At the best small companies, inclusion happens naturally. Colleagues are few in number and often just a desk away. Everyone feels like they belong.
When it comes to company culture, and especially employee engagement, large companies have to try harder. At service providers like Cognizant, where employees spend a lot of time at client sites, creating a workplace that offers the welcoming feel of a small company requires extra diligence. By taking a page from our smaller counterparts, we can emulate the sense of belonging that’s essential to a workplace in which everyone has a voice.
Creating a Welcoming Culture
Here’s how to promote inclusion even when offices are spread throughout the world and many employees work remotely from home:
• Double down on communication regarding training and development. The good news is that global organizations offer a wealth of opportunities for career development and advancement. Where they can stumble is on getting the word out about these opportunities. By actively promoting classes, e-learning modules and other education benefits, large companies can boost participation rates in their training and development programs. For example, through our participation with MAKERS, a U.S.-based invitation-only organization whose mission is for companies to celebrate and acknowledge their game-changing female employees, we pledged to train 12,000 women in digital skills, including cloud, analytics and machine learning. The public nature of our commitment — announced at the 2018 MAKERS conference in February — helped the program gain traction quickly. Training can be done online or in traditional classes, and employees select from among 30 skills clusters. After a successful launch, the program is set to expand company-wide this fall.
• Create outlets for innovative ideas. When it comes to new ideas, size should be an advantage for large companies: If two heads are better than one, 20,000 should be outstanding. It can be difficult, however, for new ideas to get noticed when corporate campuses and offices span the globe. To help bring new ideas to fruition, our Accelerator program funds employees’ entrepreneurial ideas for products and services, including six months of development with technical and marketing support. We also sponsor an annual innovation forum that lets employees submit work they’ve done that embodies forward-thinking and emerging technologies.
• Make the most of limited time together. Conference calls are the lifeblood of any global company. They’re literally where our voices are heard — and often our main path for getting to know each other. Calls that open with a few minutes of non-business talk help us nurture the virtual relationships that are the heart of global organizations. A congenial, supportive call sets the tone for a project and offers the opportunity to interact in a personal way. We all work best when we feel free to be ourselves, discover shared experiences and are introduced to new points of view.
• The new game changer: Video meetings. (Hint: casual dress permitted.) Small companies naturally spur the informal exchange of ideas and the connections that make organizations hum. Video meetings can help large organizations foster similar kinds of connections – especially when it’s made clear that there’s no need to worry about looking video-ready. At Cognizant, more than one executive has been known to wear a baseball cap when on video. Messy buns are welcome. So is having your dog nearby. The emphasis is on working together.
• Clear a path for feedback. The annual sit-down performance review can fall short of providing the sustained connection that enables employees to grow in their jobs. Many companies are shifting to a continuous feedback model that funnels comments and guidance to employees regularly rather than once a year. The idea is to close the communication loop, so that employees receive feedback on, say, projects and presentations in the course of meetings that occur throughout the year.
• Build a local community presence. One of the best ways to foster inclusion in the office is to spend time together outside of it. Encouraging local initiatives, such as regionally managed volunteer programs, enables employees to follow their interests and gives them a great reason to get together and share good work, whether it’s working at a food pantry, scooping ice cream at a community day or participating in a fundraising walk.
A Small Town Feel in a Large Organization
Recent data from Gallup reveals that just three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that their opinions count at work. It’s incumbent on businesses, no matter how large, to ensure their employees are part of that 30%. By cultivating employee connections and raising the level of engagement, organizations can have the best of both worlds: the scale and scope of a large enterprise, and the intimacy of a smaller one.
We’ve assembled some of Cognizant’s keenest minds to share their thoughts on how businesses can improve diversity and inclusion, both in an e-book, “Making Room: Reflections on Diversity & Inclusion in the Future of Work,” and a blog series.
In addition to our kick-off article on D&I in the tech industry, our upcoming blogs will cover an array of topics, grouped in four categories:
- The future of work (including blogs on moving beyond the D&I buzzword and why the future of work hinges on D&I).
- What makes us uniquely human in a machine age (including lessons from Beyoncé on authenticity, what global businesses can learn from small businesses and ensuring human centricity in a data-driven culture).
- Addressing bias (including overcoming ageism, dispelling working-mom myths, embracing adaptive technologies and using technology to tackle hiring bias).
- Working with community partners (including renovating youth development with the Lower Eastside Girls Club, empowering women through sponsorship, upskilling underrepresented talent and some bright lights of innovative D&I efforts that are actually making headway).
We invite you to read and welcome your comments to continue this vital discussion.