Leaders have their hands full. They’re dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19’s economic shakeup, rebuilding their teams, and rebuilding a forward-moving strategy. Added to that now are the concerns of equality and inclusion. Since May 26th, protests for racial inequality have occurred in over 2,000 cities and towns in all 50 states.
The climate in the country seems chilly and it’s been harder for some people to connect with one another for fear of conflict. It might seem more comfortable to wait until the unrest settles down to tackle any additional issues besides keeping the doors open. The truth is, this is actually the best time to start addressing the concern about diversity and inclusion in your organization because it’s on everyone’s mind, even if they’re not sharing their thoughts with you. If you run toward the issue now, you can address the elephant in the room and shape some positive outcomes from all the turmoil.
Move Inclusiveness to the Top of the List.
Although there are companies that have overtly incentivized discriminatory practices, most leaders of organizations aren’t actively trying to stifle opportunities for any certain group. And many would say if asked, that their organization welcomes everyone. But without a system in place to help people unite with one another, the culture suffers “benign neglect.” Inevitably, silos and comfort zones begin to take root.
To avoid exclusion creep, successful leaders are building inclusiveness initiatives into their annual business plans, understanding it’s contributions to the organization’s overall health. Then they use ample research and employee feedback to help them design inclusiveness initiatives that don’t just check the boxes, but achieve real results. Most importantly, leaders participate! If a leader hangs back in the corner office while their teams do the tough work, that sucks the sincerity right out of the entire mission.
Inclusiveness isn’t a once a year training, either. Leaders that make inclusiveness stick adopt cultural rituals that continuously encourage self-awareness and accountability for one another’s experience in the workplace. These might include regular workshops, small group activities, and communication tools. For example, companies using Everything DiSC study material are known for their style signs posted in their workspace that tell coworkers their top energizer and deflator. Employees adopt a co-working lifestyle that includes respect for others’ strengths and compassion for their weaknesses.
When rolling out a powerful inclusiveness agenda with multiple activities taking place throughout the year, leaders need to make sure employees know they are expected to participate. Remind them often that their work to maintain unity is as important as the other day-to-day tasks they’re charged with. As a leader, you can help them to make the connection between nurturing an inclusive, unified company culture, and each individual being able to meet the broader productivity goals that have been set for them.
Inclusiveness = Trust.
Boiled down, an inclusive culture is built on trust. So while some organizations focus entirely on the surface metrics and population goals and call it a day, the real buy-in happens when the different individuals within diverse groups begin to truly know and understand one another. Leaders reap the highest rewards when they go beyond an inclusive selection process to encourage and develop trusting relationships between team members. Everyone knows it’s easier to welcome differences in others when we know and trust that an individual isn’t going to stab us in the back. But trust takes time to develop, which is why it sometimes never does. Many other priorities pull people to focus on immediate tasks. Moreover, the depth and reach of colleague relationships can worsen with added stress like a global pandemic and troubled race relations.
Use Time for Trust Building.
Successful inclusion initiatives use company time wisely. Activities are structured to guide a sharing dialogue between individuals. In this way, team members learn vital information about one another each time they meet. Potent sessions mean powerful results. The study, 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, often includes a Personal History team-building activity in which individuals pair up and take time to share about where they grew up, their family makeup, and any challenges they faced as a kid. This one activity sparks a noticeable growth in closeness between participants. Knowing this sort of information about one another can rapidly create bonding and belonging that has positive productivity outcomes. For the highest impact, leaders should participate in connective activities and model the results they want to see in their employees and teams.
If you’re a leader who is still on the fence about addressing inclusion in your teams and organization, now would be a great time to take meaningful action. A well designed and ongoing inclusiveness initiative can unify your team and give them the strength they need to carry the organization through its present challenges and those that await in the future.