Growth is a welcome word in most businesses as it implies progress and greater demand for the stuff they sell. But it comes with its challenges too. There are the more obvious ones, like ensuring profitability and not just revenue. Then there are the less anticipated impacts of growth, like adapting your leadership style to embrace the fact that with every new colleague, the further the business expands from owner/manager control until soon, remembering names becomes an issue let alone traits, values and preferences, all that good stuff that oils the wheels of relationships.
We encounter this challenge a lot as consultants in the people space. We’ve facilitated growth development programmes for business schools, TECs and Business Links in the past, helping groups of SMEs thrive rather than strive as they grow. We also encounter these challenges when we’re brought in to help owner-managed organisations, or divisions and units of corporations that have grown rapidly or exponentially, trying not to become victims of their own success and desperately wanting to stay true to their roots.
The first step on the journey of evolving to meet the demands of growth often begins with clarifying the organisation’s core organisation development DNA: their values, employer brand, employee journey and leadership culture. We then shine the spotlight on their attitude and approach to diversity, difference and, most importantly inclusion.
It’s an odd word, inclusion. It’s somehow been hijacked by the political correctness lobby, yet it is, has and always will make good business sense.
Inclusive leadership is, quite simply, an approach to leadership and management that has a belief in the importance of diversity and equality at its core. It moves beyond the business case for inclusion (better ideas, better understanding of customers, better employee engagement etc) and proactively pursues inclusion as a core pillar of leadership philosophy, ideology and practice. In short, inclusive leaders actively cultivate the contribution of diverse individuals and teams believing it isn’t just fair and right, but is a more effective leadership strategy.
Cliques and close groups bonded around convergence and similar traits can, of course, be effective. But they have their limitations in fast-changing and evolving markets and environments. The ideal is to engage, bond and empower diverse teams of diverse individuals unified around common values, goals, objectives and ways of working.
We know from long experience that many managers consider the prospect of inclusive leadership as something akin to “herding cats”. As someone said recently, “Much easier to stick to what and who you know!” But if you encounter an inclusion Grinch, try sharing this story.
We were working with an uber-conservative, financial services and legal organisation based in the rainbow city of Brighton, UK. Their core culture clashed with the bohemian demographic and they were finding it hard to attract, recruit, engage and retain sparky, innovative and engaging leaders.
We suggested an exercise called “A day in my shoes” as part of their upcoming leadership conference in which the future of the organisation, its aspirations and goals were being showcased at a major arena to hundreds of stakeholders. As preparation for this exercise, we enlisted the heads of their diversity networks (LGBTQ; Disability; Gender; Race; Neuro) as well as a junior colleague who encapsulated the opposite of their core leader demographic, to help devise and facilitate the process.
Volunteers from each group wrote very personal scripts about a typical day in their lives. They then worked with a senior leader to enact that script at a workshop attended by prominent conference attendees to role model isolation and the impact that small acts of inclusive kindness have on their frame of mind, motivation and performance.
There was a great deal of nervousness about the exercise, yet the CEO, HRD and team put on their big person pants and gave it a go.
The workshop was an unprecedented success. All evaluations were top of the shop and the workshop took the participants to emotional ranges they had never experienced at work.
This ground-breaking activity paved the way for much more inclusive relations between the diversity groups and it well and truly landed the concept of inclusive leadership with the senior team who adapted their core processes and behaviours as a result. Since then, recruitment and retention and engagement has improved. “It’s just much easier to talk openly now. I feel seen” said one of the leaders who shared their own difficult journey to being themselves at work.
Of course, Inclusive Leadership isn’t just about embracing diversity. It’s largely about involving and liberating the contributions of team members rather than adopting the command and contol, DIY my way approach. But it’s really important for leaders who need to leverage their fellow leaders and managers in order to grow and it’s a great source of alternative approaches in pursuit of the same goals.
If it’s something you would like to explore, give one of us a nudge via the new website. Do check out what’s new. We have plenty more stories to share.