As Employees "Lean In," Companies Must "Listen In"

An inclusive culture is desired by a large percentage of the Gen Y workforce. Businesses that fail to address these concerns risk losing out on the next generation of innovative thinkers and workers.

Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, workforce issues regarding employees' advancement opportunities are on many companies' radar.

Unfortunately, she lacks an emphasis on the responsibility of companies to accommodate these employees who Lean In. In fact, the onus is on companies to "Listen In" and support employees (not just women) who are interested in furthering their careers. Companies that do this see a better return on their investment both internally and externally than those that don’t.

A "Listen In" culture is easy to implement when you clearly define the mission of what it means to be inclusive—being open to everyone’s ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles, ensuring all employees are allowed to bring their best to the workplace to maximize business success.

Not only should companies "Listen In" in response to ambitious employees, the new Workforce 2.0 is often requiring this type of culture as part of their compensation package. A 2012 PayScale study reports that 47% of the Gen Y workforce is opting for employment at smaller firms versus 23% who choose companies of more than 1,500 employees. Fortune 500 companies could be losing out to extremely valuable talent due to a bureaucratic workplace culture that dissuades employee input and collaboration from all levels. Like each generation before, Gen Y brings a substantial amount of knowledge and expertise to the workplace, but won’t stick around long if they can’t contribute to the bigger, broader company mission.

A culture of inclusion will improve your employees’ performance through higher levels of engagement, productivity, retention, and innovation, and it will also help the organization sell more goods and services.

Because every organization’s consumer base is rapidly changing due to a more diverse population, new emerging markets, and the global marketplace, "Listening In" to your employees who mirror your target markets is your competitive edge. They likely know these new consumers better than you and can help you develop strategies to attract them to your business.

At the recent "Women in the Economy" conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal, General Motor’s CEO Daniel Akerson said that women make 60% of car-buying decisions. To understand what female buyers want, GM should tap into their female workforce. As a result, GM could get valuable insights about their prospective female buyers' motivation, their shopping habits, and their car-buying process, for instance. Being strategic about utilizing your workforce will open unforeseen opportunities for business growth.

"Listen In" companies; it’s a win for your employees and for your business. Let this message be as clear as Sandberg’s insights and everyone benefits.

Shirley Engelmeier is the author of Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage and CEO of InclusionINC, a leading global consulting and learning organization specializing in linking inclusion and diversity to better business results.

[Image: Flickr user dorena-wm]