Creating an EDI Strategy and Plan

What’s the difference between strategy and planning? Well, Peter Drucker, godfather of modern management, distinguishes the two as external and internal focuses. Drucker’s definition of strategy is:

“A pattern of activities that seek to achieve the objectives of the organization and adapt its scope, resources and operations to environmental changes in the long term.”

Compare with his definition of strategic planning:

“The continuous process of making present entrepreneurial and therefore risk-taking decisions systematically and with the full knowledge of their futurity; and then systematically organizing the efforts needed to carry out these decisions through organized systematic feedback.”

When discussing strategy Drucker talks of objectives, the wider environment and long term. Planning involves decisions, the present and use of the feedback loop.

A common error in organisational management is to confuse plans for strategy. We’ll produce a whole list of tangible, measurable actions, and deliverables, and call them a strategy. Can you see where this causes a problem for EDI?

We’ve spent an awfully long time explaining to organisational leaders that investing in EDI isn’t just being nice, or the right thing to do, or a PR activity; it results in improved organisational outcomes. And one of the key reasons for this is that a representative workforce that considers EDI as part of its business as usual delivers a better product, service, and experience for a greater proportion of the population.

That’s an example of an external factor. There is increased diversity outside of your organisation; in your customer base, your suppliers, your competitors. And that external environment is changing; it’s becoming more diverse and therefore there are new opportunities, risks, and requirements.

This of course is the main problem caused by most EDI functions sitting within the HR hierarchy. In HR we’re naturally insular, looking to improve the organisation by empowering and developing the people inside it. As a result, our EDI strategy and planning starts with employees and, in the best cases, might end with future employees by virtue of community engagement and talent programmes. It is a rare organisation – the most notable being HS2, which empowers EDI to sit outside of the HR function and become a team which looks both within and without.

Identifying strategic priorities

So, lets imagine we’re starting our EDI strategy afresh. We’re able to extract our why from organisational strategy – this EDI strategy is required for the organisation to meet its strategic goals. Building our strategy then becomes about how. How does EDI factor into the strategic goals? If the organisational strategy is to expand into new global markets, having greater cultural diversity within the organisation becomes a key part of the EDI strategy. We also need to keep an eye on other aspects of the external environment. The news that ethnicity pay gap reporting will not be mandatory means that the race pay gap will, sadly, be deprioritised in many EDI strategies.

The what moves us away from strategy into the discipline of strategic planning. If part of the organisational strategy is to counter attempts from competitor X to eat into some of our market segments, our EDI strategy reflects this by ensuring we have the right people, skills, and knowledge to serve that market. It’s no good basing actions on a starting point of simply having relatively too few women in leadership positions; our strategy must explain:

  • Why that should change (women are underrepresented in our customer base, and competitor X is focusing on taking those we have)
  • How we intend to change this (increasing the number of women in leadership positions so that their experience and viewpoints are properly reflected during the decision-making process, which will improve our product and ensure it adds the value that customers are going to competitor X to find)
  • Our strategic planning should then define what we are going to do to achieve our strategic goal of more women in leadership positions (comparing benefit packages and flexible working opportunities to competitors, implementing development programmes and mentoring, creating a Women’s Network/Employee Resource Group)
  • And who is responsible for these actions. If HR is responsible for recruiting and connecting mentors and mentees, we’ll fail. Tell senior leaders that they’re expected to mentor a junior colleague, set a minimum expected SLA for mentors, and give it a value in the leader’s performance objectives, and suddenly the pressure to make the relationship succeed pivots from HR as a third party to the mentor.

By creating a clear line between strategy and strategic planning we’re telling our colleagues across the organisation that we are creating solutions to their problems. The EDI strategy isn’t a distraction or a social justice project; it has a clear value proposition that supports you, people in the finance team, and you, people in the sales team, and you, people in the service team, to achieve your own strategic goals.

An independent audit of the current situation helps ensure the foundations are in place and that gaps can be highlighted – both at a legislative and at a best practice level.  This involves interviews with key stakeholders, a document review, analysis of employee data, employee survey results and employee interviews.  The resulting report can be delivered as a document outlining short-term and longer-term recommendations or a presentation to senior leaders.

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Structuring your strategy

There are five key components to the perfect EDI Strategy:

Overall aim

With an explanation of why this is the main aim and how this relates to the organisation’s main strategic priorities. This section is forward looking – a vision of the organisation in a future where the organisation’s main strategic goals have been met.


Where we are now, and why it’s a problem. This section is focused on your organisation’s past, identifying the underlying reasons behind why both the Overall aim (above) and the EDI Strategy are required. The background should take the reader right up to the second before this document was written and is a good place to include any independent audits.

Competitor / benchmarking information

Where we are now in relation to the external environment. This section provides supporting evidence for why the EDI Strategy is important and why you have selected the priorities you have. Again, refer back to the Overall aim and how other organisations are approaching their own challenges.

Current situation including achievements and progress

You’ve reached the metaphorical banana skin! Whilst the temptation is to showcase how brilliant we are and wax lyrical about our success, this section should be the shortest. Here is your opportunity to provide evidence to add credibility to your strategic vision but remember that strategy is long-term thinking. Awards, achievements, and milestones are the consequence of what you’ve done, and whilst an essential part of reviews, reflection and analysis, should mainly form part of the background section.

EDI priorities 

Now we finally reach the how of your strategy. Identify the tangible priorities along with manageable KPIs. In our example above, we may want to do this by increasing the proportion of women in leadership positions from 20% to 25% in year 1, reaching 40% by year 3. By including a medium term and long-term target we ensure we’re thinking long term, as well as breaking ambitious goals into manageable steps. Use all the space you’ve saved by trimming down your long list of previous wins to produce really clear priorities that explain how creating change in this area will directly contribute to better results across the organisation. 

Well done! You’ve written your EDI Strategy without falling into the trap of turning it into a strategic planning document. Now it’s time for the strategic planning. Your action plan sets out the whats and whos that turn your strategy into activity. Use the EDI priorities from your strategy as headings and place your planned activities and initiatives beneath each. Some activities may contribute to multiple priorities – this is excellent and demonstrates efficiency in your planning. Simply describe the activity in full the first time it’s featured, and summarise it, with a brief explanation of how it specifically impacts this priority, on all subsequent priorities.

The action plan would include any new policies/procedures/processes required, reviews of existing ones, EDI related training, communication campaigns, engagement surveys, recruitment related proposals, and monitoring and measurement activities.

By taking this approach you ensure your priorities are all aligned to the organisation’s priorities, and all your activity is aligned to your priorities. You’re demonstrating that EDI is a key contributor to organisational success and that you’ve got a firm grasp of the organisation’s needs and priorities. Well done superstar!