There’s a popular saying in business, often attributed to management theorist Peter Drucker: “What gets measured gets managed and what gets managed gets done.” Clearly, there is a lot of practical wisdom behind this saying. Anyone who has ever led an organization understands the value of measurement when it comes to driving results.
In our increasingly data-driven world, trying to run a business without the benefit of metrics and analysis would be like trying to ski downhill with a blindfold on. And yet, some of the most valuable elements of success are difficult to measure.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the definition of workplace inclusion is, “The achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.” Engagement can also be defined as the relationship an employee has with the organization for which they work and the amount of effort they are willing to put in as a result.
So, if employees don’t feel truly included in the organization, how can they possibly feel engaged? Perhaps they are engaged in thoughts or concerns about their own career development (or even actively looking for their next job), but that’s not the kind of engagement most business leaders are looking for.
To help bring an inclusive voice to life in an organization, leaders need to source wisdom from within. Far too often in traditional organizations, decisions are made in closed rooms with a small set of leaders. This is why many change initiatives fail. In order for the entire organization to successfully navigate through transitions, leaders need to inclusively engage employees — the people who will actually execute on the decisions being made.
Leveraging the voice of employees helps to unearth solutions and drive change from within. Leaders need to directly tap into the wisdom of employees and take advantage of their incredible insight, as opposed to merely cascading actions that have often been prescribed by a detached executive team or an external consultant.
Can that be measured? I believe it can through an organizational inclusion quotient (or IQ). Imagine a future where an organization’s inclusion quotients were externally visible. From my perspective, this could have a positive impact on things like recruiting, hiring and talent management, not to mention the bottom line.
The process of fostering organizational IQ needs to begin at the top, with leaders asking themselves two key questions:
Do your employees feel safe to speak up and be heard?
In this day and age of constant transformation and change, it’s essential to foster a sense of psychological safety in order to power the organization forward. The first step toward creating a culture fueled by an inclusive voice is to establish a sense of respect. If employees feel respected, they will want to offer their best insights and opinions to help better the organization. And if leaders feel that employees respect them, they will be comfortable hearing the authentic truth from employees.
According to one study on voice behavior in the workplace, your “voice” can be defined as “a proactive behavior that relates to the employees’ expression of ideas, opinions, or suggestions with the intent to change and improve the current state of affairs.” Similar to the SHRM statement we reviewed for inclusion, voice needs to have an intention or purpose to improve something and, in the process, make sure it doesn’t just turn into noise. When employees feel safe enough to speak up about process improvement and other matters of critical importance, authentic employee voice can power the entire organization forward.
Does the organization respect and adhere to the feedback that comes from employees?
Beyond just asking questions, there needs to be a dimension of learning, betterment and recognition from the organization. Ask others for their opinions, and when they share, take action. This shows your colleagues and employees that you value their perspectives and builds their trust.
We are quickly moving toward a time when intangibles such as engagement, culture and reputation are more meaningful key performance indicators than traditional metrics about fixed assets like inventory, cost of goods and labor. From my perspective, the board report of the future will not be tied to trailing financial indicators, but rather to more meaningful indicators of future performance and success.
Ultimately, employees and employers alike want to be treated respectfully in the workplace, and both share an intrinsic motivation for the organization to be successful. Without inclusion, there can be no engagement, but with it, organizations and individuals become stronger, more agile and more resilient. When we as a society have accomplished great things — from the U.S. Constitution to the Apollo 11 space project — it has been done in an inclusive way. Leading a high-performing, resilient organization in today’s competitive business environment requires activating your employees’ voices on topics that matter to both the vitality of individuals and the long-term success of the organization.