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How to create a diverse strategy for your business

Sarah (left) and Ali Tocker.

Mother-daughter team Ali and Sarah Tocker, who are at the helm of Tocker Associates, talk about building a culture of courage in a climate of fear.

It’s the monthly staff meeting. The room is full. As you look around it’s the differences in the faces that catch your eye. Body language, facial expressions, ages, stages and backgrounds are well represented. Diverse. Different.

Talented people with much to offer. But how much leverage are we getting from these differences, and how valued are the different opinions? How do we create a space where that happens?

Ali and Sarah Tocker thrive in this world. The mother-daughter boutique consultancy Tocker Associates boasts 20+ years in the leadership development space. They help New Zealand businesses to strategise and grow by focusing on tangible tools to help drive success and increase reach.

Tocker Associates’ no-nonsense, straightforward talk sets the team apart. It’s about telling a client the truth, even an uncomfortable truth to help them step out of their comfort zone.

What are the challenges they encounter? We sat down with Ali and Sarah Tocker to find out.

It takes courage to build a diverse strategy. Why is that?

The sticking point is fear. We reward people throughout their careers for knowing the answers, and now we’re asking them to be honest enough to say “I don’t know – what do you think?” We are asking them to sit still and find out things that may not be comfortable, in a way that may expose their own limitations. It’s a big ask for people who have been conditioned be experts.

Why are people afraid of not knowing?

Real conversations are hard. Letting go of control is hard. For many leaders there’s an inner voice driving their fears. Will my board, peers, team still respect me or trust me when they realise I don’t know? 

What’s the antidote to this internal battle?

Make a plan, shut up and do what needs to be done. People tend to over-talk, over-think and over-complicate when they get stuck. People who are really honest, especially when times are tough, have the real advantage. They are regarded as having high integrity and are trusted. Great leaders are the ones who show up and tell the truth about themselves as well as the business.

How do we conquer this fear of the unknown? 

Two things really help. Number one, exposure. Spend some time being the minority – go places where your view isn’t the dominant one, whether that is culturally, age-wise, gender-wise or whatever. Listen to what those people are saying and get curious. Stretch the boundaries of your own world view.

The second thing is that most people actually know what to do, they might just be afraid to do it. Ask yourself: “How long have I been thinking about this situation?” Now how long would it have taken to just do what needed to be done? So do it already! Follow the action up with getting some feedback, make any adjustments and stay curious about the impact you have on other people, and that’s a lot of the hard work done.

We talk to leaders about connecting with and being curious about people who are totally different from themselves. Look around at your next hui, dinner party, whatever – do the people there look and think a lot like you? If so, where are your new and challenging ideas coming from? How are you testing your own assumptions? What might you be missing?

When we lead with a wide set of views to hand, we tend to identify the real issues faster, and solve them more effectively, and that can only be a good thing for business.

Tocker Associates’ agility to adapt and grow teams and individuals is the cornerstone of their new home within The Skills Organisation, one of New Zealand’s largest industry training organisations providing work-based qualifications and consultation.

This partnership is helping Tocker Associates expand its footprint across Aotearoa.

The Tocker Associates inclusion guide for leaders:

  1. Create the space to share differences, opinions and cultural insights and encourage participation. Be curious.
  2. Create space at the table for people who wouldn’t normally get an invitation – when you have the opportunity to lead, your job is to help other people succeed, so open the door a little wider.
  3. Step up to being uncomfortable. Spend time with the people outside your
    peer group.
  4. Test your assumptions – the more sure you are of your own opinion, the more important it may be to get a second one.
  5. Have a “to learn” list, and share it. Be vulnerable enough to be open about what you do and don’t yet know.

To find out more, visit tocker.net.nz