About 20 years ago I was working for a large organisation that was going through a significant change programme. I was offered what sounded like an exciting option – being seconded to the change team as its Communications Manager. I’ve always thought that communications are important, and I knew that people in the organisation were hurting because of the changes and wanted to know what was going to happen. This was my chance to help.
But I hit a brick wall almost as soon as I joined the team. The Director of the Change Team held a 15 minute team meeting that he called morning prayers every morning before 9 o’clock. I lived outside London and I’m a wheelchair user who uses personal assistance for day to day activities such as getting up and dressed. The odd early morning is a possibility; coming in early to the office day after day for the foreseeable future was not something I could do. So I asked the Director if he would change the time of the meeting. I could even manage 8:50 if the trains were running well, but not 8:30. He refused. If I wasn’t able to get to the meeting, I would just have to muddle along as best I could. Perhaps you can imagine how difficult it is to be the Communications Manager for a team when you are unable to attend its key communication meeting!
Was this my fault? Should I have tried to adapt in order to be able to do my job properly? Too many of our colleagues make compromises every day, some small and some enormous, in order to conform to our expectations and come up to the performance levels that we require. It’s not acceptable. Every time someone does this, it diminishes them a little. And it diminishes us. To avoid this, we need to practise inclusive leadership.
Inclusive leadership improves the employee experience, the customer experience and the bottom line. Here are a few reasons why:
- Employees can use their full energies for their work rather than using much of their energy trying to conform;
- Being able to use all your energy for your work gives greater job satisfaction and enjoyment;
- Employees who enjoy their jobs are more ready to make suggestions for improvements to the processes they use at work, cutting organisational costs and enabling ‘right first time’ delivery;
- Satisfied employees become recruitment ambassadors for the company, easing the ‘talent gap’;
- Customers experience more straightforward, easier to use systems and, when they come into contact with your employees, find them more pleasant and engaged;
- A better customer experience leads to higher customer satisfaction and repeat business;
- Lower organisational costs and lower costs to the customer, where business processes are easy for both employees and customers to follow, enhances the bottom line.
So how did my experience impact me? I felt excluded from the team, disempowered and unable to prove my worth. I was frustrated and ashamed that I couldn’t do my job properly. I was embarrassed in front of the manager who had seconded me, who had expected me to give him the inside track on the change process. Not long afterwards, I transferred to a different manager and convinced him to second me out of the company for 18 months. Thereafter, I persuaded him to make me redundant, leaving the business to set up my own consultancy.
The business lost my experience, my skills and my knowledge. Those around me knew that my time there had been very difficult, even though I tried not to bad mouth the organisation. It took me two years of therapeutic work to rebuild my self-esteem. These were not the happiest days of my career!
I am a disabled woman, so my story is about disability. But it could have been about a parent who needed to drop their child off in the morning and couldn’t get in before 9. It could have been about someone with a long commute who needed to travel outside peak time because they didn’t like crowds. In some organisation somewhere there is a similar story about someone who needs to leave early on Friday because they are a practising Jew and it’s the start of Shabbat. Or a story about someone who doesn’t want to work a shift on Friday because of Friday prayers. Or a story about needing extra time off to return abroad to look after a sick relative. You almost certainly have your own story, and it may still hurt.
We are the leaders who weave these stories around our colleagues if we are not careful. But we are also the leaders with the power, alongside those same colleagues, to weave inspiring, inclusive stories. Let’s make sure that we pay attention to the needs of our colleagues and create inclusive organisations that celebrate people in all our rich diversity.
Upcoming programme: 10 - 12 February 2021 (Developing Leaders Programme)
Please call us on 01753 830 202 or register below for one of our team to contact you: