Article: 6 ingredients that make organizational cultures inclusive


6 ingredients that make organizational cultures inclusive

A and People Matters Study
6 ingredients that make organizational cultures inclusive

Creating and pursuing inclusive cultures is a marriage between the thought processes of an organization and its stakeholders and to make this work, communication is the most effective tool


When organizations deliver to external heterogeneous stakeholders, they look for homogeneity internally within the organization, and a key stakeholder in this process is the employee


With multiple stakeholders, diverse workforce, digitization, globalization of labor and growing customer markets, crafting an organizational culture could seem daunting. Here are the six ingredients that make organizational cultures inclusive.

What comes to mind when we think of organizational culture? Vision, values, business goals, perhaps even ethical considerations; while all of these are correct answers, the People Matters and Study went a step further to ask the question, what makes an organizational culture as the ‘intangible glue’ that binds all employees together? What are the ingredients that make it inclusive? While a generic understanding of an organizational culture is attributed to a system of shared assumptions, values and beliefs, it dictates as to how employees act and perform their daily jobs and also defines how business is conducted both internally and externally. These systems collectively are most poignantly referred to as the DNA of a company. 

Every organization today has to contend with workplace diversity — whether demographic, racial or gender. With the accelerating change in the nature of work and workforce, companies have to constantly adapt to and manage organizational restructuring, digitization, globalization of labor and growing customer markets. While the right culture drives strategic growth, a misstep can render it irrelevant. But where do cultural characteristics such as values, vision come from? Most organizations rely on the vision/ideas articulated by a founder-leader during the early years of a company. As organizations grow, such values are hard coded within a company’s policies and day-to-day business processes and operations. Today, companies are exposed to multiple examples of excellent organizational cultures. While imitating cultures are bound to fail, company’s today are assessing their own cultures where their employees experience a sense of ownership and inclusion.

We spoke to leaders and employees across different organizations in different stages of growth, spread over different sectors. Atleast 90% of the organizations revealed that creating an inclusive culture is the need of the hour and that various efforts are being taken to build inclusive cultures.

What do ‘inclusive cultures’ mean?

While much has been said about the importance of inclusive cultures, what does it really mean as a concept? What is its role in business strategy? How can organizations reflect it? 

When we spoke to both employers and employees about their views on culture, there were two different perspectives. Most employees understood culture from a work environment point of view; they listed attributes such as – freedom at workplace, empowerment and engagement to deliver, feeling part of the organization or team, instilling a drive to improve productivity, maintaining transparency at workplace etc. For employers, culture was fairly strategic in nature – it was about defining how things worked in the organization, the propeller of a value system and a vision of the organization. Any effort made towards syncing the two points of view leads to building ‘Inclusive’ Cultures.

Inclusive cultures would mean using organizational design to effectively propel the value system and vision of the organization so that the members of the organization thrive and deliver beyond expectations.

Building blocks for creating an inclusive organizational culture

When we spoke to organizational leaders and employees from the manufacturing sector, IT sector, financial services (all above 1,500 employees) about their reasons for pursuing inclusive cultures and the challenges along the way, we found at least six common themes that enabled them to build inclusive cultures.

1. Walk the Talk: Creating and pursuing inclusive cultures requires every individual in the organization to live by the values and beliefs of the organization. Respondents in our research felt that when the top management of the organization demonstrated the values and beliefs of the organization through their actions, the impact created on employees across levels was much higher. Since organizational leaders are most often seen as role models, employees are more likely to emulate them in their own work life. External and internal discussion forums, executive leadership talks, interactions with business stakeholders are some examples where leadership can demonstrate and reinforce the company’s values and beliefs.

Strategic decisions are another area through which organizations exemplify their values.  According to a respondent, the value on ethics cost his company a lost opportunity of a few hundred crores in business. However, living by the values doesn’t always have to be measured in large numbers, it can mean simple things like starting a presentation with anecdotes that outline values, having them storified and displayed to engage with the employee. 

2. Create Supportive and Enabling Systems and Processes: When organizations deliver to external heterogeneous stakeholders, they look for homogeneity internally within the organization, and a key stakeholder in this process is the employee. Not only is each employee different, they are also the primary drivers of performance in an organization. One participant organization focused on their hiring policies because they believed that in order to deliver, it was important to hire people with the ‘right’ mindset. An organizations systems, policies and processes are usually the starting points that drive inclusivity in organizations. Today, technological interventions are effectively used to create and pursue inclusive cultures. With multiple generations working in one organization at the same time, the challenge lies in their different priorities and ways of learning. However, what is common across all the generations is the need to be ‘coached’ and not ‘taught’. ‘Coaching’ is inherently seen as an inclusive method of involved learning; organizations are investing in efforts that go towards creating systems and processes to enhance use of this method of learning.

3. Create mechanisms to reinforce the desired behaviors: While hiring people with a mindset that is closer to organizational thinking is one way of initiating culture, it is also important to pursue and reinforce the desired behavior within organizations. One way companies are doing this is by making conscious and systemic changes to their reward and recognition systems. One participant company used a gamification model for employee engagement that helped them improve employee morale, productivity and top lines. The extent of inclusivity in the company goes as far as to allow employees engage in making policy changes.  For another organization that upgraded their rewards and recognition mechanisms to meet the growing definition of inclusivity, it meant not just internal employees but the society and community at large. The company therefore took measures to reward and recognize those who undertook projects that gave back to the society. 

4. Communicate and Seek Feedback: Creating and pursuing inclusive cultures is a marriage between the thought processes of an organization and its stakeholders. To make the marriage work, communication is the most effective tool. While a two-way communication route is the key to driving and pursuing an inclusive culture, the channel of communication makes all the difference in understanding what kind of culture an organization is pursuing. One of the respondents shared an observation involving the founder of the organization he worked for. Every evening when he left office, he ensured that people in office left office in time to go home. If anyone lived around the area that was on his route back home, he would offer to drop the person on the way. This gesture resonated with individuals in the organization because they knew that the organization cares for them – and in this instance, it was not their immediate managers but the founder himself. Communication therefore does not always need to be explicit. Actions and small gestures towards employees go a long way in pursuing inclusive cultures. One participant organization used an employee engagement platform that shared all the communication to the employees and asked employees to give their feedback. This intelligent platform then collates this information, senses the mood of the organization and passes a message to decision makers. It is a fearless mode of communication.

5. Build Trust and Transparency: “If organizations have to pursue a culture, it is important that the structure is built on the factor of trust. The levels in the organization, reporting structures, information flow mechanisms, the level of transparency observed in the organization is all based on the factor of ‘trust’”, said an interviewee. One part of building trust is by making individuals own actions that are driven through work design and information flow mechanisms in the form of defined roles and responsibilities. One respondent gave the example of an organization that is going through a restructuring exercise. While it is likely that it would be rightsizing on one end and hiring new people on the other, such moves are likely to cause a lot of internal disturbance. Building trust within the system and communicating with every employee with conviction and transparency will reduce the amount of disturbance caused. It is also important to be aware of cultural sensibilities while communicating.

Thus, it is important to build trust and transparency to demonstrate the seriousness of management towards commitments made to employees especially in moments of crisis. Citing the economic crisis of 2008-09, one respondent pointed out that while many organizations chose to lay-off employees irrespective of their performance, the top management in his company took a cut in their salaries to support the payment of others. This gesture clearly passed on a signal to the employees that the organization trusted their employees and stood by them even when tough economic times persisted.

6. Respect Diverse Thought Processes: Pursuing inclusive culture calls for developing a sense of respect for every individual for his/her thought processes. Organizations are making a conscious effort to ensure that there is optimum diversity in the organization by redesigning their policies and workplaces.

This also requires change in mindset of employees and organizational leaders which are highly influenced by the cultures they have grown up in. In this context, behavioral interventions which allow individuals an opportunity for self-realization is important to create and pursue inclusive cultures. 

A respondent from the older generation mentioned that he does not find it challenging to work with Generation Y, because he understands that they have a point of view and would not take anything on face value, and therefore his approach to dealing with situations is now much more robust as he does his ground work even more thoroughly than he would have done otherwise. That has helped him boost his self-confidence and allowed him to perform better. And it has also worked the other way round because the younger generation looks at him not as a senior who has power and position, but as a person who has a perspective and experience; and they can look up to him for guidance. All organizations feel that steps are being taken to ensure that diverse thought processes are respected, but there surely is a long way to go.

Conclusion: Building and pursuing an inclusive culture requires conscious efforts from the organization. While each of the building blocks play a very important role in helping organizations pursue their dream of establishing an inclusive culture, none of them act independent of each other. The real value is in being able to integrate and synchronize each one of them so as to create homogeneity in the organization. It is also important to realize that building and pursuing a culture is a long process and needs concentrated efforts from the organization’s leadership. Consistency in approach to any initiative and the effort and patience required to pursue the initiative is the key to building value from the complexities that arise in the process. While inclusivity positively contributes to an organization’s performance by bringing about more openness and flexibility, it is important for organizations to carefully choose their systems and processes so that they support the organization agenda, and not act as a hindrance.

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Topics: Culture, Leadership

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