We need to talk about BEHAVIOUR in organisations

Some would say that the progress organisations have made in relation to facilitating and implementing diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy has been great. In these enlightened times we appear to have covered a host of factors and attributes that relate to D&I.

There is much discussion on a select few areas in D&I. Primarily, gender diversity, ethnic minorities, unconscious bias, Millennials/Gen Y, discrimination etc. And, when it comes language, we know the 'right' things to say. Progress has been such, that there is even now reference to cognitive diversity and the value that this type of diversity lends towards innovation and creativity in business.

In my humble opinion D&I continues at a snails pace and this is because the one key element that lies at the root of diversity and inclusion - behaviour - is almost never discussed. We continuously fail to address what I believe is the one fundamental of strategic practice of a D&I agenda and that is behavioural diversity. At its simplest, behavioural diversity is the difference in how people behave.

At a micro level, we all have our own behavioural DNA. To this extent, we interact with each other differently, depending on to whom we are speaking with, or the situation we are in. Our values, beliefs and cultural heritage guide our behaviour which, in turn, impacts on our interpersonal skills, such as the ability to empathise, be sensitive, engage, be motivated, act with integrity and so on.

At a macro level, how we behave with all stakeholders in terms of organisational purpose, organisational culture, and cross-cultural interactions will also impact the result of driving and embedding a sustainable D&I strategy.

Behavioural diversity is the least explored element when organisations consider their diversity agenda, yet it runs across key organisational practices that challenge employees at every level of the organisation. For instance, organisational practices such as: values and culture, communication, leadership, employee engagement, conflict, and cross-cultural awareness. Running through all of these practices are our ways of working.

Let me explore behavioural diversity and its implications for D&I for each of these areas:

Values and Culture
Our values and beliefs shape our behaviour and interactions as a result of our personal value ideology, cultural and national heritage and our social experiences. Another may not share what I hold as value that is dear to me and therefore how we show respect and understanding for each other's values will influence our behaviour.

Similarly, with regard to culture, there is an organisations culture, cultures within cultures and managing across cultures. How a group of individuals behave and work alongside each other in these differing cultural contexts presents its own challenges. A degree of maturity and understanding needs to come into play if we are to pay homage to our cultural differences.

Communication
Communication is both the essence and the downfall of many an organisation. Communications need to address stakeholder needs, be transparent, be clear and be consistent which will lead to a climate of trust. This climate of trust inevitably influences and determines how we accommodate each other's differences and ultimately, behave with each other.

Leadership
Two key considerations for leaders with regard to how their behaviour can impact their organisations D&I agendas are role modelling and the ability of a leader to flex their behavioural style.

What people see their leaders doing (as opposed to saying) will influence the behavioural practices that are adopted. The challenge for leaders is to demonstrate behaviours consistent with their declarations of purpose so that they "walk the talk". Leaders need to be mindful of how their behaviour is reflected and translated through the organisation in relation to participation, directing, communicating, thinking and serving. Following on from this, when individuals deviate from behaviours that undermine the standards set by the leadership them then said leaders should hold these individuals to account.

Also, leaders need to be aware of the different perception of human value across organisational and country cultures and be conscious how and when to flex their behavioural style effectively from one context to another.

Employee Engagement
How an organisation treats their employees will in turn, have an impact on how an employee will behave. When employees understand the reasoning and implications behind decisions; when they are asked to be actively involved in engaging with strategy; and when they are encouraged to build networks that facilitate collaboration and innovation then, and only then is it most likely that positive behaviours will become the order of the day.

Conflict
We should not underestimate the impact of conflict when trying to embed a diverse and inclusive culture. Conflict within a D&I context may include politicking, unconscious bias/conscious discrimination and micro-inequities (slight verbal or non-verbal personal assaults that are often ephemeral and covert).

Further when teams are more heterogeneous (as opposed to homogeneous) then there is a greater propensity for a lack of cohesion, communication breakdowns and misunderstandings due to differing behavioural styles. In this scenario, interventions such as systemic dialogue and appreciative inquiry would help to facilitate good team dynamics and reduce opportunities for conflict.

Cross-cultural awareness
The challenges presented when communicating across borders with respect to likelihood for misinterpretations due to different languages are high. Similarly, when working cross-culturally as well as in a merger and acquisition environment then it is important that individuals are culturally sensitive. Different behavioural styles will influence how the organisation works with regard to cooperation. Cooperative work behaviour is increasingly viewed as necessary to improve the competitiveness of firms as well as facilitate a growth mindset and build cross-cultural competence.

In summary, when added into the diversity and inclusion equation (that includes demographic diversity or cognitive diversity), behavioural diversity is at the root of a cohesive and progressive diversity and inclusion strategy.

Behavioural diversity allows us to better understand different ways of working and determines acceptable behavioural standards within and between cultures. People across the organisation can better co-create productive responses to diversity's challenges and opportunities if they understand, are cognisant, respectful and accommodating of each others behaviours. In these disruptive times, with behaviour at the heart of a diversity and inclusion change process then the transformation of self, others and the organisation is possible.