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How to create and promote belonging in your organization

By Kirsten Lora, Vice President Learning, Catapult

Lately, the Catapult Learning team has noticed a trend that organizations will say, “We operate in many countries,” and when saying that are claiming, “We embrace diversity and don’t need a plan or program.” However, just because an organization has team members in different locations does not mean that it operates as a diverse organization.

Diversity programs are more than a percentage of employees who are male or female, this religion or that, representative of different age groups, or from various ethnic backgrounds with different skin colors. Diversity programs are about creating an inclusive culture and making sure everyone feels part of the whole. We call that belonging.

Belonging is what we all want to feel. We try to find friend groups who embrace us for just being who we are, who we trust and confide in, and who support us in becoming the best version of ourselves. A corporate environment is not any different than a social setting. An ideal workplace makes you feel part of the whole, rather than the exception. You have leaders who you trust, you feel secure within the organization, and you are safe to be yourself openly and honestly.

Below are steps that we as leaders should consider to promote belonging in the workplace:

    1. Understand what your employees need. Some need leadership roles to feel that you are including them and giving them a voice. Others want independent projects but not the responsibilities of managing others. If you don’t know how an employee will feel respected and included, then ask. Part of making sure people feel they belong is understanding what belonging means to them.
    2. Encourage employees to engage and contribute; and respect what they say. Often, as managers we “listen,” but we do not actually engage. Change that dynamic by being an active listener while your team leads—you will be surprised by how much more they accomplish when they have a voice. Invite team members to lead discussions, brainstorm new ideas, improve their own processes and systems, and ask questions—and truly engage in those conversations with them. Make it clear that you respect their ideas and opinions and treat them as collaborators and contributors.
    3. Share with employees. We all want to align with our company’s goals and mission and to understand the ecosystem in which we work. Sometimes as leaders we assume that our employees know what our goals are and see how their work connects. We need to break that habit and be intentional about engaging with information and insight. Talk about the organization in team meetings, answer questions about recent changes, and address concerns. Make sure each year (or quarter) that your team knows the corporate goals and understands how those goals cascade down to the individual level. This does not mean changing how HR wants you to set and manage goals, but it does mean having a conversation about how specific goals tie back to the larger picture. For example, at my last organization I managed an operations team. A goal of ours was improving speed and accuracy for product skews. This tied to a corporate goal because the faster we skewed pubs, the sooner we got to market, and the more sales we could generate. We supported a high-level strategic revenue target with our tactical goal. My team was able to create their own departmental goals, so they gained a sense of belonging by establishing how they could target supporting the corporate strategic goals for the year.
    4. Take care of your people. As leaders, we live or die by our team. Meaning, a team who is disconnected, apathetic, and insecure are not giving their best effort. There will be fewer accomplishments, more internal conflicts, more people issues to manage, and constant turnover. But a team who is engaged and feels like they belong will be more successful. Employees who belong know they are valued, cared for, supported, and are likely to stay with an organization. So, check in with your employees often, ask about how you can best support them, and make sure they feel valued.
    5. Create communities. One of our facilitators runs a diversity, equity, and belonging initiative at his organization. They are focusing on belonging through employee-led communities. These communities can be related to corporate or social interests. For example, a software company in Cary, NC uses Slack for a “dog of the day” community where employees share dog photos, dog playdate schedules, and cute videos. Communities may need guidelines about appropriate behaviors, such as technology use, respect, anti-bullying, etc., but they should not be controlled by the organization. Believe that employees will embrace the culture that you have created of respect, engagement, and trust. Let them form groups where they can support each other with common interests and grow as individuals. This is another way that an organization can help employees feel more supported.

There are so many ways to promote belonging in an organization. Join us for our upcoming course Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: A Closer Look to learn more about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Learn more about the course and register here.

We would love to hear about what you are doing in your organization so we can all grow together! Email our Learning team to share the best practices your organization has adopted: learning@letscatapult.org.

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