by Angela Almasy

October 1, 2020

Last week, Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf made news headlines for his comments about the company’s struggles to recruit diverse talent and reach its diversity goals. As reported by Reuters, Scharf said in a company-wide memo dated June 18, 2020, “While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.”

Scharf was right – that sounds like an excuse. Companies that have made the commitment to recruit diverse talent and achieve diversity goals should be prepared to answer to their stakeholders. And while progress may be challenging at times, excuses are not a productive way to overcome these challenges.

A day later, Scharf issued an apology to employees and reinforced the company’s commitment to diversity & inclusion. Why did he offer what he knew was an excuse when he could have provided a more thoughtful response?

When faced with challenges within your own organization, consider this approach:

Acknowledge the challenge

Companies that set diversity goals demonstrate accountability toward progress on an important issue; however, as with any goal, the journey is not always smooth. Being transparent about your company’s challenges helps build trust with your stakeholders, but it is important to not place blame or deflect from owning the challenge. In the case of Wells Fargo, instead of blaming slow progress on a limited talent pool, Scharf could have focused more on the company’s responsibility to support the growth of a diverse talent pool.

Talk about the journey

Illustrating what the company has done, and plans to do, demonstrates a commitment to charting a course and achieving your goals. What programs or initiatives have been established to directly address challenges? What team or leader has been appointed to bring a stronger focus to achieving the goals? What interim milestones have been set to ensure progress is made along the way? Answering these questions shows thoughtful action and ownership.

Reinforce the commitment, but manage expectations

Reinforcing your commitment in an authentic and believable way shows your dedication has not wavered despite challenges; however, it is important to balance your commitment with your stakeholders’ expectations. Be clear about your line of sight to achieving your goals and be realistic about the timeline. Your stakeholders expect this level of transparency.

While Scharf’s apology includes many of these points, he missed an opportunity to demonstrate proactivity and thought leadership in his initial memo, rather than just reacting to the situation.

If you’re interested in communicating proactively or overcoming an “excuses” mentality, contact me.