by Rob Danna | July 28, 2017

The grocery store near my house recently started selling so-called "misfit" fruits and vegetables. They're otherwise fresh and delicious, but don't meet the cosmetic standards we expect from food: the crooked carrot, the lumpy potato and the misshapen cucumber. Before this, stores just would have pitched this food.

What an incredible waste of potential. And what an important lesson for us.

While tossing out odd-looking tomatoes at the grocery store might unfortunately be the norm, smart HR professionals must take the opposite approach: celebrating and supporting all of their team members. Bringing in a mix of people from all walks of life simply creates a better environment, where people feel welcome and accepted.

After all, doing otherwise would devastate employee potential and hinder valuable business results such as employee recruitment and retention.

Here's a startling fact: according to a recent Deloitte survey, 72 percent of respondents said they would leave or may consider leaving an organization for one that has more of the inclusive aspects they desire.

In fact, nearly a quarter of all respondents have already done so.

However, there's a way to better, more strategically foster inclusion -- and it lies in an organization's foundation. Or rather, in its culture.

Like it or not, the world is getting smaller, and globalization is demanding cultural assimilation. That means everyone -- from individuals to organizations to countries -- will struggle to survive in the future when they're rooted in the past.

The strength of your culture can and should position you for the future, but the creation of a strong culture doesn't happen by accident. It's intentional. And that means you need a plan to get there. We did it at my own organization, and we'll continue to execute on it for the rest of our existence.

(For more on culture and business transformations, read our interactive ebook.)

Inclusion Starts with Building a Solid Culture Foundation

   1. Define what you want your culture to feel like. That vision starts at the top, but often the best ideas come from below. That said, it's critical for senior leadership to believe in inclusion and act accordingly. Because you're the one who sets and implements policy, it's important that your belief is genuine in order for your people to foster it.

   2. Outline your culture's existing strengths. You've got some great things already working in your favor, so identify them. And, conduct a quick evaluation of their effectiveness. Such awareness will reinforce your foundation and remind team members of existing cultural assets, and will guide better decisions.

   3. Conduct focus groups and gather intelligence. This is the crux of your cultural transformation. Bring your people together without HR and senior leadership, and use surveys and focus groups to collect ideas on how to improve inclusion. The best ideas typically don't come from HR or senior leadership, so embrace the concept and trust your community.

   4. Define necessary behaviors. In order for each initiative to take hold, it's important to define specific behaviors you want to see. List them. Communicate them. Foster them. You'll find more examples here.

   5. Communicate. What that looks like is up to you. One of our biggest successes was an annual celebration we threw that aligned with our re-energized, inclusive culture. We invited all team members -- both on-site and remote -- which allowed us to embody our strategy in a live setting. But outside of that, we continue to reinforce the message by providing frequent recognition of inclusive behaviors through our employee wellbeing platform, and by leveraging multi-media messaging because, as we know, everyone learns in a different fashion.


Moving Forward With Your Inclusive Culture 

It probably won't be easy (change never is) but when you know the objections, you've got the power to overcome them. So, know this. Typically, organizational leaders are resistant to change because: 

  • They're skeptical due to past failed change efforts
  • They don't feel involved in the change process
  • They don't understand the reasons for change
  • They feel threatened by the change
  • Competing priorities create change fatigue
  • Systems, processes, and incentives don't support change

The Results Pay Dividends

At the end of our first year following our culture transformation, our organization was awarded six different "top workplace" distinctions. We also reduced voluntary turnover by 4 percent, increased revenues and earnings, and had 93 percent of our employees say they were enthusiastic or inspired by our future.

How does that look?

Rob Danna is Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at engagement solutions provider ITA Group, an industry leader in events, incentives and recognition programs. With 25 years of experience, Danna has helped hundreds of large companies strategize and implement strategic performance improvement solutions; his diverse expertise helps clients address complex business issues including regulation, compliance, competition, employee retention, and mergers and acquisitions.

ITA Group maximizes business impact and value for Fortune 500 organizations by aligning and motivating their most valuable assets: their people. Contact ITA Group: [email protected]