Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – My friend Keith Pigues is the founder and CEO of Luminas Strategy, a Research Triangle Park company focused on customer-driven growth and innovation. He’s a four-time Chief Marketing Officer who’s led global marketing, strategy and sales at Fortune 100 and mid-market firms in a range of industries, and he used to teach for both North Carolina Central University and Kenan-Flagler Business School. However, he might be best known for his 2010 book, Winning with Customers: A Playbook for B2B

Keith is an expert in value creation and a big voice in local conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). A few weeks ago, we sat down together to talk about teams, strategy and bias, and frankly, I just loved what Keith had to say. You should listen to the full interview on my podcast as well, but I wanted to share a little of it here. If you have something you’d like to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Reach out on LinkedIn or leave a comment below.

Donald Thompson: Keith, when I look at your LinkedIn profile, I’m impressed by the number of things you’ve done and people that you’ve helped, but one of the things that jumps out is when you talk about being an advocate for women in leadership and diversity in technology. Tell me a little bit about your perspective there. 

Keith Pigues: Those two areas are important to me, because I’ve experienced what happens when people aren’t treated fairly. I’ve experienced what happens when you’ve got incredible talent, literally or figuratively sitting on the sidelines, and you’re trying to accomplish results. 

I remember growing up playing sandlot basketball. When you’re choosing teams, one person just chooses all of his friends because they came there together. But two of his friends are really bad basketball players. They keep getting whipped.  Yet, there are two other all-star basketball players, just sitting on the side saying, “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!,” but they choose their friends instead. 

I’ve found that to be the case so many times in my corporate career. All of the major companies I worked for, I would look around the business and see so much underutilized talent. And let’s face it, most of the people who were selected for their roles were people whom the leaders had already been rolling with — people they were going company to company with. Yet, in many cases, they weren’t the A-players. In fact, they would push the A-players aside in favor of their friends, or those they knew well and those they trusted. In many cases, those people sitting on the sidelines were women and people of color, particularly black people. 

We’re having this reckoning right now, but this is not anything new. No one should be surprised or shocked. This has been going on for a long time. So, I devote a lot of time and effort to those two areas — women in leadership and diversity in technology — because I think there’s a lot of talent that could create a lot of value for ventures and organizations in this country. We need to continually find a way to get the best team on the field.

DT: You’re in the business of improving productivity of CEOs, CMOs and leadership teams. What would you share to help them understand the business value of diversity in key roles? How would you help them move into the direction of inclusion?

KP: I’d sum it up in three points. The first thing that I say to leaders is “Be human. Look at people as human beings, and treat them the way you want to be treated.” Leaders don’t lead profit and loss statements. We don’t lead balance sheets or plants or laboratories. We lead people, so be a human being. 

The second thing that I say is, “Get beyond the rhetoric.” Get beyond the statements. All the organizations have made statements, and we appreciate them, but let’s get beyond them and get real with your organization. Get real about where you are. I have a former pastor of mine who used to say “You got to get real if you want to get healed.” You have to act with that humility and authenticity to say, “I know we’re not perfect. I know we’ve got a lot of work to do, but before I put on this public face, let me just take a look in the mirror. Let me take a look into our organization and say, ‘Folks, where are we really?’”

Number three is, “This is a business problem or opportunity. Let’s keep it strategic.” What’s really interesting for me around DEI is that, as leaders, if there is an opportunity or a challenge in the marketplace, what do we do? We get educated. We explore. We might even bring in outside consultants to help us understand the market, the opportunity, the technology, the customers, or whatever it is. Second, we create a vision, right? Where is it that we want to be? Then, we develop a strategy and some metrics of success. We hold people accountable, and we incentivize them to get the results that we want. It’s a tried-and-true formula.

DT: Keith, that is a masterclass in handling objections and developing a process. How can you think smartly about something quickly, right? It’s not overly complicated, and it’s similar to what executives do all the time. 

I would add that there is a fear about the unknown when it comes to race, gender and sexual orientation that makes the tried-and-true business principles break down, because there’s something people are afraid of when they don’t have experience with it. That’s the thing that I see in the work we’re doing at The Diversity Movement. If we can have a conversation with executive teams, without judgment, then we can move into the education component. We can link DEI to their economic drivers and goals. We can see more motion. 

But, left to people’s own devices, there are so many other things they can do with their time, that they let that fear of change get in the way. They think “If I promote more African Americans, there’s less for me. If I promote and grow more women, there’s less for me.” Somebody’s got to teach people that this is a business of growing the entire pie. If we grow the pie of a successful enterprise, there’s plenty for everyone. 

Listen to Donald’s full interview with Keith Pigues on The Donald Thompson Podcast.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson is CEO of Walk West, a multi award winning digital marketing firm, and co-founder of The Diversity Movement, a technology-driven diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultancy. He is a serial entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, and Executive Coach. He is also a board member for several organizations in healthcare, technology, marketing, sports and entertainment, a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE), and a thought leader on goal achievement and influencing company culture. You can connect with Donald through LinkedIn or at donaldthompson.com