Embracing the values of inclusiveness within an organization is a long-term proposition; the process of altering attitudes and practices does not happen overnight. Creating an inclusive organization requires more than just hiring new faces. It requires opening minds and doors to new perspectives and worldviews. It is an on-going process of rethinking the work we do as well as the relationships we build with the wider community. This session provided practical tips on how to embrace the principles of inclusion.
What is an inclusive organization?
An inclusive organization links its parts into a cohesive whole. It employs interactive processes that support an environment with structures and systems that allow people to perform at their best. People cannot be inspired and energized with memos, mission statements, data, charts, goals, objectives, measurements, systems, and processes alone. While all these tools are important for improving performance, an organization that is inclusive has the capacity to unleash human potential, so that individual and collective creativity and innovation can flourish.
Leaders in organizations need tocrystallize their organization’s mission and a purpose for existence. They need to provide clarity that is grounded in actions and behaviours. Leaders also need to inspire, motivate and maintain an environment where everyone finds dignity, meaning, and community at work.
Think of leadership as an action, not as a position
Organizations in the 21st century need leaders who can inspire and support people to experience an inclusive community at work. Leaders often find that a worker’s fear of change is their greatest challenge in the change process. Change forces us to give up what is familiar in favour of what is unknown. Workers need to feel secure in their workplace; they need a sense of belonging, a feeling of community, and a sense of connectedness. Established core values, a well-articulated vision, and support for employees’ diversity of opinions and perspectives all help to foster the sense of inclusion. If an organization is inclusive, decision-making processes cannot be top down. It needs to be participatory. Ideas must be generated from across the organization so that each person feels that they are contributing to the process.
Understand that there is an acceptable margin of error throughout the organization at all levels. It is from this acceptable margin of error that the organization builds from its strength, lessons learned and best practices.
A truly inclusive organizatioal structure incorporates a horizontal design where processes are not standardized. In a horizontal approach open systems are used to allow individuals to be creative and to challenge them to do their work differently.
It is important to recognize the diversity of employees within the organization. For example when planning organizational activities keep in mind personal needs of workers – i.e. setting up prayer space, structuring vacation so that parents have time off, accommodating religious and cultural priorities
To achieve an inclusive organization processes should be aligned to demonstrate a sense of awareness and sensitivity to the workers. By doing this workers have a better understanding of their roles and can contribute meaningfully to the organization.
Engage your organization in real talent development
Maintaining a culture of inclusion alive in an organization requires management to engage in comprehensive processes that are transparent and inclusive (i.e. selection, organizational leadership, training, promotional practices, incentive systems, and internal networking).To build on staff talent the organization must invest in training and development. Time must be given to the staff to take advantage of this training in order to potentially become the next leaders. It is also essential to create opportunities for staff to take on additional tasks and equally important to provide coaching and mentoring opportunities for them to develop the skills to succeed with these new challenges. Engaging workers in ways that inspire and motivate them to rise to the challenge and align their personal mission with the organization mission is critical for success.
Employ a self-directed team approach
By employing a team approach leadership is diffused throughout an empowered workplace. Decentralized decision-making can contribute to efficiency as employees in an inclusive organization know they have a say in defining their work environment.
Characteristics of high-performing teams that use a self-directed approach include:
- Empowering staff to use the skills, knowledge, and talents of all team members
- Staff hold themselves accountable for optimal performance
- The organization provides recognition and appreciation for each other’s contributions
- All members of the organization develop trust and respect for each other
- As a result everyone can celebrate their successes, challenges and even failures
Know your organization’s DNA
An organization’s DNA refers to unique processes and qualities of the organization that cannot be easily replicated. Recognize the uniqueness of your organization by examining your core values, and service priorities. For example, Microskills recognizes its DNA as the high quality service it provides to its’ clients, staff, board, volunteers and all who do business with the organization. To operationalize the DNA you must know what you do best both internally and externally and align all policies, processes, behaviours and actions.
Embrace diversity as an ethical imperative, not simply as an economic advantage
If diversity is not reflected in core organizational strategies (i.e. strategic plan, human resources etc.) then it is merely “window dressing” to diversity. Diversity is about social change. It is about valuing what individuals bring to the workplace and is not simply based on ethnicity. Diversity is primarily about the ability of individuals to support organizational growth by valuing everyone’s opinions and ideas and therefore ultimately valuing the person.
Organizational change that lacks clarity, inclusiveness, transparency, and a real purpose will be ineffective. Many experts recognize that change is a long-term process, not a quick fix. For change to be successful, leaders must be prepared to invest fully in the process.
The change process impacts the entire organization, and therefore challenges are present at all levels. Certainly workers can resist change, making transformation difficult; however at the same time leaders must listen to all staff, and involve them in a meaningful way during times of change.
Five Good Resources
- Ethics, the Heart of Leadership, Joanne B. Ciulla, Quorum Books, 1998.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Steven Covey, The New York, NY: Free Press, 2004.
- Leadership is an Art, Max Depree, New York, NY: Doubleday, 2004.
- Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership, James O’Toole, New York, NY: Ballentine Books, 2004.
- Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised, Margaret Wheatley, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2001.