In my previous blog I described what inclusion is, how an organization achieves it and what its benefit is. In short: inclusion leads to much closer relationships, with all the positive consequences that this entails for business operations.
The next step is for organizations to link inclusion to their purpose. By ‘purpose’ I mean the sincere, experience-based conviction that the organization is not only there to make a profit, but also has a certain social mission. This is often referred to as ‘multiple value creation’ (financial, social and ecological).
This kind of purpose is not a luxury. Indeed, I would venture to say that if it is not there, no company can reach its full potential in 2019: in a multipolar world that is becoming increasingly complex but also more transparent, a credible long-term compass is needed to keep employees involved (‘we know what we are doing it for’). The same applies to shareholders and other stakeholders (‘this company is here to stay’).
This places heavy demands on the CEO and the other executive directors. Not only must they strike a balance between short-term shareholder value and long-term objectives in the field of sustainable growth, but they must also constantly make it clear and tangible in which direction the organization is developing. They must, morover, make this direction clear in a world characterized by major ‘disruptive’ trends such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and the digital transformation but also the reduction of CO2 emissions, structural changes in the geopolitical landscape and demographic developments. How do these trends and changes affect current and future business operations? And what do they mean for the purpose?
Closing the relationship gap is a huge challenge
The point I want to make here is this: a purely white, male top management team is not well equipped for that mission. The outside world is too diverse for that, as is the company’s own workforce.
That is why it is so important that boards are not only diverse in terms of gender, but also – and most importantly − in terms of ethnicity, careers and thinking, as this enables them to build deeper engagement with clients, society as a whole, and the various supervisory authorities and governments. Anyone reading newspapers knows that there is currently a deep crisis of social confidence in the intentions of large corporates. Closing the relationship gap is a huge challenge. Companies will once again have to show leadership in responding to social developments. The extent to which boards succeed in this determines the degree of success of their own long-term objectives.
But it is also good internally if the board has insight into the customs of various cultures and religions by being inclusive itself, because as the CEO, you want to be truly believed and inspire employees. And I mean all employees − not just those who are like you, or who want to look like you. With the arrival of generations Y and Z, this will only become more important. Lateral leadership – getting out there with the workers − is increasingly becoming a key skill for those who, as contemporary leaders, want to make an impact on the younger generations.
So the conclusion is the following: being prepared for future challenges starts with a clear purpose. But for developing this purpose and letting it land both inside and outside the organization, inclusion is an essential prerequisite!