Inclusion has rapidly become one of the most popular buzzwords relative to the workplace, right up there with strategy and engagement. Organizations say they are inclusive; leaders say they are inclusive; communities, schools, and houses of worship say they are inclusive.
In reality, few of these entities can explain what inclusion means in a clear, concise and logical way. We are making progress on diversity (though not in all places), and we really like the idea of inclusion, but it remains for most a vague, ambiguous idea. Vague and ambitious targets, regardless of their popularity, are hard to hit.
“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”“Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard”
– Dan and Chip Heath
Language is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, and with so many people clamoring about inclusion, we have a powerful opportunity to bring more clarity, more consistency and more intention into how we use the word.
I use the word inclusion in two primary ways: 1. To talk about the active process of change (what do I/we do to more purposefully and fully include others); and 2. To talk about the experiential outcome (what does it mean to be fully included in a place or space).
Lots of organizations are today trying to figure out the first one. The number one phone call I get is some version of, “We want to be more inclusive, but we do not know what to do.” I believe strongly that the best way to figure out “how to get there” is to get crystal clear on where you are going in the first place.
An inclusive organization is one where employees feel included. The destination, the outcome, the product, relative to the idea of inclusion, is that employees consistently feel included, regardless of who they are.
What does it feel like to be fully included in your organization?
If this is your product, you should be able to speak to its characteristics.
What does it mean to be included in your organization? What does it look like and feel like? How do we know when it is happening, and how do we know when it is not happening?
We are talking here about an experiential outcome; it is an intangible thing, so definitions and descriptions are sure to be imperfect and incomplete. For example, we all have some sense of what it means to be in love, but it is a hard thing to fully and accurately capture in language. Importantly, our imperfect and incomplete descriptions will be vastly more actionable than nothing. Having captured the gist of this outcome in language, many things become easier. It becomes much easier to work backwards and identify the competencies, behaviors, practices and policies that need to be in place for us to more consistently deliver the experience of being included. This is no small task. Identifying specific behaviors that elicit the experience of being included allows you to set expectations (in job descriptions, interviews, competency models, etc.), to hold employees and leaders accountable, and to identify training and development priorities.
But wait, there’s more!
Likely the most valuable use of your language relative to the experience of being included is in measurement. Once you have wrestled your way to some clarity regarding what it means to be fully included in your organization, you can take that description to your employees and ask if it reflects their experience. This becomes a key metric.
Clarity is one of your very best friends. Capture key characteristics of the experience of being included with specific language, and it becomes much easier to figure out how to more consistently deliver that experience to your employees.
Joe Gerstandt is a speaker, author and advisor bringing greater clarity, action and impact to organizational diversity and inclusion efforts. He recently delivered the keynote address at the CRE Diversity & Inclusion Roundtable 2018.