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Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Is Attitude more important than Belonging?

I recently finished my Strategic Case Analysis for my MBA at Durham University and combined with my consultancy work, I got to thinking “why does Diversity and Inclusion feel like such a barrier to some people and completely ingrained in the DNA of others?” By just trying to measure the increase of the number of women, people from a BAME background or those from any other protected characteristic that we have in our workplace as nothing more than a metric, does this mean those people are delivering to their best? And how does it make those who would be seen as the majority of each work force feel to see other people getting “unfair advantages” in the organisation in terms of developmental opportunities or interviews? Don’t get me wrong. Diversity and Inclusion is hugely important for business. Without it, we miss out connecting with a huge part of our work force, our clients, our customers and society at large. But is there a better way of doing it? Below are my top three findings from the research, and I would love to hear your thoughts.

1. Employee Attachment: When individuals have a strong positive emotional attachment to their organisation, they also have a better sense of well-being which results in increased productivity. Find ways to meaningfully connect with the work force in ways that mean something to them. This is how organisations create a sense of belonging. Where employees know they work for a company that makes them feel like they belong, they invest more in an authentic way. Workforces that thrive are workforces where everyone feels like they belong there.

2. Who You Hire: The one quote that stuck with me through the entire piece was the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, who said “We will hire someone with less experience, less education and less expertise, than someone who has more of those things and has a rotten attitude. Because we can train people. We can teach people how to lead. We can teach people how to provide customer service. But we can't change their DNA.” It is great having a rock-star developer or a sales lead who closes every deal they make. But if it jeopardises the workplace culture, it costs the business more. In addition to this, research showed that in a study of 5,000 managers who hired over 20,000 personnel over a three-year period, 89% of people who were fired from organisations were being let go for reasons relating their attitude, not their technical competency. Mark Murphy’s book Hiring On Attitude has some great tips on how to do this.

3. The Role of Leaders: Leaders can have a huge impact on how the organisation behaves. A leader who is warm and agreeable is likely to see a collaborative and unified leadership team vs a competitive leader often dividing the team. If organisations have leaders who do not have the right attitude and put profit before people, the impact is often dysfunction performance, low employee satisfaction and customers who disengage with the company’s offerings. If you do not think your company is making the most of its human capital, look at the culture that your organisation has. Are your leaders authentically creating the right tone of message to disseminate to the wider company? If not, can you safely influence, or upward manage the environment to better capitalise on the talent within the organisation? It is also worth remembering we can see leaders at every level in our organisations too. They are not always just above us.

Combining Attitude and Belonging: By having leaders who create an organisational culture that embraces belonging and hiring people with positive attitudes, companies will see a shift away from toxicity and people who are seen to be problem bringers (Drains) towards supportive environments where the staff see the same problems as exciting challenges to overcome that develop both the organisation and themselves (Radiators). This creates staff who are not complacent or frustrated with their workplace, but subconsciously build better spaces to be in and create better colleagues to work with.

How This Affects Diversity and Inclusion: By having an environment where people feel like they belong, and having people who have a positive, can-do attitude is actually of great benefit to Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. When leaders consciously hire people who are problem solvers and not problem bringers, the company slowly becomes more open minded. People who are problem solvers tend to be more inquisitive and look for reasons and evidence for why things create benefit for the company that employs them. This positive psychological approach means there is less likelihood of prejudice from those staff as their curiosity would regularly and critically look for why biases would have a negative impact. Therefore, during the recruitment process, more people of colour, females, people from the LGBT+ community, people with disabilities, or any other protected characteristic would intrinsically have more equity in the hiring process and be treated in the same way as those candidates who are from less diverse backgrounds have been for years. So therefore, more people who represent society are likely to a) be attracted to applying for roles and b) be hired into these companies compared to current trends.

Now, once they come into their new workplace and they can feel like they are in a safe environment where they are not only included but they truly belong, we are likely to see these people being retained by their employer for longer tenures. And they are likely to be fairly progressed because the decision makers (if they too are hired for their attitude) are likely to see their potential equally and provide them with the mandate to truly impact change that they are promoted into, something that is often not the case from the people I speak to on a day to day basis. This all gets us to a place where if staff are in a standard business environment and regardless of their protected characteristics, one would know that the decisions are being made authentically for the right reason and those employees from diverse backgrounds are less likely to self-disqualify as they see not only a future for themselves in the organisation, but see role models to aspire to who have reached senior posts.

I think it is safe to conclude that both the attitude of the workforce and a culture that fosters belonging play important roles in how to create high performing environments for employees to flourish in. In a new era of ethical consumerism, it will also resonate more strongly with those customers and clients who are positively minded too. It is a slightly different angle on how to attract and retain diverse people into organisations, but it is one which I firmly believe gets more people behind it.

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