Is your organization ready for a culture of Belonging?

Have you ever felt that you were forced to fit in or were left out of something –waiting on the sidelines for someone to acknowledge you, let you in, and make you feel welcomed and valued?

Many of us equate this feeling with when we were younger, perhaps watching as the popular crowd ate lunch at a table together. Hopefully, we also recall times when we were welcomed and valued and remember the unique energy that was created. The desire to belong lasts long into adulthood and impacts our working lives. If we feel that we don't belong in our work environment, then we don’t bring our highest level of performance and contribution to the organization. A lack of Belonging can impact employee engagement, minimize retention, and diminish the workplace culture over the long term.

We are talking about Belonging, the experience of knowing we are a valued member of the work community. When people feel that they belong, they share a sense of purpose and commitment. They feel they can bring their whole, authentic selves, and they are invited to contribute.

So, how does an organization get to Belonging? Conversations regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are often a good place to start. However, some workplaces view DE&I as solely a human resources issue or boxes to be checked, as Daisy Jenkins points out in her article. Establishing a culture of Belonging does not allow you to exercise minimal follow-through as a leader.

Let’s start with when an organization believes it is ready to pursue a path to Belonging. Most importantly, this pursuit must be sponsored by leadership, including the Board. Not every organization is prepared or equipped for this type of journey. Some are looking for training or maybe even an understanding of what they must do, but many do not have the vision of true inclusivity that Belonging entails.

We see the path to Belonging as a three-step process involving strengthening the roots, readying for growth, and sustaining the energy that begins to emerge. Strengthening the roots means starting efforts when leadership is committed to transforming the culture as a business imperative for sustained organizational success –even if it means some discomfort in shedding legacy practices and policies. Readying for growth requires an intense examination of culture, infrastructure, work design, and talent. Sustainability involves keeping leadership accountable, continuous measurement, communication, and visible sponsorship.

Make no mistake, this is a long-term commitment. To reach true Belonging, team members need to experience tangible results. For example, leaders must be intentional in championing the concepts. Employee engagement metrics must swing significantly toward indicators that everyone feels heard, valued, and included. Boards may need to evolve to better reflect diverse representation.

The other realization about Belonging is that, although outside consultants and advisors can guide an organization along the path, it is a commitment that must come from within. Leadership must do the heavy lifting by modeling the behaviors and continuously monitoring the employee culture.

There is no doubt that this is hard work, but the outcome is sure to be exceptional. Organizations that embrace Belonging foster cultures where every human being is valued, the workplace community is uplifted, and all share a feeling of confidence about the future. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and this is the type of culture where everyone –from entry-level team members to leadership to the Board and CEO – will want to belong.

Robert O'Toole has more than 30 years of experience in human resources with an emphasis on talent and performance management, leadership, organizational development, and employee relations. Known for his business acumen and ability to form collaborative teams, Robert is a senior advisor with THEO Executive Group, a trusted advisor to many of America's chief executives and leading organizations. Together with their clients, THEO develops extraordinary human beings and lifts leaders to build truly great workforce communities. The THEO Group is noted nationwide for being change agents with proprietary methodologies that deliver, inspire, and transform.

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