Many people think of inclusion as simply a nice thing to do—the soft side of interaction in organizations. They believe that devoting attention to inclusion amid difficult circumstances, in particular, is counterproductive to confronting the challenges at hand.
Yet this is exactly when leaders’ practice of "Inclusion as the HOW"—that is, inclusion as an essential lever of accelerated results and higher performance—becomes critical. In times of crisis, downsizing, or massive change, people need their leaders to communicate honestly and do what they say they will do. By using these and other inclusive behaviors, leaders can build trust, earn loyalty, and enable people to do their best work regardless of the circumstances. How leaders interact and communicate with people is actually more important when challenges arise, not less so. And ironically, the behaviors that many people find more difficult to practice can hold exceptional value during difficult times.
Communicating and listening
Amid downsizing, for instance, people want accurate information that will enable them to manage their expectations and their lives. Because this information can be uncomfortable to share, some leaders may shy away from communicating it. But by using one particular inclusive behavior—leaning into discomfort—they can deliver the news, help people adapt to the ambiguity, and even find new ways of working amid the uncertainty.
Communicating in this way may lead directly to the use of two other inclusive behaviors. People want to do more than simply receive information; it is important for them to speak up about their own fears and concerns. And yet they are more reluctant to do so during difficult times, since keeping one’s mouth shut seems safer. It is essential, then, for leaders to practice listening as allies and addressing misunderstandings and resolving disagreements. When leaders listen as allies, people feel heard and seen for who they are and are more able to speak their concerns out loud. When leaders address misunderstandings, it adds clarity and prevents misinformation from spreading. As a result, both inclusive behaviors build the trust that enables people to continue doing their best work.
Including people in the change
This use of inclusive behaviors also can affect people on a more foundational level—winning a commitment from them that would be difficult to achieve in any other way. As leaders lean into discomfort to deliver difficult news, people feel valued. This makes them more willing to live with the ambiguity of the situation.
When a key unit of an organization was selected for closing, unit leaders decided to practice our list of 12 inclusive behaviors. They not only communicated fully and openly but also encouraged people to speak up and share their perspectives on specific strategies for winding down the unit. The underlying message, delivered time and again, was regardless of your status in this workplace, you matter. That inspired people to commit to the organization and do their best work until the doors closed. At the same time, the organization invested in continuing to develop people, so the process gave them new skills and abilities that made them more marketable as a result.
Beneath actions like these is the foundation for all inclusive behaviors—a joining mindset. In the joining mindset, people approach others from a stance of openness rather than defensiveness. They seek out areas of agreement, find ways to link to others, and foster collaboration. People in a joining mindset listen carefully, remain open, extend trust, value honesty, and are willing to hold difficult conversations with the belief that the investment will bring them closer together. The joining mindset opens the door to building the trust and collaboration that are so foundational to both organizational performance and the ability to withstand the challenging times that individuals and organizations face.
Gaining results amid difficulty
Using inclusive behaviors does not make the difficult issues go away. Organizations will continue to downsize; people will continue to feel anxious; and change will continue to reshape the way people work. It is so easy for people to lose energy, stop speaking up, and refrain from fully contributing in the hopes that this too will pass.
The bottom-line power of Inclusion as the HOW in these situations is to promote interactions that manage people’s concerns, so they can stay focused on working together for the common good and shared success. When people feel heard and seen, when their contributions are valued, when they trust their leaders to communicate as much of the truth as possible, when they receive supportive energy and commitment from their colleagues today—regardless of what the future holds—they are able to bring their best selves, their best thinking, and their best work to the organization.
© 2012 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.