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Employee Resource Groups have been around for decades. If you’re reading this article, you probably have a sense of their importance already. For a quick refresher - see here.
Recently, ERGs have taken on a new level of importance. Post-2020, we saw 35% of businesses increase their support of ERGs. This is because ERGs are now a centerpiece of culture and strategy. Especially in a hybrid/distributed work world with a growing number of ‘deskless’ workers and a soon-to-be majority minority workforce, groups centered on identity and experience at work are critical for engagement, retention & recruiting.
Not to mention, these groups are actually informing company policy & product, directly contributing to business goals. Parents & caregivers ERGs are informing policy for working caregivers, LGBTQ+ ERGs are informing companies on how to roll out pronoun campaigns, Accessibility ERGs are creating more equitable working environments, BIPOC ERGs are crafting internal & external comms that speak to specific populations - and so much more.
So it’s no surprise that the second fastest growing role being hired for today in the U.S. is a DEI Program Manager, according to LinkedIn. The first responsibility often on their list? Managing & scaling the company’s ERG program.
But how do you actually do that? How do you make sure your ERGs are set up for success? How do you start to level them up so they can influence the business without the leaders of the group burning out?
In this guide, we outline the phases of an ERG program’s maturity to give you a sense of where you are and where you could go next.
Quick Couple Notes:
Employee Resource Groups can form both “bottoms up” and “tops down.”
Bottoms Up: Perhaps a few people meet up for lunch once a week and discuss their lives as working parents, or a group of AAPI employees create a Slack channel to chat about their shared experiences. This is often the story behind how an ERG begins organically.
Tops Down: More and more often these days, ERG Programs are starting from a ‘tops-down’ perspective. For example, if you’re a DEI program manager and your company wants to start an ERG program, you might be asking “Where do I start?.”
In these early stages, ERG leaders will likely be the founders of the group. They’ll likely be working closely with the People or DEI team to set the foundation for the group. Here are some steps to make sure they don’t burnout from taking on this extra work.
In these early days, there are many ways to get leadership involved. As long as there’s clear line of sight into leadership involvement, that’s a good start.
As your group comes together, think about who in your company’s leadership could support your efforts. Perhaps, it’s your direct manger or a mentor of yours in the C-suite. Regardless, having a trusted member of your company’s leadership ‘bought-in’ to your efforts at your earliest stages will provide clear champions for your efforts as they grow in scope and size.
Here are some ways company leaders could get involved:
As your program grows, you’re likely going to look to expand your resources as well. You might want to expand your budget so your groups can do more, and often that means making the business case for the program.
ERGs have long proven to be drivers of retention & engagement at top companies. They can contribute to your ESG score, or your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts.
As your groups grow, it’s critical your team has access to consistent, trackable systems. Perhaps a rockstar on your team made a shared Sharepoint in Microsoft or GoogleDrive folder. That’s a great place to start (and for what it’s worth if you find yourself outgrowing those home-grown, bootstrapped systems, come talk to us at Verbate ;) … that’s what we’re here for!)
One thing is for sure, if you aren’t aligned as a team on how to find and create information in a central, scalabel place - you’re likely to lose progress if someone leaves the organization. Building an institution around your ERG Program is so so important.
A few things to keep in mind:
Communication: Slack & Teams are great for day to day communication, and an intranet often is great to lay out high level goals. Make sure your team is aligned on what’s used for what and where.
Central Place to Access Information: For ERGs to fundamentally deliver on their goal to foster belonging and inclusivity, your systems should be accessible to all who want to participate. For example, if an amazing product & engineering leader built a stellar Asana or Jira board to organize ERG efforts - but only part of the company has seats on those programs, that makes it really difficult for people to feel universally included. This also tends makes transitioning these systems between ERG leaders really painful if someone leaves or naturally needs to hand off the reigns to the next leader.
Historical Context: The key to maintaining your momentum as an ERG is capturing & building institutional knowledge throughout time. For example, what events went well, what initiatives were accomplished, challenges you encountered, how you tackled them etc. We often hear that most of that knowledge lived in someone’s brain and when they left, so much of that knowledge left with them.
As your group grows its important to formalize those guidelines for engagement.
Setting and aligning goals is critical for any ERG program to track and demonstrate success.
For a deeper dive on goal-setting, check out our guide here.
At this point in your ERG program, you should start thinking about some sort of measurement or metric-tracking component for your efforts.
Once you feel great about the first and second phases of your ERGs, you’re ready to think about how ERGs can influence your business.
This can happen in so many different ways. We covered some of them in our introduction - they can influence product, policy, recruitment, marketing, and so much more.
Now, this is where things get really exciting and enormously nuanced. Rather than trying to tackle the many different ways ERGs can influence different parts of your company’s business lines, we’re going to provide some must-have things to keep in mind. If you want to dive deeper on how to make this real, honestly, reach out to us here - we love talking about this.
But to start - here are a few key things to keep in mind when aligning your ERGs with your business impact.
As your ERGs grow and mature, it’s natural that they could start to influence more of the business such as policy, marketing or benefits. Perhaps your Caregivers ERG wants to influence your Parental leave policy, for example.
Make it clear how ERGs can communicate their suggestions to business units, and vice-versa: how can business units can solicit feedback or help from ERGs on their business decisions.
For example, if your marketing team wants the LGBTQ+ ERG at their company to weigh in on their Pride-month social media ad campaign - your marketing team should reach out early to the ERG leaders and discuss expectations & alignment. There should be clear stakeholders, timelines and workloads set.
This is critical to ensure that ERG leads feel heard, valued and avoid burnout from taking on too much. This is often a ‘job on top of a job’ so it’s important to value that work as such and make sure it’s not taken for granted.
A great way to build cooperation across your business and your ERGs is to include them in those high-level goals we talked about.
If your benefits department and Parents ERG want to work together to create a more equitable parental leave policy, set a goal in your central system of record around this and see if it ladders up to a company goal.
This is a rapidly evolving conversation. Some companies like LinkedIn and Justworks compensate their ERG leads monetarily for their work.
While ERG lead compensation is one way to recognize ERG lead work, it’s not the only way. You can also recognize them in a variety of other ways.
Here are some examples:
In Phase 2, your goals may have some component of metric-setting, but it’s critical in this third phase. If you want to tell a story around the impact ERGs are having on your business, it’s key to be backed by some sort of data.
When used together, qualitative and quantitate data tells an enormously powerful story about the impact of ERGs. For example, track things like engagement, attendance, and satisfaction - and you can start to ‘draw lines between dots.’
Some companies at this stage even begin to think how to relate this data to their HRIS data such as retention and recruitment at a higher level.
Today’s workforce is more diverse and distributed than ever. It’s so important to ensure every employee, whether working globally or in a ‘deskless’ capacity is just as engaged with your ERG program as their counterparts in your HQ. This makes your business even stronger by increasing a sense of unity and informing key parts of your business that your HQ employees may not have day-to-day experience with.
For example, making sure drivers and warehouse workers can access daily communications in your ERG program even if they don’t have corporate emails. Or, consider recording your meetings so employees that are in a different timezone can still follow along.
Check back for more content & updates! Have a suggestions or question? Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Verbate's ultimate guide to running a successful ERG program at every stage of your ERG Journey.
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