NI Corporate Impact Strategy and Practice

ICYMI, NI (the company formerly known as National Instruments) has staked out some bold new directions. It is now called simply NI. The corporate identity also includes new logo and bold new colors.

That can be mere cosmetics. It has also just announced its 10-year corporate impact strategy, aimed at addressing some of our most pressing environmental, societal, and economic issues. The goals cover three pillars:

  • Changing the faces of engineering
  • Building a thriving and equitable society
  • Engineering a healthy planet

That could also be mere words written for a corporate annual report only to be forgotten in the quest for sales, profits, survival.

To probe more deeply, I was able to connect with Tabitha Upshaw, NI’s Head of Corporate Impact, to discuss more on these goals and what NI is actually doing. She took some time out of a busy day to brief me on the details of the goals and directions. I acknowledged that this sounds great and also within the history and culture of NI—a company I’ve followed since 1998 when it was an upstart entrepreneurial company. The refreshing part is in the details. She (and the team) has organized governance teams, working groups, reporting—all the tools of good management. I think they are actually going to follow through to make an impact.

NI Launches 10-Year Strategy and Goals for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Sustainability 

Company also makes $3.4 million commitment to advancing diversity in STEM education

February 03, 2021 09:00 AM Eastern Standard Time

NI released Engineering Hope, its 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy, outlining the company’s vision and aspirational goals for making a measurable, positive impact on society and the environment by 2030. The long-term plan to advance diversity, equity and sustainability furthers NI’s promise to Engineer Ambitiously, connecting people, ideas and technology to take on the world’s greatest challenges.

“The world is facing pressing challenges, from climate change to inequality. Engineering will play a pivotal role in confronting these issues, which is why we must collectively lead the change we hope to see in society,” said NI President and CEO Eric Starkloff. “We are focusing our efforts in areas like sustainability, diversity and equity – areas in which we can drive important, meaningful impact at NI, in the engineering field and in society at large.”

Over the next decade, NI is dedicated to creating impact in three areas by working toward a set of 15 goals and commitments, including two “moonshot” diversity goals. The strategy reflects a yearlong process to assess NI’s environmental impact and the priorities of employees, customers and other stakeholders. See the full strategy and goal list at ni.com/engineeringhope2030.

  • Changing the faces of engineering: NI is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion across its workforce and management teams and throughout the engineering industry. NI’s “moonshot” goals are based on the aspiration for its workforce to mirror society overall. With that in mind, NI has set specific 2030 goals to increase the representation of women and people of color in its workforce and in management roles, based on global and U.S. demographics.Achieving this goal, particularly in technical fields, will require focus not just within NI, but also on educational opportunities for underserved communities. NI will continue supporting the future generation of engineers by giving to and volunteering with STEM education initiatives. NI will invest $3.4 million globally over the next four years in STEM education initiatives that serve underrepresented or economically disadvantaged students. Its first grantees, Code2College and Project Lead The Way, will each receive $100,000 per year for the next four years to expand their hands-on learning programs.
  • Building a thriving and equitable society: By 2030, NI’s goal is for 16% of its suppliers to be small or diverse businesses. This is part of NI’s commitment to increasing equity and well-being among its employees and in the communities where they live and work. The company will also work toward achieving pay equity, advancing comprehensive well-being programs and supporting economic opportunity initiatives through giving and volunteering.
  • Engineering a healthy planet: By 2030, NI’s goal is to achieve Zero Waste at NI-owned buildings and reduce waste at leased facilities worldwide. The company will also work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve resources and design all new buildings to LEED and WELL standards. NI will also pursue circular design improvements to its products and packaging and donate or discount NI products to organizations developing green technologies.

To further progress toward these goals, NI has issued a 2+1 Giving Pledge: By 2030, the company will increase giving from 1% to 2% of annual, pre-tax profits in the form of monetary and product donations. And NI employees will have the opportunity to spend 1% of their work hours volunteering in their communities.

“This strategy builds upon NI’s culture of caring and long legacy of corporate citizenship,” said NI Head of Corporate Impact Tabitha Upshaw. “At the same time, it goes beyond philanthropy to integrate corporate impact into most every aspect of our business, especially the way we empower our customers, educators and innovators to use NI products for good.”

The strategy is also designed to be iterative, and NI may scale its commitments and goals as its programs evolve and mature. NI will publish an annual corporate impact report that measures against its 2019 baseline data.

About NI

At NI, we bring together the people, ideas and technology so forward thinkers and creative problem solvers can take on humanity’s biggest challenges. From data and automation to research and validation, we provide the tailored, software-connected systems engineers and enterprises need to Engineer Ambitiously every day.

Book Suggestion Undaunted, Overcoming Doubts and Doubters

“I think I stopped listening at ‘Sweetie’.”

She had had an accomplished career in sales and executive positions with fast-moving companies. Then she started a company bottling flavored, unsweetened water. Curious about some aspects of the business, she took up a friend’s contact suggestion and talked with an executive at Coca-Cola. During the conversation, he said, “Listen sweetie…”

Kara Golden used that slight as the impetus to succeed with her new company, Hint. And succeed it did. After many struggles and setbacks.

Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts + Doubters reveals her story about building a company in a competitive market. They chose a perfect picture for the cover. I look at the set of her jaw and the look in her eyes and have no doubt but what she’d be a success.

Many of the dozen readers of this blog are in the food & beverage market, perhaps building bottling machines or doing custom, contract filling and capping. Integral to the story is the pursuit of contract companies that would help her get her product to market. We learn most of the factors it takes from conception to testing to production to marketing to merchandising for success in the market.

It’s a great read for all of us. I’d especially recommend getting a copy for your daughters. We still live in a society that glorifies rich, white, men (or if you’re in another country, drop the “white” part). If the other half of the population is encouraged to succeed, it lifts all of us.

Oh, yes, I recommend the water, too.

Do Standup Meetings Inhibit Innovation?

Blog Stand Ups Inhibit Innovation

Andy Wu of Harvard Business School and his doctoral student Sourobh Ghosh embedded a field experiment in a Google hackathon to investigate the impact of stand-up meetings—a core component of agile management practices—on innovation. They found that the teams that engaged in them developed less-novel products. The conclusion: Stand-up meetings inhibit innovation.

This thought was quoted in a blog post by an acquaintance in Belgium, Yves Mulkers, whom I had met on a trip to Germany several years ago. His Website/business is 7wData.

Those of us with familiarity with Lean thinking know the standup as a daily first thing information and daily goal-setting time. You “stand up” to keep the meeting a short as possible, but no shorter. The standup is conducted where the action is. When people gather in conference rooms in the morning, they have their coffee or tea, a doughnut, and settle into their chairs. A 30-minute catch up time can become a 60-minute waste of time.

I am slightly familiar with the various software development organizing hacks. But this one seems to me to be applying the wrong tool for the purpose. There is a time to sit and have an intense discussion with coffee or Hint water or whatever. There is a time to do a standup in order to maintain focus and get done. 

Innovation does not come from committees or meetings. People need time to think on their own to come up with ideas. I insist on the 20-Things method. Sit alone with your coffee and a blank pad of paper and a pen. Put your topic or question at the top. Then quickly start listing possible solutions. By item 20, you should have evolved the idea completely away from where you started and come to a satisfying conclusion.

And when you are doing research, don’t make an observation and then just jump to a broad conclusion. Step back and take a different view. Maybe additional insights will come to you.

3 Cognitive Biases Perpetuating Racism at Work — and How to Overcome Them

Life is a series of paradoxes. We’re living in a time of many people either temporarily or permanently losing their jobs while other companies are struggling to find qualified people to hire.

When we dip into the labor pool, are we limiting our searches through something called Cognitive Bias?

I ran across this article at the World Economic Forum by Adwoa Bagalini, its Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead. He identifies three cognitive biases and shares some ideas for overcoming. Not to give away a punchline, but most of us should be students of W. Edwards Deming and/or Taiichi Ohno and should have learned about changing the process, not the individual.

From the paper.

We do know is that lasting, positive change is difficult to achieve without deliberate, sustained effort informed by reliable data that is free from bias. And it’s important not to underestimate the role cognitive bias can play in undermining these efforts – and to stay vigilant in spotting and mitigating it.

What is cognitive bias?

Human brains are hardwired to take shortcuts when processing information to make decisions, resulting in “systematic thinking errors”, or unconscious bias. When it comes to influencing our decisions and judgments around people, cognitive or unconscious bias is universally recognized to play a role in unequal outcomes for people of colour.

1. Moral licensing

This is when people derive such confidence from past moral behaviour that they are more likely to engage in immoral or unethical ways later. In a 2010 study, researchers argued that moral self-licensing occurs “because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard”, and future problematic behaviour does not evoke the same feelings of negative self-judgment that it otherwise would.

Moral licensing may help explain the limitations of corporate unconscious bias training in creating an anti-racist work environment, an effect which has already been observed when it comes to tackling gender inequality.

2. Affinity bias

This is our tendency to get along with others who are like us, and to evaluate them more positively than those who are different. Our personal beliefs, assumptions, preferences, and lack of understanding about people who are not like us may lead to repeatedly favouring ‘similar-to-me’ individuals.

Many hiring managers have a hard time articulating their organization’s specific culture, or explaining what exactly they mean when they say “culture fit”, leading to this being misused to engage employees that managers feel they will personally relate to.

3. Confirmation bias

This is the tendency to seek out, favour, and use information that confirms what you already believe. The other side of this is that people tend to ignore new information that goes against their preconceived notions, leading to poor decision-making.

Many people’s perceptions of others with different identities and with whom they have limited interaction, is strongly influenced by media depictions and longstanding cultural stereotypes.

For example, a 2017 study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tended to perceive young Black men as taller, heavier, and more muscular than similarly sized white men, and hence more physically threatening.

How to overcome unconscious bias

1. Change systems, not individuals

The main reason unconscious bias training programmes fail to have the desired effect in creating lasting change, is that they are focused on changing individual behaviours while leaving largely untouched the systems that enabled those behaviours to thrive.

2. Slow down and act deliberately

Bias is most likely to affect decision-making when decisions are made quickly, according to Stanford University psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt, who studies implicit bias in police departments.

3. Set concrete goals and work towards them

Data is essential to making real progress on diversity goals, and especially important when it comes to mitigating the effects of bias because it provides an objective measure of what has improved – or worsened – over time.

Born To Manufacture

This is a stylized bullet used in aircraft machine guns during World War II. By 1940 my grandfather had become a manufacturing production superintendent of a GM plant in Dayton, Ohio that manufactured Frigidaire refrigerators. With the entrance of the US into the war, the Army figured weaponry was more important than refrigerators. They took over the plant and converted it to the manufacture of machine gun bolts to arm aircraft.

When I was quite young, grandpa would tell me stories of how production sucked and a general came to him and gave him the job of turning the plant around and getting production going. The pressure was intense. “We’ve got boys dying over there and we need this support,” he was often told.

By age 10, I had heard (probably several times) about how he had taken a couple of days to stand up on the mezzanine and watch. Then he began reorganizing the equipment and processes to reduce wasted time and motion. And got production up to where it should have been.

He also told me stories of being an apprentice machinist at The Monarch Machine Tool Company making huge lathes and other machinery.

So, I grew up on manufacturing stories. About the lessons he learned when the company sent him to General Motors Institute for classes (not bad for a guy whose step-father wouldn’t let him finish high school).

When I started my career working in manufacturing, I carried his lessons. We were “Lean” before Lean was a thing. If only I were a writer back then…

However

I read many political theorists in graduate school and was deeply affected by reading a short piece by the young Karl Marx on alienation. Marx meant by this that in the days prior to industrialization a craftsman built an entire thing. There was a little piece of “him” in everything he made. It was his creativity, knowledge, skill that went into making something that someone could use for a long time. I knew some craftsmen when I was young. They had little schooling, but they were some of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever known.

Industrialization and mass production brought with it the assembly line. Men (and sometimes women and children under terrible conditions) would be hired at poor wages. They neither had nor were provided with training for skills needed to build a product. Rather, the people were merely a replaceable component in a big and inhumane system. Marx called this “alienation” as in humans were alienated from the fruits of their labor. Fifty years of labor unrest, protests, violence followed as people protested the conditions. And also how a very few became very rich while almost everyone else lived in poverty.

Seth Godin produced some thoughts on this topic (not Marx, but industrialization) in his latest Akimbo podcast. Listen to this and the prior one on Interoperability to get you thinking about the morals and ethics of what we do.

On the one hand, we who strive to make industrial manufacturing and production better provide much benefit to our societies. On the other hand, we need to take care to consider the effects of what we do on people, environment, and society.

I had not intended it since I’m not much of a holiday type of person, but these thoughts seem to go along with the US celebration of Labor Day this weekend. I hope you have a happy and safe one.

Podcast Passion for Teaching Thinking

Maurice Ashley immigrated to a tough part of New York City from Jamaica and later worked diligently to become the first African-American chess grandmaster. Later, he became a teacher of chess to inner city youth. His passion for teaching shines strongly in his interview with Tim Ferriss. I listen to almost an hour of podcasts a day while I workout. Another of my favorites is Wednesday with Seth Godin on Akimbo. Recently quoting Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman as saying I don’t understand people now. They just want answers given to them. They cannot think things through. Seth also tells of an experience with straight-A students where he showed them a gadget and asked them to explain how it worked. They couldn’t. They all just got out notebooks and pens ready to write down the answer. I riff off these for my latest Podcast.