Here’s Why Your ERG Will Fail

In 2003, Ford reported making $290 million in sales through referrals from their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). They encouraged members of their ERGs to promote the company’s “Friends and Neighbours” discount programme.

In 2020, the Alexa team at Amazon UK launched a quiz for their customers that got more user engagement than any other quiz that year. Why? They partnered with their Black Employee Network to create the quiz and help their UK customers to expand their knowledge of Black British history. 

Employee Networks like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can bring immense value to an organisation and help to create a more inclusive workplace. But unfortunately, many organisations are not tapping into the full potential of their ERGS. 

Often, HR and DEI teams leave their ERG leaders to “figure it out” and are not set up to succeed. Having started and led an ERG for years, I’ve seen ERGs fail for the same reasons. 

Your ERG doesn’t have a clear purpose and plan

If your ERG doesn’t have a clear purpose, it’s hard to create a strategy for how you will achieve your goals. It will be even harder to align your goals with the HR or DEI team’s goals. Sometimes the purpose of the ERG is clear, but the plan to achieve the goals is not. For your ERG to succeed, your purpose and strategy need to be aligned. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing “busy work”. 

You’re doing too many things

People who start ERGs often want to improve so many things within their workplace. They end up making a long list of things to do initially and quickly become overwhelmed. When I coach ERG leaders, we work on narrowing down the list of things they do. We identify their responsibilities and what their People, DEI and Leadership team’s responsibilities are. 

You don’t have enough supporters

You need different types of supporters to run an ERG effectively. Some supporters will show up more often than others. If you’re struggling with consistent support, it’s usually because:

  1. Your purpose and strategy are unclear, so people don’t really understand how they can help you. 
  2. You haven’t clearly defined what you need people to do, and you’re not following up to ensure it happens. 

You don’t have a sponsor

Executive Sponsors are crucial to an ERG’s success. Successful ERGs often have great sponsors. An executive sponsor can use their influence (and even budget) within the organisation to help you achieve your goalsNeed a high profile speaker for an event? Your sponsor might know someone who knows someone. They can also help you make connections with people externally. 

You don’t have a clear structure

Who’s leading the ERG? What is their responsibility? Do you have project teams within the ERG focusing on specific goals? 

An ERG is a community-led organisation, and the quickest way for it to fail is to avoid having clear roles, responsibilities and a structure. If no one is accountable for anything, it won’t get done. If you don’t want your ERG to fail, create a clear purpose with a plan and use it to find the right supporters and sponsors to help you achieve your goals. 

About the author: Aisha Suleiman is an award-winning diversity and inclusion leader, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. In recognition of her work in the diversity and inclusion space, Aisha has been included in lists such as the Investing in Ethnicity Top 8 Future Leaders (2018) and the EMpower 100 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders (2020).  Through her company, The Inclusive Culture, Aisha helps organisations achieve their diversity, inclusion, and business goals through effective employee networks as part of their journey towards a more inclusive workplace.

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