March 05, 2021 - 1301 views|
New leaders can make sure employees feel they belong by taking an 'asking vs. telling' approach and engaging in rigorous relationship building.
There's a certain level of disruption that occurs when new leaders join an organization. Take the following scenario, which I witnessed firsthand at one of my clients.
He was the fifth senior director in two years to lead a key department in a global technology company. No wonder the group was suspicious. Based on early interviews with key stakeholders, the mandate from company executives was clear: Help this group of talented individuals evolve into a high-performing team.
So, as this person went through the new-leader assimilation process, he intentionally started by meeting one-on-one with each member of the department with one purpose in mind – to firmly establish why this time would be different.
Typically, the new-leader assimilation process begins with a facilitated session focused on telling the team about the new leader’s personal style. But doing that misses the most important employee concern of all. When employees feel like they are bouncing from one new boss to the next, they have numerous worries, such as: Do I still belong here? Will this leader appreciate me for who I am and what I can contribute? Does my work still matter?
My research with Cognizant reveals that when a leader purposefully shapes the employee experience around belonging, team members are better positioned to be more productive and innovative, while ultimately driving stronger individual and organizational results. This demands that leaders start their new-leader assimilation process from a different viewpoint – one that relies on asking vs. telling and pivots around rigorous relationship building.
The qualities of inclusive leadership
Inclusive leaders are inquisitive. They are curious about individual differences and want to understand how others think and feel, and they empathetically value differences in life experiences. As a recent book published by two senior Korn Ferry strategists warns: “The only way to ignite diversity and all the power it brings is to tap into it, explore it [and] understand it through inquisitiveness.”
Employees certainly want to be connected to a team, but they also want to have their differences acknowledged, leveraged and valued. That became abundantly clear at my aforementioned client when one team member shared: “I can do my job with any tech firm. I just want to feel like I belong and am in the service of something.”
Workplace belonging is not a fuzzy concept. The feelings generated by feeling included, valued, connected and welcomed provide a rich framework for dialog about what it means to work.
It’s in the asking, not the telling
So, what can new leaders do to begin the process of building a sense of belonging? They start by asking great questions that get at what matters most emotionally. Here are the questions to ask to understand and address these emotional factors.
Belonging matters. New leaders need to signal that building relationships is important to them. An onboarding process that taps into feelings of belonging provides that rare opportunity to establish personal connections and create a platform for working together in service of something that matters.