The illusion of inclusion – when companies play games

Management called a meeting with several groups of employees. The objective was to gather input on a problem that needed to be solved. They allegedly wanted to hear directly from employees, so they could collectively create a workable solution. The employees would buy into a decision they helped to develop. As management laid out the problem they solicited suggestions. Each time a solution was offered by the rank and file, the managers told why it wouldn’t work and offered an alternative. This went back and forth for an extended period of time, until finally they were at an impasse.

The employees became frustrated by the leader’s rejection of their ideas. The managers had apparently arrived at a solution they wanted the workers to endorse, rather than give their opinion. The tension in the room was significant. Later, the workers learned that a proposal had already been submitted to Senior Leadership and received their approval. A document outlining the change had been printed. It was all a charade, the decision had been made. Some managers thought it would be a coup if they could run the program by the employees before implementation to receive their stamp of approval before rolling it out to the entire company. They could use employee input and endorsement to sell it to the entire population. Needless to say the strategy backfired and caused dissent and mistrust.

Another organization read the latest data on the importance of diversity and inclusion programs to improve the level of engagement in top corporations. They viewed themselves as a top-tier company and wanted to attract and retain top talent. Their definition of diversity was not limited to race and gender. It incorporated all of the ways people are different including variety of ideas and thought. One candidate was told in the interview that his independent thinking and ability to challenge existing methods was attractive to the company. When he was hired he was told to use the same forthright challenging method to shake up the establishment. He followed their suggestions. Almost immediately, there was trouble in paradise.

He spoke up against the status quo and was severely isolated and reprimanded. He reminded Human Resources of the conversations held during the interviews where he was told that candor was encouraged. When he referred to pre-hire mandate, he was told he had to take it slow. In essence they hired him for his brain and independent thinking but forbade him from using these gifts. He was chastised for not being a team player.  He was told that he did not respect tradition and demonstrated a low-level of emotional intelligence. In retrospect, he should have done greater research into the company culture before trusting the words of the interviewers. He felt he would be at home and would be readily accepted and included in changing the company. He ran head on into the illusion of inclusion.

If the company has an identity crisis and has not settled on its corporate values and personality, it may take a while to find itself. If a few individuals have good intentions about changing their culture, but does not have the support of leadership, be careful. There are at least three things to take into consideration.

  • People are smarter than you might think and will eventually see through the lies
  • It is better to be authentic about your intentions, even if it portrays a ruthless organizational climate
  • People should be involved as soon as possible in matters that concern their jobs

People are smarter than you think

People can tell when your actions don’t match your words or your walk doesn’t match your talk. People would rather you tell them the truth than to lie to them. They can respect you more if you are consistent, truthful and tell it as it is. They know where you stand and where they stand. No one likes to have someone underestimate their intelligence or play them for a fool. The highest form of arrogance is to think your employees don’t have the intellectual capacity to see through transparent acts of manipulation.

Be authentic about intentions

Career selections and company choices are critical decisions. Just as you want the correct match for your organization, the same is true of candidates. If the company makes a bad hiring decision, they have more room to regroup without much damage. However, an individual with a family to feed and a reputation to explain may not have the same flexibility, time and resourcefulness to recover. Don’t waste time on illusions and projecting a false image of your company and culture. People will find out soon enough. Eventually the marketplace will punish you for your lack of integrity. Top talent will avoid you. The community of candidates can create a potent grapevine to steer people away from your organization.

People should be involved ASAP

People like to be involved in matters affecting their employment, such as quality and quantity of work, culture of the environment and employment opportunities. Numerous studies support employee desire to be asked their opinions. Many companies have focus groups, employee surveys, suggestion systems and various means to hear from employees. Daniel Pink in his book Drive discusses the new information on motivating employees. The first quality is to have autonomy over their work. They want the ability to influence time at work, the tasks they perform, the people on the team they work with and the different techniques they can use to be effective.

If you work for a company that uses smoke and mirrors and other means of deception to project an ideal culture; that they have no intention of achieving, work can be frustrating. If you are a leader in such an organization, the plethora of data on engagement, culture, climate, diversity and inclusion, should remind you of the need to change. Authenticity will build trust. Inclusion that is genuine will have a profound effect on company culture, engagement, productivity and overall results. 

Copyright © 2011 Orlando Ceaser

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