A New ROI for Inclusion: Collective Intelligence and the “Power of One”

Our world, society, the business community, and human beings are currently experiencing an incredible wave of change. Forces are coming from all directions causing major head winds, uncertainty, and new complexities the likes of which we have never before experienced. As I wrote this sweeping open statement, it occurred to me that the narrative sounds similar to a keynote speech on change that I delivered over a decade ago. Yet while the language may sound familiar, the current situation is much different. Consider these two facts:

  • A new culture is emerging in today’s organizations. We are now experiencing such a high level of disruptive change that it is finally starting to crack old ways of thinking, as well as the status quo. People from all walks of life—including many who have traditionally been silent—are beginning to speak up. This means that individuals and groups that have previously been marginalized are finally finding and using their authentic voices.These changes are starting to shift the balance of our corporate institutions and systems from polarization to integration. Within these shifts, our world is starting to embody the potential for much greater inclusion—or what I call the “Power of One.” Employees gain a sense of belonging and connectedness when they feel they are working toward creating something bigger than themselves. This shift becomes even more powerful when people with diverse views and perspectives are empowered to take a seat at the table and contribute. These fundamental shifts are influencing corporate approaches to women’s advancement as well.
  • The traditional leadership paradigm is starting to crack. I recently met with an executive committee of a Fortune 200 company to discuss their lack of progress when it came to diversity and advancement of their women leaders. While these executives were well intended, they initially believed—in line with traditional leadership approaches—that the best “fix” would be either a one-off women’s training program or an enterprise-wide diversity training program. While these types of first-level solutions can be an important initial step in helping to create more diversity and gender balance in an organization, I asked the executive committee to first consider joining the ranks of companies that are moving beyond the traditional leadership paradigm in this arena to examine something much more fundamental: engagement.

SHAMBAUGH’s research has revealed that the core root of what will support or thwart a more inclusive work environment goes beyond just addressing lack of diversity—companies also need to address lack of engagement. The executive committee mentioned above shared with me their overall sense that employee engagement was very low across their organization. Based on SHAMBAUGH’s initial focus groups with one segment of our client’s workforce, many on these teams described their experience as always driving for results and pushing to meet unreasonable deadlines. Consequently, employees were burning out—and then opting out—as a result of being repeatedly called to work all hours of the night. Yet these workers had no idea why their company expected them to work at such extreme levels of intensity.

Leaders need to realize that this old-school leadership style is not sustainable. They also need to gain a better awareness of their leadership’s impact at a human and cultural level.  A timely first step is to help leaders and managers shift from a “drive for results” mentality to one that is more inspirational and allows their teams to feel valued for their hard work. Today’s managers should also strive to have a better understanding of context: how their work aligns with the bigger picture. These are just a few approaches that harness the Power of One and help create feelings of engagement and connectedness between people and teams, rather than disregarding employees’ sense of well-being and purpose.

The story of this particular executive committee is very similar to ones we’ve heard from other SHAMBAUGH clients—people often lose the sense not of the what or the how but the whybehind their actions. Employees often end up on autopilot, relying on financial metrics for short-term gratification. Unfortunately, these types of examples are based on issues that won’t just go away if left unaddressed. They become part of the corporate DNA and as such can negatively impact customer relationships, quash creative ideas, decrease performance, and kill an organization’s competitive advantage—and sometimes its very existence.

This begs the question: how can we expect people across our organizations to embrace gender balance and diversity when they feel no sense of common purpose or connectedness to begin with? In my next post, I’ll share some specific strategies on what needs to happen to change the conversation and mindset across our organizations.

Rebecca Shambaugh is a contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and blogger for the Huffington Post, read Rebecca’s most recent article To Sound Like a Leader, Think About What You Say, and How and When You Say It. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

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