Home » Why Representation Is More Powerful Than Inclusion Alone

Why Representation Is More Powerful Than Inclusion Alone

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Employee inclusion at all levels is a critical factor for organizational success. Because of the increased speed and urgency with which organizations are forced to adapt to a continually changing business environment, respond to new customer demands and effectively compete with the competition, employee inclusion is more important now than it’s ever been.

Old ways of thinking about business must be replaced with greater innovation, creativity, perspectives and solutions. This requires radical inclusion of people with diverse backgrounds including but not limited to race, ethnicity and culture, sexual orientation, gender, geographical location, technical backgrounds and expertise.

The Advantages Of Inclusion

Besides the advantages of supporting innovation and process improvement mentioned above, there are several other advantages to employee inclusion that improve operational excellence, morale and employee retention including:

• Anticipating and preventing breakdowns by including all functional areas impacted by a plan that is mostly developed by one functional area and creating proactive recovery plans

• Giving context to employees who are more task-oriented by including them in the planning process

• Developing future leaders more effectively by educating them on the business, the impact of different functional areas and learning problem-solving/decision-making skills

• Creating a level of shared ownership and accountability by letting employees have a say in planning and finding solutions for moving forward

The Challenges Of Inclusion

While there is great value in increasing inclusion, there are also many challenges that negatively affect organizations and diminish the impact of inclusion.

• It takes time to coordinate and include multiple levels and functions in planning, problem solving and decision making that diminishes short-term effectiveness and efficiency

• There is a cost associated with pulling employees away from their tasks to join in on meetings

• Including others’ input can slow down a meeting, provide so many options and ideas that confusion ensues, slow decision-making and distract from clarity and purpose

• Including others sets up expectations that if one isn’t included, they are being left out, which can diminish commitment, ownership, cooperation and accountability

• Including others without a clear definition of role and purpose for participation can create conflict and confusion

• There can be confusion about who to include and who to leave out

The Deeper Challenges To Inclusion

The greatest challenges to successfully implementing a culture of inclusion have less to do with the logistics of time or the cost of inclusion and have more to do with the limiting beliefs and emotional reactions that prevent “truly” including others.

It’s easy to bring diverse populations into a meeting, but it’s much harder to listen to their ideas with openness and curiosity, letting go of the need for control or risking the discomfort of doing something different. It takes courage to be open to new solutions, new business models and new ways to execute effectively, and many very successful executives live in fear that’s exhibited by controlling behavior.

Taking Inclusion To The Next Level With Representation

The experiences that we all want to have as human beings are to feel understood, be seen and be valued for our input, effort and contribution to achieving results. Even being included won’t provide that experience if when we are included, we are ignored or not taken seriously.

It’s more important that we feel represented than included. We want to know that we are truly heard, even if our ideas aren’t always implemented. When decisions are getting made, we want to know that the negative impact on us personally was represented and not ignored, even if we couldn’t be personally included in the decision.

The Difference Between Inclusion And Representation

When you don’t know how another person, functional area or organizational level is impacted by solving a problem, making a decision or implementing a change, then you must include those people or areas to ensure representation. In addition to including and representing others’ input and opinions, it’s also important to learn the context and background that shapes their ideas. For instance, everyone comes to these discussions with practical constraints, concerns and ways of thinking so that as we gain understanding, we can better represent in future discussions.

When our focus is on representation, we may not always need to include others to fully represent them. If we aren’t sure, we can include them with the objective of learning about the context, background, different experiences and different perspectives that shape their ideas so that they can be more effectively represented in the future. This makes people feel fully understood and considered, rather than making them feel like they’re part of a token inclusion initiative without authentic representation.

Building The Muscle Of Representation

To begin moving toward an inclusive and representative culture in your organization, take the following steps. 

Step 1: Commit to learning from inclusion, not just including people with no end goal.

Step 2: Share the learning received from inclusion for better understanding throughout your organization.

Step 3: Test how well you are representing others without including them by asking them to validate or modify your understanding of their perspective.

Step 4: Begin making plans, decisions and change efforts with an emphasis on representation rather than inclusion and test the speed, accuracy and effectiveness for learning and modification.

Step 5: Clarify the situations in which inclusion, rather than representation, is necessary.

As organizations move to representation rather than inclusion, they get better at understanding the cross-functional and cross-cultural impact on organizational success. This gives the freedom to represent others without the cumbersome act of including everyone in every decision, speeding up problem solving, decision making and effective planning without getting bogged down in endless meetings.

This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.

Does your team need help with inclusion and representation?

Our B STATE coaches and consultants have helped thousands of team members feel represented by their team as well as cross-functional teams. If you’re having communication issues, execution breakdowns, and frustration among team members, you’re likely suffering from a lack of inclusion and representation. Give us a call today and we can help your team get started in the right direction.

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