A Modern Approach to Inclusiveness and Belonging

June 4, 2024 David Witt

“I think organizations have typically approached inclusivity from a very narrow perspective,” says April Hennessey, DEI practice lead for Blanchard. “They look internally and ask, “What can we do here to make employees feel like they belong?”

“High-impact organizations inspire and engage employees around inclusion and belonging holistically from three different dimensions,” says Jeff Cole, a Blanchard solutions architect who specializes in designing talent development strategies and programs aligned with organizations’ priorities and culture.

“These three dimensions focus on inclusion and belonging perceptions inside the organization, how the organization is perceived externally, and the marketplace, which is how products and services the organization provides consider end users or customers. Otherwise stated, in terms of talent: it’s about how an organization retains and grows talent (internal), how an organization attracts talent (external) and how an organization attracts and retains raving fans of their brand (marketplace).”

“A modern way to get to inclusion that sticks is to look at the whole ecosystem,” says Hennessey. “It's not just an internal initiative; it’s also about the employee branding approach: How do we attract employees to us? Who are we attracting? What do we look like from the outside? What kinds of things are we posting? What do our thought leaders look like and sound like? And beyond that, organizational leaders have to ask themselves questions like Who are our clients? Who are we catering to? Who are we not catering to? Inclusion starts before employees ever walk through our doors. If they don’t see themselves reflected in who we are, both on the face of the organization and on the inside, real inclusion is likely a non-starter.”

Consider a Deeper Dive

In addition to looking at inclusion and belonging from a broader perspective, Cole and Hennessey recommend leaders look at how they can deepen their efforts.

“Consider the entire employee experience,” says Cole. “How can we create inclusive moments or inclusive experiences throughout the employee lifecycle? Organizations might consider asking what they can do to attract future employees from an inclusion perspective. Employees today work at organizations where there is an alignment of values—that’s critical for growing a sense of belonging. What might the organization do beginning the first day of an employee’s new job? What are some things that could accelerate that employee's experience and connection to the organization?

“Organizations often have not looked at the bigger picture,” Cole says. “Instead, efforts are typically quite tactical in nature—even opportunistic. It is not about checking boxes. We have matured significantly from the time when putting a rainbow flag on a microsite in June or having stock photos on a website showing people of multiple ethnicities and cultures equated to diversity.”

Hennessey agrees. “Some organizations have focused on strategies like ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) as the endpoint or capstone to their work, thinking ‘If we put together these employee resource groups that focus on topics or identities, then employees have a space to find their people and we’ve done our job.’

“But I don’t think that's the path to inclusion. I think that is just a small portion of what it looks like when you are running an inclusive organization.”

“It's segmented and disjointed,” adds Cole. “And it is significant effort with little return. In the end, this tactical approach invariably results in people feeling less connected or even resentful of the company’s disingenuous activities.”

Take a More Integrated Approach

Inclusion and belonging need to be more integrated throughout the entire employee lifecycle, say Cole and Hennessey. It is about reimagining efforts from an employee’s vantage point.

“Consider spending less time creating complex onboarding and orientation strategies,” says Cole. “It becomes easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Connecting new employees to the organization and getting them to optimal performance levels. As an alternative, introduce new employees to people who can engage in real talk about the company—the role and values and culture of the organization.”

Cole continues. “I'll give an example. At Blanchard, when someone joins our organization, the whole company receives a notice welcoming them with a brief profile involving professional and personal achievements. Recently, after having sent an email concerning an upcoming social event, I received a message back from a name I did not recognize. I didn’t recall having received a message about this new hire, but in his email he stated that mine was the very first email he had received and responded to since joining Blanchard. I immediately found 20 minutes to connect with him on his first day, welcome him, and explain my role, so that we could learn about each other. The value of that kind of conversation is immeasurable.”

Inclusion, Belonging, and Development Opportunities

Another focus area Cole and Hennessey recommend considering is professional development opportunities. The two consultants point to a core principle the Blanchard company has championed throughout its 45-year history—the belief that people can and want to develop.

“People progress through predictable stages of development as they build their competence and commitment for learning a new skill or growing new competencies for career progression,” says Cole. “Whom you choose for special projects and how you approach professional development opportunities can say a lot about organizational inclusion and belonging efforts. Employees are quite tuned into this today.

“Competence is sometimes a disguise for a long history of access,” says Hennessey. In other words, sometimes the people we perceive as most competent are just the ones we’ve given the most access to. Alternately, many people lack competence and confidence because they have never been given those kinds of opportunities.

“We need to open access to these other individuals and provide them with those entry points and the prospect or ability to dream bigger than what they might imagine for themselves. Sometimes we need to help people dream. We need to help them get there.”

“When you afford opportunities to people who have engagement or commitment on a topic or job role but may not yet have full competency, you exponentially increase their sense of belonging within an organization—because they feel empowered and entrusted,” says Cole. “The days of challenging someone to prove themselves before having access to a new role, or asking them to wait until a position opens, have passed.”

It’s about providing an opportunity in a way that includes direction and support, says Hennessey.

“It’s really about mentorship and sponsorship. Promoting a person before they are 100% ready requires effectively mentoring and sponsoring people so that they can imagine that they're capable of those things—and then following up with professional development opportunities.

“Here’s an example. We just got back from presenting at an annual industry conference. A lot of times, we send the same people to conferences because they're familiar with our products, they work well in the booth, and they are practiced. How might we be more inclusive and offer these opportunities to other people?

“Here at Blanchard we have a Leading at a Higher Level grant that can be used for this type of opportunity. One of our employees applied for this grant and was able to attend this major industry conference for the first time in her career. It was a huge growth and development opportunity for her. So how do we provide that kind of professional development for others?”

Thinking Beyond the Tactical Initiative

A better approach to enhancing belonging and inclusiveness requires a broader viewpoint and a deeper integration into the fabric of an organization, say Cole and Hennessey.

“Review your talent management spectrum and the lifecycle of an employee. Look at points in that lifecycle for where you can add value and notions of inclusion,” says Cole.

“Keep your tactical stepping stones in place, but go further,” says Hennesey. “ERGs are not the end point or the end goal. They are one of the stepping stones along the way, but they don't in and of themselves create inclusion.

“Demonstrate your commitment to inclusion and belonging by opening up opportunities for people, promoting them before they are ready, and providing access, direction, and support along the way.”


Would you like to learn more about next-level inclusion and belonging strategies for your organization? Join us for a free webinar!

Next-Level Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Employee Experience

Tuesday, June 18, 2024, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Fostering an inclusive employee experience is not just a nice-to-have—it's a crucial element for organizational success. Employees who feel valued and included are more engaged, more productive, and more innovative. Inclusiveness also fosters a collaborative environment where diverse perspectives are leveraged, leading to better decision making and problem solving—not to mention an inclusive culture that enhances employee retention and attracts top talent.

Join Blanchard leadership experts Jeff Cole and April Hennessey for a look into the benefits and actionable strategies that can encourage a sense of inclusivity and belonging within your organization.

Participants will:

·       Explore the entire employee lifecycle from recruiting to onboarding, early-stage development, promotion, and perpetuating growth during later stages.

·       Identify common challenges, moving beyond the tactical and looking at ways to see inclusion and belonging from a broader viewpoint. 

·       Review inclusive leadership behaviors that work, exploring both short-term and long-term approaches to making real progress in your organization.

Inclusive leaders actively seek out and consider diverse viewpoints, create safe spaces for dialogue, and ensure equitable opportunities for all employees. This approach not only builds trust and loyalty but also enhances overall team performance.

Join us to explore these strategies and more as we equip you with the tools and knowledge to create an inclusive and thriving workplace.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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