Developing inclusive leadership at one of the world’s most iconic brands

Our Inclusive Leadership programme for adidas has broken new ground when it comes to the way we design, build and roll out our course content. The course demonstrates how – with our specialist support – companies can unlock the resources contained within their own people, and use them to progress their own diversity agenda.

adidas originally approached us to help build the capacity of their managers to think, act and behave inclusively. In response, we developed a series of one-day inclusive leadership sessions for all 220 managers at their UK headquarters in Stockport. During our custom design process, we collaborated with their senior leadership to identify a number of business-focused outcomes. The end-goal of our programme therefore became to use inclusive practice to spearhead innovation, increase customer reach, sales and satisfaction, and ultimately get ahead in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

How even the best brands stand to gain

“We built this course from the inside out,” says EW Group MD Rachael Wilson. “It resonates with adidas managers in a unique way because we invested the time in genuinely getting to know the people and their culture. I personally spent a week on-site at their HQ, and that research has been the basis for many of the ‘light-bulb’ moments woven into this course.”

“adidas is a truly fantastic place to work, but even in the most engaged and productive workplaces there are adjustments and quarter-turns which will deliver improvements. This course offers an intelligent and informed space for managers and leaders to identify those small actions which, when combined, will make a huge difference to the business. By channelling the current adidas culture and relaying it back to their managers, we could set out a clear, compelling blueprint for the marginal gains they were craving.”

Building a course full of insight and innovation

Developed in close collaboration with adidas, we placed great emphasis on storytelling, beginning with an example taken from the Pride campaign originated by adidas’s own LGBT network. We also brought in other industry insights to show how being proactive on inclusion can contribute to notable rises in team performance and engagement.

“Having all the company’s people managers on board meant there was a real blend of experience in every session, in terms of management experience, skills and background. This encouraged stimulating peer-to-peer discussion, debate and challenge. As a facilitator, I felt I could provoke honest and thought-provoking conversations, so that everyone left the session with a small behaviour that they themselves felt accountable for changing. And it’s these shifts, when combined, that lie at the heart of developing a great inclusive culture.”

“By giving the people managers a day to step back from their ‘day jobs’, they got the time to hold up a mirror to themselves and reflect. It’s an invaluable process, and something I think all leaders should take time to do regularly.”

“Our objective was two-fold: we wanted the managers to understand why inclusive leadership is so important, and we wanted them to have a clear view on what they needed to do differently to make it happen.”

Making this a ‘doing’ course for managers

The programme secured senior buy-in from adidas Group UK MD Gavin Thomson, who recorded a video message demonstrating his personal investment in building inclusive cultures. This was supported by our own strong evidence base for diversity and inclusion, presented in the form of a custom-built quiz with facilitated discussion of the answers.

Together the managers explored themes ranging from how inclusion can unlock staff potential and spark higher levels of engagement and innovation, to the positive impact it can have on market share and the bottom line. We also included questions on the specific diversity of Greater Manchester, designed to spark conversations and knowledge-sharing about the experiences of various diverse groups in the local area.

Working together in this way, we have built the capacity of adidas Group leaders to identify the effect their own micro-behaviours have on company culture. Crucially, they leave our sessions feeling empowered and emboldened – with a clear plan for what they are going to do differently, and why.

“The day itself was interspersed with various exercises and experiences designed to create powerful ‘light-bulb’ moments for the managers. We wanted to accommodate people’s own individual approaches and styles: no leadership behaviours prescribed or even suggested. As a result, what we found is that the light-bulb lit up for different people at different points in the day.”

“And by the end of the day? Everyone really got it. Not only did they understand how inclusion works and why it matters, they seemed genuinely motivated to lead differently. Each manager left with a clear and personalised commitment to exactly what they were going to change.”

Find out more about developing inclusive leadership with EW Group

Inclusive Leadership Training