Getting the Inclusive Culture You Need
No organization remains untouched by these times. The pandemic, the sweeping protests for justice, and 2020’s political tipping point affect every person, every community, and every business. We must respond or be responsible.
You want to lead your organization through this and emerge stronger. You want to be on the right side of this sea-change and tap into the culture of tomorrow. Being one of the thrivers will mean you can attract the talent and customers you need in the future. So you’ll apply all your leadership talents to this challenge, just like all the other challenges you’ve faced.
Wrong. Here’s the first hard truth: To do this right, you will have to UNLEARN some of the behaviors that got you this far.
Act. Don’t wait until you have the perfect plan. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do employees. They will fill in an empty space. If you say and do nothing, or wait too long to plan a response, they will assume you agree with the status quo or don’t care. And by the way, saying, “We are going to do something – stay tuned” is doing something. Just don’t do NOTHING.
Listen. Don’t say your organization celebrates diversity. Ask, “Does our organization celebrate diversity?” Don’t say you are putting health and safety first. Ask, “Are we putting health and safety first?” You might have departments and task forces and employee surveys on this stuff. So what — assume you have a problem and find out what it is.
And this is critical: Make it safe for employees to answer the questions and ask their own. If they think there will be consequences for making their bosses uncomfortable, you will hear nothing, learn nothing, and accomplish nothing. So say it, straight up: “No one will be fired or demoted for speaking up.” Also, give people several channels of communication – live and face-to-face, by anonymous forum, by survey, and via small groups or task forces. Capture what you’re hearing, synthesize it, and then distribute it for feedback. Say, “This is what we’re hearing. Are we getting it right?” Then listen again. It’s a cycle, not a task to be checked off.
Tap into the positives of a grass-roots change.
Wanting to be heard is innate. Forming community is natural. Think about protests and social movements – people march to be seen and heard, and they work on causes to create change together and feel like a part of something big. Simply put, these things activate feel-good chemicals in our brains. Do this for your business, and your employees will feel good about your culture. You will create unity around your organization, your brand, and your mission.
Disrupt. Changing culture is like changing the course of a river. You have to really want it, because it takes dynamite. It’s messy and confusing while it’s happening.
But the ugliness of the disruption is good – it’s a signal to all that you mean business. This is not just about memos and posters and procedures – they’ve seen all of that. This has to look like nothing they’ve seen before. It’s Opposite Day. How do you usually talk to everyone? What words do you use? Where do you meet? How does it feel? Don’t do any of that. Say or do things they don’t expect to set the right tone.
Then use that dynamite. When you hear what’s wrong, go after it. That looks different for every problem and every organization. Use your sounding board to guide you.
Facilitate. As you figure out significant actions to take, let people step up and lead, based on their skills and passions. And then follow; ask what you can do to advise, clear a path, and make things happen. And then lead by example. Show employees you are taking concrete and personal steps toward the culture you are defining together.
Never stop. Don’t declare victory and disband the change team. Assume there is always more to do. Make the effort permanent. Keep listening and learning. Forever. You can celebrate, but celebrate progress, as defined by employees and experts. Celebrate growth, and then keep growing.
So here are your new leadership behaviors, for a new culture: