Posted by Catherine Hedden ● August 13, 2020

Take Care of Your People: How to Create a Sense of Organizational Belonging

TIU-take_care_ofThe year 2020 has left most of us feeling tossed and tumbled by wave after wave of change and uncertainty. In surfer slang, we’re being worked. As we look out over the horizon, it’s clear this is not a temporary situation, but rather a new operating environment where the only thing certain is uncertainty. Whether it’s political change, social instability, financial insecurity, severe climate events or global health crises, uncertainty is our new operating environment.

With this in mind, we developed a program to help organizations build the capabilities necessary to Thrive in Uncertainty. In this article, we will focus on the second step in our Thrive in Uncertainty Program: Take Care of Your People.

Thrive in Uncertainty Program

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Step 2: Take Care of Your People

I have a friend who has lost four family members to COVID-19 and several friends who don’t know anyone who has tested positive. I have friends who are facing scary financial situations and other friends who are seeing their businesses thrive because of new opportunities. I have friends who love the cocoon of social distancing and working from home, who are thrilled with the slower pace of life and more time with family and other friends who are feeling isolated, lonely and depressed.

We are experiencing the current situation as individuals and as a society, resulting in experiences that are as varied as we are. As organization leaders, it is important to recognize this variation in personal experience and the impact it can have on worker well-being and performance.

94 percent of respondents to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report agreed that“well-being drives organizational performance.”

However, employee well-being is just one attribute necessary to create an environment where teams can thrive in uncertainty.

What is needed for people to thrive in uncertainty is a sense of belonging.

Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the attributes of organizational belonging are progressive and additive. They include worker comfort, connection and contribution.

Why Belonging?

Belonging has been an organizational priority for leading employers for years because of the strong link to organizational performance. A 2019 study by BetterUp found that workplace belonging can lead to an estimated 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and a 75 percent decrease in employee sick days.

However, with the events of 2020 and what appears to be a permanent shift in the external operating environment, organization belonging is now an even more urgent priority.

Comfort

Deloitte completed its 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report using data gathered prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In their report, survey respondents identified comfort as the biggest contributor to belonging. The report defined comfort as fostering a work environment where workers feel they can bring their authentic selves to work and are treated fairly. Today, this definition seems lacking.

“Organizations with an inclusive culture are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times as likely to be innovative and agile and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.”
-The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths

In 2020, worker comfort includes concerns about health, safety, financial insecurity, childcare and working from home. Because comfort is foundational to worker belonging and organizational performance, we believe leaders should prioritize addressing these issues.

The first step in addressing worker comfort is to listen. Provide your workers with a way to express their concerns and know they are being heard. Then, be clear and transparent about what the organization can and will do to address their concerns. Be creative. Just because it wasn’t done in the past doesn’t mean it can’t be done now. There are many examples of organizations supporting remote work arrangements who previously believed the work must be performed in an office.

Connection

According to an analysis from Deloitte, worker connection occurs on two levels: “when workers feel they have meaningful relationships with coworkers and their teams, and when they feel connected with the organization’s purpose and goals.” In 2020, supporting and reinforcing these points of connection has created new challenges for organization leaders.

Remote work arrangements mean there are no more water cooler conversations, after-work happy hours or chili cook-offs. Birthday celebrations, softball teams and shared volunteer projects are on hold or not happening. Organizations must learn new ways to foster impromptu and natural relationship building. Ideas include:

  • Make sure workers have all of the remote communication and work tools they need.
  • Use video for meetings.
  • Encourage both structured and unstructured meetings.
  • Have “open office” hours where you’re available for a quick Zoom call without a scheduled appointment.
  • Lead by example – host a virtual happy hour or birthday celebration.
  • Over communicate.
  • Have frequent check-ins.
  • Lighten-up your communication. Share gifs, emojis or photos to encourage more casual and light engagement.
  • Organize a virtual retreat.
  • Make it easy for workers to be brand advocates by encouraging them through social media. Show appreciation, celebrate successes and help them build their personal brand.

I think of an organization’s purpose as its heart. It spells out why an organization exists and what problems it’s here to solve. It is the emotional glue that connects each human it touches to the brand. Even before 2020, organizations were using purpose to create deeper connections with customers, do more for the communities in which they work, attract and retain talent, and in the process, achieve greater results and impact.

"Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, all the while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction."
-Jim Stengel Company

Today, as workers have enjoyed more time with family, many are asking if the long hours they spend at work are “worth it.” Feeling a strong connection to the organization’s purpose can help a worker find a sense of meaning and inspiration.

However, it is important for organizations to check the relevance and context of their brand purpose communications. In light of the events of 2020, it is likely your brand narrative (the stories you share externally) and identity narrative (the stories you share internally) would benefit from a tweak, if not a complete overhaul. Much like gifted communicators who match the voice and tone of the conversation, it is important for your internal and external communications to blend with (or with intention, be counter to) the current mood. This will enable both customers and workers to feel more connected and inspired by your brand purpose.

Contribution

Contribution takes the comfort and connection workers feel and advances their sense of belonging through an understanding that what they do truly matters in the pursuit of common goals. When this is expressed as an identity narrative, the power of knowing they are having a positive impact in the world is stunning.

Survey results support the link between a feeling of contribution and a feeling of belonging: Sixty-three percent of survey respondents, when asked how creating a sense of belonging supports organizational performance, answered that it does so by enhancing alignment between individual and organizational objectives.

As our world continues to slide into a chasm of polarization, “belonging based on contribution does not require people to agree on (for instance) their political views or conform to a single cultural template. Instead, it celebrates individuals’ and teams’ diversity of thought in ways that promote their commitment to shared outcomes, enabling them to engage in discussions that consider a variety of perspectives with the aim of coming to an agreement. When teams are united by a common purpose, differences in opinion on matters unrelated to that purpose can become less relevant and differences in opinion on how to achieve that purpose become grounds for reasonable dialogue rather than a source of divisiveness.”

Your Organization

Fostering a sense of belonging in your organization will not only drive organizational performance in the short-run, it will also build your organization’s capacity to thrive in times of uncertainty, both now and in the future.

How can you know if your organization has a culture of belonging? Here are a few questions that may help you evaluate your organization.

  • Do your workers feel their perspectives are respected and valued?
  • Do your workers feel free to show up at work as their authentic selves?
  • Are diverse perspectives respected and valued?
  • Do your workers feel aligned with your organization’s purpose? (Do they know your organization’s purpose?)
  • Do workers feel a sense of belonging with their teammates?
  • Do your workers understand how their work makes a difference in pursuit of broader shared goals?
  • Does leadership behavior reinforce organization fairness, respect and psychological safety?
  • Does leadership behavior inspire workers to perform at their best?
  • Do your workers and their teams have the autonomy to make decisions and provide input?
  • Are team members comfortable and able to engage in productive friction – the ability to draw out conflict and learn from disagreements to generate new insights?

If you are unsure of the answers or would like to hear directly from your team, rather than guess, we’ve developed a proprietary tool that can quickly help you better understand your workers' level of belonging and readiness to Thrive in Uncertainty. Just reach out to us. We’d love to share it with you.

Topics: Change Management, Culture, Coronavirus, Leadership

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