Our work at Gallaher Edge seeks to evolve organizational cultures from the inside out using the science of human behavior. As more and more U.S. companies are awakening to systemic racism, they are also becoming aware of the value of diversity. We see diversity as one of the traits of healthy companies: it’s not only a moral imperative, but it also brings practical value to business teams. Innovation and creativity thrive and better decisions are made when diverse teams work together. Differences, respect and inclusion are the missing links that, when present, create diversity within an organization. Today, we’ll explore the concept of inclusion and what it means in corporate cultures.
A culture of inclusion is one that looks at differences between people as a source of strength for the organization, and therefore creates diversity through honoring people for who they are. This inclusion feeds each human’s drive to belong. In fact, belonging researchers Baumeister and Leary indicate that including people is one of the main mechanisms of reinforcement, or reward, to show them that they belong.
Listening and Inclusion
So, what does it really mean to be inclusive? One of the key elements of inclusion is listening. We shared a story connected to the Columbia accident that highlighted how critical it is to be inclusive of different perspectives to make the best possible decisions. That story was about the video footage that showed foam from the external tank striking the orbiter. A senior leader in the Shuttle Program named Wayne Hale realized that his own failure to listen contributed to the accident. “The bottom line was, we all felt pretty good. This was not going to be a safety issue. We’d have to do some maintenance work, but it’s not a safety issue. And that’s what we told the crew,” Hale said.
His personal decades of experience seeing similar incidents that did not result in catastrophes that led him to think there was no cause for concern. In hindsight, however, he could see that had he listened more effectively, and pushed past his initial assumptions that he was right and they were wrong, perhaps he could have increased his understanding of the situation and better understood their concerns. “I was senior enough. So yeah, I feel like this was probably the worst failure of my life,” Hale said.
Research has shown that when humans are speaking and feel that the person they’re speaking to is truly listening, they become more articulate, and end up sharing more than they thought they would. The people listening end up learning significantly more. And the level of trust in the relationship between the two people increases. As the relationship improves, the sense of belonging is enhanced. In the aftermath of the Columbia accident, Hale realized how critical it was to listen more effectively and to create a more inclusive culture at NASA.
Inclusion and the Bottom Line
Research has shown the power that an inclusive culture has on an organization’s results. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey found that an inclusive culture leads organizations to be six times as innovative and agile, while also exceeding financial targets far beyond what non-inclusive cultures hit.
So, inclusivity between humans leads to an emergence of Diversity, which not only leads to greater innovation, but also improves the organization’s ability to detect a need for change.
Imagining Inclusion with a Parable
You are likely familiar with the Indian parable about a group of blind men who encounter an elephant and, upon feeling different parts of its body, argue about what it is. To make this parable more applicable to the modern business environment, let’s imagine that this is a lion and it’s sitting in the lobby of your office building. A group of your employees from various departments wander into the lobby blindfolded (who knows why they would be blindfolded, but just go with us on this one) and the story unfolds similar to the original parable.
In many organizations, what actually happens, using the lion in the lobby as an example, is that you, as the CEO, begin slowly receiving intelligence reports from the various departments. These reports trickle in at different times and through different channels depending on the reporting structures and IT systems used by the different departments. Your first report is about some sort of spikes that appear to pose a threat from a clamping force with a recommendation to develop some form of armor for protection. A secondary report comes in discussing musculature and perceived strength and speed with recommendations around developing quick and maneuverable vehicles.
Just as you start to rally the troops to respond to this threat, a third report comes in describing the lovely soft fur and encouraging you to make sure you stop by the lobby to experience this wonderful sensation. This report recommends a strategic alliance. Finally, the fourth and fifth reports arrive together. One seems to support the first report about spikes, but states that they seem to work in a swiping motion. It supports the recommendation for armor. The other claims not to have felt anything at all but did hear a rumbling noise that may or may not have been threatening. It recommends commissioning a 6-month study to look at the problem and recommend options.
You’ve already lost significant time just getting all of the reports, and you still don’t have a clear picture. You’re not sure if you should attack, defend, partner or study! What about acting quickly? Does it really help to act quickly if you act in the wrong direction? This is exactly what leaders are faced with every day and why diversity and inclusion are critical to effective leadership and decision making. The ability to adapt requires both the ability to detect the need to change as well as the ability to adapt quickly.
Diversity is what enables your company to feel the various parts of the lion so that you can figure out that it’s a lion. Inclusion is what enables you to put those pieces together into a meaningful picture so that you know what action that you should take. In the absence of diversity, all of your employees have very similar backgrounds, experiences and mental models. Consequently, they will receive very similar inputs from the environment (i.e., feel the same part of the lion) and come to the same conclusions. In the absence of inclusion, even what information you DO have won’t be openly shared and you will be unable to figure out that there’s a lion sitting in your lobby.
It is our hope at Gallaher Edge that companies will awaken to the positive impact that diversity and inclusion can have in their companies as a whole. Encouraging differences, promoting respect and supporting inclusion can lead to gains in innovation, productivity and profits. Take the first step towards making diversity part of your company’s DNA by reaching out to our team.