Diversity & Inclusion: Singing from the Same Sheet of Music

Diversity initiatives are a guitar. Inclusion practices are the amplifier.

By Rachael Johnson-Murray October 5, 2017
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When I'm leaving an organization, I make it a point to ask my soon-to-be-former leaders for advice to help me navigate my career going forward. I recently started with SHRM, and before I left my previous position, my manager offered me the best and simplest advice I've heard yet: Observe, then act

Take a beat to observe the communication styles, relationship dynamics and thought processes of those around you, she said; then think about how your unique skills and styles might harmonize with those of others. She said this would help me run successful projects, strengthen teams or create lasting relationships. She believed that fostering relationships was most important. 

I value my former manager's advice because I appreciate the social sciences and strive to understand perspectives and experiences that differ from mine. What's more, her advice is echoed in the SHRM-defined competencies of Global and Cultural Effectiveness and Relationship Management. These competencies are closely related and often feed off each other; the ability to foster stronger relationships stems from the ability to understand others even when their views are vastly different from your own. 

Developing and managing relationships is key to building a diverse and inclusive culture. According to the 2015 PwC 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, leaders who implement diversity practices often report better organizational performance; they also believe that diversity can lead to innovation and a competitive edge in the market. Other research on diversity, inclusion, and workplace well-being from 2014 shows that diversity practices can lead to more engaged and trusting employees; when such practices are coupled with efforts to develop employees' feelings of inclusion, employee engagement and trust become significantly stronger. Think of diversity as a guitar and inclusion as the amplifier. 

To facilitate productive, diverse relationships and to amplify feelings of inclusion among employees, here are some roles that HR professionals can play: 

  • Be a connector. Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown, 2000), introduces an archetype--the connector--who takes networking to the next level. This person can connect seemingly different people using the parties' commonalities or shared interests. SHRM-certified HR professionals can apply their proficiency in Relationship Management to help people who may have otherwise struggled with each other find common ground, build new relationships andstrengthen0 established relationships. 
  • Be a telephone operator. Remember playing the game "telephone" when you were a kid? When communications broke down, there was no "operator" to help you out. Would a similar breakdown happen on your team? If so, do you know where it would occur? HR professionals can prevent communication breakdowns by using their skills in managing relationships (as well as those in the Communication competency). Create or enhance the standard method of communicating within and outside a team. This routine normalizes open dialogue, which helps employees who are less comfortable sharing in a team setting, and also continuously clarifies expectations regarding work-related communications. 
  • Be a translator. When communications in the workplace hit a sour note and there's a conflict, HR is responsible for helping employees find common ground and resolve their issue. Conflict is often the result of not seeing or considering another person's perspective. HR professionals can act as mediators, exposing the parties to new perspectives, thereby strengthening their relationships—and restoring harmony. 

HR professionals who know the tune of the SHRM competencies can help everyone in the organization sing from the same sheet of music. 

Rachael Johnson-Murray is SHRM's manager of research translation.

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