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Sylvana Storey Headshot

Inclusion, Engagement, Collaboration -- An Inconvenient Truth?

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Much talk is generated about the value that the behaviors of inclusion, engagement and collaboration bring to organizations but we only need to dig a bit deeper to see what the evidence is for how these behaviors are practiced by those who do the talking.

Before we do this it is necessary to understand, what inclusion, engagement and collaboration mean? And, if practiced, examine whether these activities make a difference to organizations and employees well being?

I'll begin by offering a simple explanation of what I believe these terms mean. For me inclusion means valuing others, engagement means involving others, and collaboration means working with others.

Inclusion = valuing others

For most, the term inclusion is associated with diversity (i.e. D&I) and in this context inclusion means to value others differences. I recently attended a networking function where one of the speakers spoke of the need to value every employee in the organization from the cleaners to the reception staff to the CEO so that a more inclusive environment was fostered. Following this talk, the speaker then promptly failed to acknowledge or 'thank' any of the waiters serving canapés and drinks at the after-event!

This is one of the more troubling issues of diversity and inclusion that plays out in our organizations today -- there is a lot of talking but very little doing! The prophets of D&I fail to put into practice and role model the very behaviors they wish to propel and embed in their organizations. In other words, difference is valued but only when that difference fits in with our agenda.

Engagement = involving others

Similarly, another concept that not only impacts on the successful outcome of change programs but also embraces differing identities and differing ways of thinking and behaving is that of integration and it role in engaging employees. The holy grail of high performing organizations is integrating all facets of organizational life so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Recently I was alarmed to read an article about the integration of individuals who were perceived to be different to the norm. The article outlined the risks associated with hiring global executives and the findings were based on a survey conducted by a well known, prominent global executive search firm. The survey representing 200 senior executives - many of them HR directors -- who stated that the second most risky integration activity was the appointment of an external diversity candidate because it is too difficult to integrate these types of candidates. In fact, a quote from my research in this area aptly magnifies this issue: "it is not a question of just bringing different people in...people we bring in need to slip into the culture..."

In an era where there is an unprecedented push from the powers that be for more diversity to be represented at the senior levels of organizations, these survey results tell the real story and the limited levels of commitment to engaging every employee towards achieving the objectives of the organization regardless of their diversity status. If people from diverse backgrounds are perceived to be too risky to engage before they join an organization then what hope is there for them having joined an organization? Well done -- you've achieved your quota of employing a woman to your Board but have the values and behaviors of the Board enough to engage her? Are her opinions listened too and respected so that she feels an integral part of the Board? A further quote from my research that amplifies this point is "it is one thing to advocate for a diverse workforce and another to accept the differences that the diverse workforce will bring to the table".

Collaboration = working with others

The last in this trilogy of behaviors is collaboration and being collaborative is seen as a key way of working in our globalized world. However, how often do we experience in our working lives divisions, functions, and project teams who are reluctant to share knowledge, share resources and work with each other simply because they are guarding their own terrain?

This lack of collaboration is manifested in fear and power -- fear because of a perceived threat to role security and power because of a perceived threat to sense of self. Even more perverse, are individuals who are reluctant for others to share the glory or to get the credit for work well done as they are misguiding in believing that it is solely their own brilliance that accomplished the task. As this non-collaborative behavior is perpetuated across the organization everyone becomes increasingly protective of their territories and continue to work in this siloed way.

Collaboration is about helping the group and not just looking after one's self and leaders need to start being the people that others want to be like rather than paying lip service to the things they think people want to hear.

Leaders need to be the catalysts for change in explicitly living behaviors that value others, involve others and work with others. These combinations of behaviors are the key foundation and key assets for organizations of the future. Organizations have critical choices and more so, the people leading our organizations. Choices that enable our leaders to be the people who practice less hypocrisy, and demonstrate more behaviors, that make a difference in pursuit of the collective. A collective that fosters the well being of both organization and the individual.

Shared value, sense of purpose, sustainability, community, inclusive capitalism, stakeholder health and innovation are currently all hot topics, and for good reason. However, without the foundations of the fundamental behaviours of inclusivity, engagement and collaboration in place, then these highly noble ideals amount to nothing.