This post is contributed by W Coby Milne
Our Default Thinking:
Our brains are designed to find patterns, trends, and interpretations. This creates a default setting on how we understand things, often lumping the things we do not completely understand into broad categories. Then once they are in those categories and groups, we assume that everything in that category is the same. This is where stereotyping comes from. We identify a group by its broadest commonality and then assume that they all are the same and need the same things.
The obvious problem with lumping everyone together is that we forget to see that a group is merely a collection of unique individuals. The types of things we need are often the same, things like encouragement, respect, etc., but how we need them often looks quite different. How and what we specifically need is often defined by our preferences, the things we prefer are often what makes us different.
In the workplace, someone’s background, culture, ability, education level, etc., strongly impacts their perspective and their preferences at work. However, why someone has specific preferences is not really the important part. Whatthose preferences are is much more important. An inclusive and welcoming workplace sees the uniqueness of the individuals and is concerned that in how it shapes the employee experience. What that looks is what we call Inclusive Engagement. Inclusive Engagement is when a workplace intentionally provides employees what they need in order to feel respected, trusted, encouraged, and inspired in order for them to provide their best work. When we do this, it allows employees to perform better, be more efficient, and reach higher productivity.
Inclusion is not about treating everyone the same, it is about providing people with a unique combination of opportunities to make them successful. If we seek to understand people’s needs as individuals, we can better meet their needs to make them successful. Simply giving everyone the same opportunities, regardless of their need, is how our workplace primarily functions now, which is not inclusion. When we see that different people need different things, and we make all of those needs accessible, that is inclusion.
Many workplaces want to provide an environment that addresses different needs and supports their employees as individuals. However, they are not sure what exactly to provide or what that would even look like?
This is why inclusive engagement is an important place to begin. Start with making a workplace where everyone feels respected, trusted, encouraged, and inspired. To do that you need to approach these 4 factors individually.
Respected – Let people know that their efforts matter. That they are appreciated for their work and heard as individuals. Some people may feel respected by building rapport with their co-workers, others by being provided someone’s complete attention when conversing, others by the gestures and efforts people make to help them. By valuing someone and getting to know how they feel respected and appreciated you can go a long way to making them feel welcome in their workplace. This is mainly about creating recognition at work.
Trusted – Make the effort to build trust among your peers. Trust is about the confidence we place in others to act reliably and with good intentions. This is about transparent expectations and consistent actions. Trust is something that is often tested every day. Every day when someone acts in good faith and consistently meets transparent expectations; a little more trust grows. Providing employees with clear rules and expectations allows them to have a growing sense of faith in those rules and expectations. This is how you build trust and a greater sense of independence in the workplace. Building trust is mainly about creating autonomy at work.
Encouraged – Show employees that their skills matter, and that there is a future for them with their employer. This is about showing an interest in their future and making sure that all employees know that the organization believes in them and their success. No one likes to feel stuck or like they have hit an invisible barrier. Everyone starts a job with enthusiasm, and most of us are excited about the great things we will accomplish. But when we feel like we have maxed out our opportunities and that our success has plateaued, it deflates us. Providing employees opportunities to improve and use their skills, shows them that their potential is noticed and they should bring their full self to work. This is mainly about creating mastery at work.
Inspired – Let employees know that the work they do matters. We all like to know that our efforts have meaning, but sometimes we get lost in the weeds and forget about the bigger picture. A lot of organizations try to aim for the big “making the world a better place” inspiration, which is fine. However, it can be fleeting, and not every company can make that claim. But people are not only inspired by the big picture, often the small, everyday impacts we make can be just as meaningful and fulfilling. Sometimes just knowing how our job affects the success of the company, or how it makes life easier for our co-workers, can inspire us to bring our best every day. Being inspired is mainly about creating purpose at work.
Inclusive Engagement is people-centered focus on creating employee engagement. It is about engaging the individual employee so they feel like a respected member of the team, and not a number or just part of the collective. We sometimes feel it is easier to not meet every employee at their point of need, especially when we have hundreds of employees. But it is not about the CEO knowing everyone’s name and favorite flavor of ice cream. It is about every team, every supervisor, every manager; knowing their team, and their direct reports. Making sure that those who we are all responsible for a seen as individuals, and that everyone else is shown respect, trust, encouragement, and inspiration as fellow human beings.