July 22, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 43rd in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.
I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder, it is my hope that the rallying cries for systemic change and our progress on social justice will only accelerate. We are sustaining our voice for change, but we must continue the work.
My 21st guest is Ravi Norman, the CEO of Norman Global Enterprises, a holding company of various businesses. In the past, he was promoted from CFO to CEO of Thor Construction, once the largest minority-owned business in our state. He is a long-respected Minneapolis entrepreneur and currently serves as the chair of the YMCA of the North board of directors. He's brought so much wisdom to our board with his unique command of analytics, equity, finance and operations, and strategy. Not surprisingly, Ravi has served on many important committees and boards, including The Minneapolis Regional Chamber, Summit Academy OIC and The Greater MSP.
Ravi is the proud husband of Amanda and father to three children, Sydney (23), Richard (18) and Saylah (11).
I hope you'll enjoy Part 2 of my talk with Ravi Norman. (You can read part one here)
Glen: What are some of the challenges leaders face?
Ravi: I tell people you have to prioritize your principles and let me give you a classic example of this. So I was participating in a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) leadership cohort, and an African-American guy — I won't say his name — did a great job facilitating the group. In the very first meeting, he went around to each one of us, and we had to go and basically state our principles. I agreed with the concept, and it was awesome. Every person went, and you got to hear everybody's principles and values. But then when we were done, it was sitting on the wall, like a big word cloud, and then he moved on.
And that was the one part where I saw a breakdown that ultimately occurred in this principle section that is foundationally critical to every individual, family, organization and community. And the reason I say it's important is one of the CEOs had seven characteristics. One was compassion, and I believe there were a lot of people who are empathetic and want to be good people and believe in love, nurturing and investment, and realize compassion is a great principle and value to possess. But another principle that he had — that I don't fault him for — was competition. He believes in wanting to be in a competitive environment and believes that there's something that comes out of the productivity and efficiency of wanting to win right now. Here's, what's interesting. If I just leave you with a word cloud of compassion and competition, guess what? There's a whole decision tree and game theory that goes on with your behaviors, time and investments off of both of those values, that can almost be the antithesis of one another or diametrically opposed.
I actually stopped and raised my hand during our cohort. If we're all one, are you 0.7 competitive and 0.3 compassionate? Or are you 0.3 competitive and 0.7 compassionate? And of course, it always changes on these applied realities. But I always tell people, wherever you go, there you are in your fullness. So the reality of it is, can you imagine what that game theory decision tree looks like, if you're 70 percent competitive versus if you were driving it off of a 70 percent compassionate agenda? You can just imagine that there's complete differences in what that ultimately looks like.
Glen: Tell me about P.R.I.C.E, because I really admire how you articulate that.
Ravi: The first aspect of P.R.I.C.E is to do a comparative analysis of your foundational principles, and think about how they ultimately show up in the "R," which are your Reasons.
And then reasons is where you start to define some of your decision problems, at both a macro and a micro level, and goals. You have these really big, high order purposes that happen at a macro level. "I want to live my best life possible." That might be a really big one, but then you have a bunch of micro goals in order to live your best life possible.
Again, I take that through a very disciplined process of prioritization and weights and a quantitative exercise to qualitative aspects. And then inside of your reasons. I always tell people, I really didn't know a bunch of my reasons until I met my wife. Because the depth of my reasons expanded once I had people that identified that were bigger than just myself. It wasn't just about my own aspirations. It was about, 'What did I need to do to be a great husband and a father, and build a family and build a legacy and build generational concepts?' Those are called stakeholder interests, in my opinion. You have to clearly identify who that stakeholder group is because their opinion and perspectives helps to shape your reasons.
So once you have your principles, you can map those to your reasons, then the "I" in your P.R.I.C.E. is Inputs. Every single one of us is contributing something as the identified user to the achievement of outcomes, right? Whether it be your time, whether it be your energy, whether it be your ideas, whether it be your money, whatever you ultimately put into something, your inputs have to be confirmed. Look at them with a certain level of discipline about making transparent contributions. If the principle section is knowing yourself, and the reason section is identifying your purpose, the "I" is about making transparent contributions of what you have to input. Again, that internal generation conversation. That leads to the "C" in P.R.I.C.E., which is Constraints.
Cause guess what? I believe God wants us to think in a very abundant way, wants us to be abundant in the spirit. But a lot of the things that we deal with in the flesh are constrained. And although time is metaphysical and quantum, most of us experience it in a linear sequence. So when the time is gone and spent, I haven't figured out how to get it back because I just haven't figured out the time travel thing yet.
All of your inputs have a constraint. And I think God designed it that way so that we didn't think we were God. That ultimately we knew we were going to have a reliance on Him, to be able to get the most out of who we are, and that we were going to have the need for others, in that two or more, to bring worship, and God shows up in those environments.
So you have to be able to confirm your limitations on those inputs, because you have limitations on your time. You have limitations on your energy, money, ideas, etc. You have to be able to understand and confirm what the limitations of your inputs are to your desired achievements.
And a lot of us have to deal in trade-off implications. It'd be great that we didn't have to trade some things off, but because constraints exist, we wind up having to, so if you can acknowledge your limited resources, it takes you through a process of constraint. And then the "E" in P.R.I.C.E, is Expectations.
These are where you actually set up your performance dimensions. For an individual, you have several performance dimensions. Maybe it's spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, relational. Heck, we're in a capitalistic society, so I'm sure economic and financial is another performance and expectation place. And we get into a lot of detailed work around, 'What are those expectations?'
The same thing is honestly true, if I'm an organization. I run a business, and we're always having to think about all of these things that tie into, 'What business should we be in? What is our business lines? How does the market work? What is our strategy, our structure, our sales and marketing, our operations, our finance?' Same things that we have to do at an organization like the Y. Glen, communities do the same thing. They have to think about policies and practices and products and programs, and then donations and contributions. And they think about housing, business, talent, taxation, transportation, sustainability, innovation, etc. My point being, I don't think people recognize how much the P.R.I.C.E. you have to pay in the trading of the equity, if you are your best equity. And so because of that, people need tools.
They need a generative system of thought-language and actions that help serve to enhance people's ability to discern, coordinate and implement values-based principles in complex, decision-making. I tell people that if you just think about all the complexity that goes into our decision-making process, there's a reason that they give you bullet points in threes!
Because the average person typically can only process three pieces of variable data points in the cascading results from it at any one time. A genius, they say, can deal with six and all the other variables. That's why they also talk about six degrees of separation and everything.
And I show people that you need this understanding of the intersection between cost and value for P.R.I.C.E., so you can understand who you are. As an equity piece, that's being traded in a relational context.
Now what's important about all of this is, once equity is under the definition that I put, I think it does something that's really interesting, when you're truly measuring stewardship, regardless of race, regardless of faith, regardless of sexual orientation, etc. If it's a true stewardship measurement that's tied to the dignity and respect piece we talked about, and the internal generation of dreams, work, competencies positively correlated to access, opportunity and recognition, with our resiliency factor around starting inputs, structural challenges and support mechanisms, now you have stewardship. And through stewardship, I believe, is where trust is built. I think equitable cultures actually build more trust because you start to identify the inequities. Honestly, there's internal inequities and external inequities. And we all know, there's instances that you can easily point to it, regardless of certain racial situations or whether its sexual orientation, gender, whatever.
We could speak to scenarios where we see — and this is the same thing for families, organizations and communities — and go, 'Wow, look at the level of dreams, and work, and competencies that person has.' And then when we see a distortion, where the access, the opportunity and the recognition isn't positively correlated, we've conceived that inequity. That's an external inequity because the internal generation is doing what it should be doing and deserves more access, opportunity and recognition based upon the stewardship ideal. And the reverse is also true. How many instances have we had where we know that there is someone who doesn't necessarily have the right level of dreams, disciplined work, or competencies, but they receive all the access, opportunity, and recognition. That's an internal inequity.
It feels like, 'Wow, why are they getting all these external provision opportunities?' And that, in essence, is where people try to dig at the white privilege conversation. I say, if it's a stewardship model, and the white privilege is tied to the fact that it actually is positively correlated to the level of their dreams, work and competence, and it's taken into account — the starting inputs, structural challenges and support mechanisms that maybe have helped them get there — then it's an equitable perspective and they may deserve certain privileges, access, opportunity and recognition. It's a definite problem, though, when it's not. And that's true no matter if you're Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Latin X.
Same concept, once you have that kind of trust in the stewardship measurement, to me, you drive something that's really important in this equity dialogue too, which is, most people that I hear talk equity have traditionally talked about it in either a charitable, non-profit context and/or an ancillary marketing endeavor. However, in that context equity not a primary value driver. What's very interesting to me is, those same individuals and institutions and organizations that I talk to, they don't think that way about innovation. Whether it's an individual, organization or community, if you sat and talked about innovation, they would see that as a primary value driver. Everyone's trying to do it, to competitively differentiate themselves.
But here's what's interesting to me. The equity calculation is actually, in my opinion, if you use it in the way I just defined it, in the way I think it's universally applied, it's actually a driver to innovation. Innovation has a dilemma because it is constrained by an adoption curve, with segments of early adoption through market laggards. Well, what's the main thing that you think moves innovation along the adoption curve? Why do you think things are ridiculed in the beginning of somebody coming out with some new ideas?
Because nobody trusted it. 'Hey, it's not proven. Where'd you get that? Who are you?' Until you can prove it to me, I'm not going to jump into it. And we see that all the time, and the way behavioral and risk markets work. But I'm here to tell people that if you actually thought of equity as the stewardship measurement that created a culture, where everyone could see that this is a stewardship environment, trust can be built. When trust is built, you actually can accelerate the adoption curve of innovation. Now we're in a real conversation about the true principles of value drivers, and equity is repositioned as a driver to innovation, and innovation, of course, drives transformation.
I probably spoke for a long time on that, but I hope it was detailed so you understand where I'm coming from with it.
Glen: Ravi, I really appreciate that, and I love the passion that you bring to this and the kind of lifelong work product that you've developed out of it as well. So let's talk about the Y, and how you are leading it as board chair. What do you want to see from the Y? What are some of those aspirations and dreams, relative to where you think the Y can go in this work? And tell me about your Y experience?
Ravi: Here's my main Y connection. My background had a lot of non-traditional, surrogate players who helped me. Basketball coaches were an alternative source of adult intervention and nurturing. There was a guy named Buff, and I honestly don't remember what Buff's actual name was. But he used to come to all our games. I think he went to our high school like 15 years before my class came through. But he just loved the program. And so I can remember that me and my best friend were just walking, and I can remember walking on Pennington Road in Ewing Township, New Jersey, and Buff pulls up and he says, 'What are you guys doing?'
'Oh, we're just getting ready to go and probably play some ball or something. He was like, 'Listen, I want you guys to know something. You're going to be the next state champions that come through our community. And I'm going to tell you something, I'm not going to let what's happening in our community eat you guys up.'
We were seventh going to eighth grade, and it was really great to have that because, of course, I had all this non-traditional stuff going on in the household and in my community. So he wound up taking us to a Y that was right there, and he said, 'We're going to come here. I'm going to work out with you guys three days a week until you win the state championship.' And it was great, having somebody dedicated enough to do it. And actually, a lot of the stuff in my P.R.I.C.E. model came out of those early interactions. Buff was an older white guy, but he had all these brilliant one-liners that he would say. So he had three things: the Bible, the compass and the calculator. With the Bible, he'd say, 'Look, you're going to need to stay in the word and be rooted in some of your principles. He had a compass, and he said, 'You're going to always have to be able to be pointed in the right direction. Don't get distracted. You have to have a goal.' And then he had the calculator, and he would tell us, 'If you can't measure the things that you're doing, or the things that are being done to you, you're going to get taken advantage of.' It was really interesting, the Bible, the compass and the calculator.
Learn more about Ravi by clicking here. Look for Part 3 of our “A Conversation on Race” with Ravi next week.