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What is the inclusion solution?

December 12, 2014

Inclusion means different things to different people, but for me inclusive leadership always boils down to mission and performance. Inclusion by definition means “involve as a factor” and “being part of the whole.” Inclusive leaders recognize that diverse input is critical to meeting mission objectives; when inclusive practices are combined with a focus on diversity—that is, including more underrepresented people—organizations increase the likelihood of significant performance gains because they now include insights from a multiplicity of perspectives, achieving a “whole” solution.

The intelligence community is a good example of this. Prior to 9/11 the intelligence community was a disparate collection of agencies that had similar missions but operated separately and independently. Furthermore, they did so without the benefit of cross-organizational mission collaboration or coordinated operations, and most notably, without much apparent cooperation. Then came 9/11 and big changes were made. Now, what was once 17 separate autonomous agencies is a more cohesive and inclusive community working together to protect our country and its interests. When the intelligence community became more inclusive, not just structurally, but with a more diverse mix of personnel, technology, and strategy, it achieved significant improvements in meeting its mission. It’s not an exaggeration to say, thanks to a new inclusive atmosphere within the intelligence community, “Osama bin Laden is gone.”

Every organization can benefit from this lesson. Inclusion is the key to organizational success because it gets employees working better together. As organizations become “flatter,” more agile, and collaborative, and relationships develop up and down the chain of command, across management and executive levels spanning divisions, the presence of a more diverse workforce requires more inclusion than ever. Otherwise some performance factors critical to the organization will be underutilized or remain unknown. In this global and ultra-competitive economy where underperformance or failure is unacceptable, hedging the bet with inclusive practices only makes good business sense.

Inclusion is critical to embracing diversity, but it’s also necessary for managing change, innovation and leading a multigenerational workforce, all of which impact organizational performance. I hear far too often that underrepresented members of the workforce are not really being heard. They’re not included in major undertakings of their organizations. I’ve heard managers say “they are not ready yet,” or “they haven’t paid their dues,” or “they won’t be accepted by the client,” or that “they are not a good fit.” I’ve also heard “they don’t get along well with others and don’t appear to understand how things are done around here” and so on. Translation—I’m uncomfortable with them because they’re not like me, don’t think or act like me, and therefore I’m not including them. An organization suffers significantly when this happens. Morale suffers, then engagement declines, performance decreases and attrition rises.

I believe the fix is simple. Include first, based on merit. Engage and reengage every member of your team. Observe, listen to understand and not to refute, actively seek to appreciate the differences you encounter, and ask more questions. Remember to coach as required. Do this repeatedly and you’ll be amazed where both you and your organization will end up.

So be honest, have you ever been excluded? Please share your thoughts with us below.

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