Speaking Their Languages
Over the last few decades, our country has changed a great deal. America has become even more of a melting pot than in previous generations. Our neighborhoods, our families and our workplaces are all more discernibly diverse now than ever before, and, as well, across many different dimensions of diversity.
While many employers now recognize the benefits of diversity – greater productivity, better innovation, increased profitability— they also recognize the increased complexity of effective employee engagement. Communicating authentically with employees who may be differently abled, identify sexually as nonconforming, practice a different religion or emanate from a different culture presents unique challenges for leadership. Fear not! There are some communications ideas and best practices that can aid companies in fostering earnest, respectful employee engagement.
Diversify Executive Leadership
Our firm consults extensively on Diversity and Inclusion and with each client, we prefer to begin at the top, so to speak. Diversity in executive leadership covers a multitude of sins. We advise that when leadership mirrors the makeup of its workforce, it will inherently tend to demonstrate a sensitivity to and validation of that entire workforce. As such, many of the communications challenges are preemptively addressed by virtue of the leadership’s composition. Stated differently, members from a given group often know better how to effectively engage and communicate with other members of that group. Accordingly, when the majority of subgroups within a workforce are represented in leadership, the various subgroups are more likely to have someone who viscerally understands the issues unique to their group. As we say around the office, ‘You can see diversity in the break room, but you can only see inclusion in the boardroom.’
Expand Cultural Understanding
By its very nature, expanding one’s cultural understanding necessitates venturing beyond one’s comfort zones. This can be a challenging exercise for a person, to say nothing of an entire organization. A strategy we often recommend to our clients is to initiate cultural awareness with a micro rather than a macro approach. Instead of recommending a museum visit or an article as a starting point, which would generally be about a group of people rather than just one person, create safe, nonjudgmental opportunities for team members to ask questions and learn from the diversity within the group itself.
An example might be a manager-led game or workshop – one in which he or she also participates – that tactfully and compassionately compels engagement from all participants, both by asking questions and sharing about one’s self. Our clients’ experiences with this approach have been exceedingly positive. They believe the broader participation and efficacy is derived from team members learning from one another, rather than a course, book or someone not connected to the company. With the rapidly changing demography of today’s employee populations, it is crucial that leadership make every effort to meet and understand workers where they are.
Develop Listening Skills
Similar to personal relationships, professional relationships often succeed or fail on the strength of communication. As we can all attest, listening may be the most important – and elusive – component of conversation. Difficult though it may be, improving listening skills is essential to enhancing or maintaining solid company/employee interaction.
There are several behaviors that can be helpful in upgrading one’s listening abilities. Some include:
Demonstrate that your care
Actively engage in the conversation
Resist being judgmental
Whether personally or professionally, we all need to feel heard. Leadership must be vigilant in maintaining an environment that supports and nourishes every employee’s belief that he or she is being heard.
The 2020 workplace is far more complex and dynamic than the workplace of even 10 years prior. Much of that complexity arises from how diverse our society – and by extension our workforce – has become. Meeting the challenges of a diverse employee population rely on effective employee engagement. Those organizations who commit to transparent, authentic employee engagement are likely to be the more innovative, more profitable entities well into the 21st century.