Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Meeting Employees Where They Are to Drive Sustainable EDI Results

“We have a vibrant group of individuals who are passionate about EDI and are actively leading in this space.”

Michelle Naples, Chief Integration Officer

Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) is a health and human services non-profit focused on programming that strengthens families, inspires recovery, and empowers independence and belonging for nearly 30,000 people annually. LSS has been recognized a Best and Brightest Company to Work for @ based largely on its equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts.

After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, LSS joined many other forward-thinking organizations in initiating conversations about racial justice and EDI topics. This started with the LSS CEO publicly sharing his personal experiences with racial and ethnic injustices yet also encouraging listening, empathy, and healing within the greater community. Through the message and ensuing discussions with colleagues, leaders received a lot of valuable, yet varied, feedback from employees. Some employees were very passionate about learning and growing in the EDI space and some employees were reluctant to engage. Given the broad range of responses, it was difficult to know which direction to take and what to do first.

With guidance from Ridley Consulting Group, LSS developed and executed an EDI engagement plan that was designed to support sustainable results by both motivating reluctant employees to engage and channeling the energy of enthusiastic employees toward a unified goal. Here’s what they did that worked:

Unified employees with a broad and inclusive definition of diversity. Beyond the visible differences, LSS’ definition acknowledged differences in life experiences and perspectives. Broadening the definition not only established a shared understanding of EDI, but also enabled all employees to see how they personally related to EDI so they could engage in the discussion.

Established a strategy to prioritize crucial efforts. LSS launched an EDI committee comprised of employees representing the breadth and diversity of the organization. The EDI committee defined desired outcomes from applying EDI best practices to positively impact the organizational culture as well as to positively impact the families and individuals the organization serves. Leaning into the LSS core value of co-creation, the committee collected action ideas to support outcomes from across the organization and prioritized those ideas based on effort and impact.

Leveraged passionate employees to lead efforts. LSS recruited passionate employees to be trained as facilitators for a series of EDI dialogue sessions and to staff three foundational EDI strategy subcommittees focused on defining EDI values, establishing and tracking metrics, and providing engagement and team building experiences. Employees embraced these EDI volunteer roles as coveted leadership development opportunities – a chance to build and stretch new skills.

Meeting all employees where they are on their EDI journey – whether they be eager or uneasy – has put LSS on a path to achieve sustainable impact. “The feeling that comes from accomplishing this as a team is amazing. We have authentic and courageous conversations about what we’ve learned, where we struggled, where we are today. And we celebrate how far we’ve come. That gives you more fuel for your passion for this work,” Naples said.

At the end of the day, LSS is making EDI engaging for all. “It’s still exciting. We have more to do yet, and the work is meaningful and fun.”

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Beth Ridley is a former corporate executive turned organizational transformation consultant, speaker and author. Beth combines 25 years of global leadership and management consulting experience with expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to partner with leaders to transform workplace cultures to better achieve their vision and goals. Beth’s work is featured in national publications and she frequently delivers keynotes and workshops at events around the world. Beth lives with her husband and three children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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