Company Storytelling

TRAITS OF AN INCLUSIVE LEADER - Experiencing virtual

29 Sep 2020

Chrystelle Simon

Inclusion means opportunity. In ordinary times, it is important to really recognise the value of differences and develop them on an upward trajectory, to seize more business opportunities, to improve well-being within the company and to introduce flexible work processes. But in extraordinary times - and COVID-19 lockdown truly was such a time - these become absolutely essential.

The Deloitte From now on | Workforce. Challenges and opportunities report paints a picture of how the COVID-19 pandemic has truly accelerated the efforts initiated in recent years to facilitate worker inclusion through better work-life integration and to improve well-being by increasing opportunities to work remotely. However, it also makes clear that this was out of necessity rather than some deeper understanding of the inherent benefits. In Italy today, over 8.2 million people do jobs that could be done from home. However, allowing people to work remotely on a more permanent basis can only be achieved by making medium and long-term changes that have to be built on new organisational and leadership models. Such models will have to manage the different needs of people and the fact that the way and frequency with which we interact with others has changed, potentially impacting motivation, employees’ sense of belonging and even productivity in the long term.

"When the healthcare emergency arose, we immediately allowed our employees to work remotely and, in this suddenly changed world, we used digital tools to provide a series of initiatives to improve their well-being and develop new skills” explained Fabio Pompei, CEO of Deloitte Central Mediterranean. "To be increasingly successful, a company that adopts forms of 'smart working' that suit differing individual needs must have a new underlying organisational model built on flexibility and inclusion, and the leadership has to be able to resolve the problems and seize the opportunities of an innovative approach.”

This new leadership must be able to build inclusive networks both within teams - to help alleviate the problems and maintain social and professional ties - and between teams and internal and external stakeholders, such as clients. Why is this so complex? The crux is being able to transition to a new model while offering the same service.
An inclusive leadership style can really help encourage diversity and individual contributions, leveraging innovation and performance to gain a competitive edge.The six signature traits of inclusive leadership study provides a crisp picture of precisely these six key aspects:

1. Commitment. This is about both individuals and the organisation as a whole prioritising diversity and inclusion for the company, and the leaders clearly and genuinely making the case for why it is worth it. Within a team, it boils down to understanding how each member is unique and then treating everyone based on equality and respect, making them feel part of the group and the company.
2. Courage. This is absolutely essential for ensuring diversity and inclusion. It is about driving forward the corporate mission and the inclusion strategy, while making sure employees feel aligned with the company's values. Leaders need courage to recognise their limits and areas for improvement, therefore developing a culture of admitting mistakes and learning from them.
3. Cognisance of bias. We need to learn how to recognise our own blind spots, perhaps through feedback, so we can make balanced decisions built on merit and contribution. We need bias-free processes so we can be confident decisions are not grounded in prejudice.
4. Curiosity. Leaders must have a desire to find people with other mindsets and decision-making processes. They must encourage different viewpoints and believe in continual learning.
5. Culturally intelligent. This allows leaders to work constructively with people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Such leaders thirst for opportunities to deepen their knowledge of different cultural settings.
6. Collaborative. This is about creating a respectful, emotionally safe environment where people feel at ease and able to express their talent, ideas and viewpoints. Such leaders explicitly include all team members in discussions, and use culturally appropriate verbal and non-verbal language.

These six traits help put in place an upward cycle during which the importance of inclusion shifts from effectively being an individual way of relating to people, to a business priority that can eventually even shape business policies. This is a paradigm shift from a world in which "diversity is tolerated" to one in which diversity and inclusion are firmly seen as a necessity. This is cognisance of the challenges in store for us tomorrow - challenges that the lockdown crisis have made more intense, as Deloitte's Future of Work: Ways of working in uncertain times study showed. Another Deloitte study - The diversity &inclusion revolution - found an inclusive company is not only six times more likely to be innovative and agile, with an ability to adapt to change, but also three times more likely to be high-performing and twice as likely to exceed financial targets. Plus, the behaviours of inclusive leaders can result in a team member's sense of inclusion increasing by up to 70%. And this translates into a 17% improvement in individual performance, a 20% boost in decision-making quality and a 29% increase in collaboration among team members.Many of these challenges have been explored in the 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends. The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward study.
Many traditional companies are wary of changes induced by technology and business developments caused by robotics, artificial intelligence and a more connected world. In response, they perceive the need to become social enterprises whose mission combines the growth of profits with the need to balance the concerns of the organization with those of the wider ecosystem, improving its environmental and social impact, in particular by increasing attention to greater awareness and social responsibility, respect for ethical principles and the protection of minorities.”

As such, in those spheres where the gap between technology and humans continues to grow, companies have to concentrate on ensuring 'dialogue' between these two sides in an era of increasing uncertainty. This translates into forging an outlook in which they intersect -actions need to be given purpose and meaning, providing goals the human side can actually reach in a world dominated by machines. At the same time, this outlook must have a vision of how today's actions can create value tomorrow.On this front, inclusion becomes both a tool and a target for creating a sense of belonging in a fragmented world. It is a cornerstone on which to build a company strategy that incorporates social purposes and well-being alongside financial objectives. The COVID-19 crisis has provided a positive example of the value of inclusion in troubled times: onboarding new hires. This phase has always been crucial to instilling a sense of belonging and shared purpose, but in recent times it has had to find new forms, without ever taking its eye off the goal.
At Deloitte, this took the shape of the Deloitte Virtual Experience. Normally spread over a week, the programme to welcome and induct new staff members was reshaped into three wholly online days. The team was quickly able to create a natural, welcoming feel. The chosen organisational solution was agile, flexible and versatile, making it possible to mix more informal moments - the welcome coffee - with more formal talks by leaders and project presentations.This creativity provided the space to foreground key aspects, such as the People & Purpose area and leader involvement. In turn, the new hires showed demonstrable interest in topics like diversity & inclusion, well-being, careers & performance. The synergy between the leadership and the People & Purpose team formed the bedrock for finding optimal solutions that resulted in a truly encompassing onboarding process."I enthusiastically took part in the Deloitte Virtual Experience, albeit rather nervously initially because I was joining a company at such a strange time" explained Concetta, a Deloitte Consulting analyst, "but I was immediately convinced. The experience really left me feeling warmly welcomed right from the beginning. I felt included and involved, with the support of my new team. They never left me feeling alone, even though the opportunities to more informally get to know each other were limited - but I hope to make up for this soon!”. Despite the physical distance, the professionals at Deloitte were cohesive and involved, especially because of projects like Ask Me. This specific project was the brainchild of Alessandro Mercuri, CEO of Deloitte Consulting, and it focused on breaking down the distance between the  leadership and young professionals by providing direct answers to their questions on a range of issues. The regular webcasts were unbelievably successful, with over 1,500 participants attending each one.

Along with this, a digital well-being programme was launched on social media and the People & Purpose Channel went live, providing a specific space for training soft skills in varied settings - aspects that are very useful in dealing with a lockdown.The true value of inclusion becomes apparent when, out of need or desire, there is a change to a new organisational model for work. The future might well be increasingly built on distanced relationships and virtual experiences, but this only makes it more important to have an inclusive model able to cater to varied and different needs in order to be able to maintain the human dimension and ensure collaboration, motivation and a sense of belonging.

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