There’s no debate that companies with engaged employees and diverse teams are more successful. They have greater profitability, lower costs, and higher stock prices than companies with disengaged, homogeneous workforces. For years, studies 1 and real-world experience have shown this to be true, and yet here we are at the beginning of 2021, not having made nearly enough progress.
Do managers not believe the data?
Do they not have ways of measuring engagement and diversity?
Or is it just not intuitive?
Focus on sales, you make more money. Make the product better or cheaper and you make more money.
But people? People are costs. Reduce costs and you make more money.
That’s how managers have run companies for decades.
And even leaders who understand they need to improve can struggle to behave any other way: they are victims of their companies’ antiquated cultures.
So how do we get the right amount of managerial focus on engagement, diversity, and inclusion, all essential components of a successful modern business?
Perhaps we should start with a look at language.
The words we use matter. The wrong words don’t communicate the same ideas to everyone. Generic “shortcut” words don’t either, though it often feels like they do.
Maybe the words we use aren’t helping. Maybe terms like “engagement” and “retention” and “inclusion” feel too vague and soft to be taken seriously in a C-suite where managers talk about “killing it.”
We want to be on the cutting edge, to push the envelope. To do that, we move the ball down the field and hit home runs. We make a battle plan because we have a dog in this fight. We bring in hired guns to play hardball and do the heavy lifting. And we look for magic bullets, because, you know, this isn’t our first rodeo.
It's pretty macho stuff, mixed metaphors and all, but it’s where a lot of corporate cultures are today. Hopefully, this language will evolve as cultures do, but until then, perhaps we should talk about inclusion and engagement in more active terms, and focus on results.
What if, instead of saying, “engagement,” we get specific and talk about how we can reduce absenteeism and employee theft, and improve workplace safety, all without massive investment in hardware? Let’s talk about how we motivate our employees to increase efficiency, customer loyalty, and profitability. Those are the real, measurable benefits of engaged employees. And by using such specific language, one can immediately envision programs and initiatives to accomplish those goals.
Unfortunately, “diversity,” and “inclusion,” have become trigger words for some people—the very people who most need to value them. And those words don’t suggest the benefits to the business that come with diversity.
So, let’s start talking about what it takes to attract top talent, improve decision making, and increase customer satisfaction. Let’s talk about how we can keep our company relevant to younger workers and stay relevant by modernizing our culture. Those are a few of the many benefits that come from a diverse, inclusive workforce.
And let’s acknowledge the roadblocks in our company that will limit our success if we don’t confront and overcome them. When we talk about happier customers and greater profitability, rather than simply improved engagement, it will be easier to focus executives on culture change.
Finally, let’s use these words in managers’ incentive plans. If they don’t value engagement or inclusion, let’s reward them based on reduced absenteeism, improved workplace safety, recruiting quality, and customer satisfaction.
Guaranteed, when their bonus depends on hitting these engagement and inclusion goals, they’ll kill it.
1. “The Other Diversity Dividend” Harvard Business Review, 2018