when we see them.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Michael Bach: I would say that I’d like people to get over my title. I find that to be a huge barrier. I think I’m pretty approachable and work at being accessible, and yet people get really nervous about talking to the “CEO”.
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Michael Bach: Fly. Definitely fly. I’m terribly impatient when it comes to travel. I just want to “get there”, which is why I’m so disappointed that we haven’t managed to develop a teleporter yet. It’s bad enough that we don’t have hoverboards yet.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michael Bach for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michael Bach or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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