The need to create an inclusive work environment is becoming a
critical strategy for success, particularly as organizations
continue to raise the bar on individual and collective performance
and employ strategies to attract and leverage the skills of an
increasingly diverse workforce.
Creating an inclusive work environment requires more than
incremental change; it requires breakthrough change. It means a
radical shift in the mindsets and skill sets of people at all
levels. It calls for a different approach to problem solving,
setting goals, and accomplishing organizational results. It
encompasses leadership style, the expectations of every person,
decision-making approaches, partnerships within and across teams
and organizations, reward and recognition systems, and
accountability--in short, every major component of organizational
life. The following eight steps can help organizations make the
Tie inclusion to the organization's vision, mission,
strategy, and direction.
Inclusion is not an end itself, but a means for achieving higher
operational performance. One leader recently discussed inclusion as
a key business strategy: "Every moment, in every room, we don't
know how much talent, knowledge, and ideas are being wasted." For
an inclusion culture change effort to be successful it must be
positioned and communicated as a key strategy to achieve the
organization's mission and direction, as well as structured for
success with appropriate resources and leadership commitment.
Connect the effort to each person's ability to contribute
and do their best work, together. Answer: "What's in it for
For an inclusive environment to take hold, each person needs to
understand what is in it for them and what is expected of them in
this new environment. The goal of an inclusive environment is to
create a workplace in which each person not only feels a sense of
belonging but is able to do her or his best work. It entails a
two-way street--one in which the work environment encourages
involvement and each person brings their brain and voice to work
and every situation they encounter; and a work environment in which
people are willing to speak up, share their ideas, and include
others. It calls on a higher level of contribution and of people
"showing up" more fully at work. The breakthrough to an inclusive
environment must be one in which each individual feels they have an
important and valued role to play in the organization's success--a
success that is the result of access to a wider range of ideas,
experiences, and perspectives, and that breeds more innovation,
better problem solving, and fuller vision.
Treat all people as talent and key assets.
Many organizations claim that "people are our biggest assets," but
don't nurture, value, and leverage this asset. An inclusive
environment leverages the right talent to find the right solutions
to the organizations' concerns, issues, or problems. If you want
people to "bring their brains to work," you must create an
environment that encourages people to bring bold ideas to the table
and rewards a wide range of thinking. The environment cannot be one
in which conformity is a key to acceptance.
Develop new expectations and competencies.
Inclusion is about competence and a raised level of results from
partnering with others. To work effectively in an inclusive
environment people need to have the ability to:
- partner with others
- work on diverse teams
- collaborate across the organization
- deal effectively with conflict
- coach others
- take risks
- speak up and share their experiences, ideas, and thinking.
As an organization becomes more inclusive, it needs to reassess and
redefine competencies and the hiring and promotion criteria for
people at all levels.
Provide visible leadership that models the new
Leaders can talk all they like, but until they start demonstrating
inclusive behaviors themselves, a new culture will not take root.
Inclusion cannot be delegated down--it starts at the top as a new
way of interacting and working throughout the organization. When
people see leaders living it--collaborating across the
organization, soliciting people's opinions and acting on them, and
valuing knowledge over hierarchy--they know the initiative is for
real. As one client told us, "I will know we are serious about
inclusion when leaders start asking a different set of questions."
Develop a comprehensive pipeline strategy for retention and
Attracting and retaining a diverse group of people who have the
right skills to achieve higher operational performance will not
just happen. It calls for a deliberate realignment of all processes
focused on talent and people, including brand strategies;
aggressive hiring and sourcing strategies; internal competencies
for hiring and interviewing a diverse pool of candidates;
thoughtful integration processes; development, coaching, and
mentoring metrics that hold managers accountable for the retention
of talent. In an inclusive organization allowing individuals to
contribute as quickly as they can becomes a key metric for assuring
that the organization is getting the best thinking from its people.
Create and support multigenerational work teams and
Organizations always struggle with blending new people (with fresh
perspectives and ideas) and seasoned people (who have invaluable
experience and wisdom); usually, new people are ignored or stifled.
Support groups and work teams need to nurture a process and a
dynamic that gives younger people opportunities to contribute their
ideas more readily. Creating partnerships among the four
generations that are in most organizations also assures that as
people are retiring, the knowledge and experience they hold does
not get lost along the way.
Hold people accountable for coaching and leading inclusive
and diverse teams.
As with any critical business imperative, it is all about results.
Merely "trying" (and failing) to be more inclusive is no more
acceptable than "trying" (and failing) to generate sales, provide
excellent customer service, or ensure quality products. People
throughout the organization need to be held accountable for
modeling inclusive behaviors. This will only happen when specific
procedures and reward systems use inclusion as a criterion for
Creating an inclusive organization is a major undertaking for any
organization. For many, it means the very DNA of the organization
("the way we have always done business") must change. As most
businesses today know, change is coming faster and faster.
Inclusion is a key strategy to enable organizations to be the
adaptive, creative, and innovative organizations that will succeed
today and in the future.
2007 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.