Businesses need more than just great products to build great companies. In order to create and scale growth, organizations need diversity of both thought and contributions.
It’s not just about flattening hierarchies or putting more women in leadership roles, even though female leaders, on average, outperform their male counterparts. It’s about creating a workplace culture where employees at all levels feel valued—and change starts at the top.
But changes like this aren’t easy. In our respective roles, we’ve seen what works (and what doesn’t) and have pulled together some thoughts on what leaders can do to make workplaces better for everyone.
Show some compassion
Empathy plays a key part in the larger discussion around workplace inclusion. Often mistaken as weakness, an empathetic mindset can be a valuable quality for both employees and leaders.
Empathetic employees are aware of the needs of their colleagues and work more collaboratively. Empathetic leaders are effective listeners, and they’re more inclined to pick up subtle changes in employee behavior, which may be a sign of larger issues. Most importantly, empathetic leaders inspire and motivate.
It’s imperative that workplaces hold soft skills like empathy in the same regard as they do technical skills and capabilities. Doing so creates an environment that not only rewards existing employee skills but also promotes continued co-learning, development, and forward progress.
Develop an outcomes-first framework
This is a tall order for many companies, especially large enterprises where there is less corporate transparency.
Hiring based on ability is vital, but businesses also need to consider how they evaluate and reward talent. As tempting as it may seem, employers don’t need superheroes, they need talent that acknowledges solid leadership and completes tasks effectively. And that talent, in turn, needs leaders that recognize their input, value their contributions, and reward them based on their individual merits.
Employers should celebrate collaboration, not competition. And employees need to be shown that taking initiative isn’t synonymous with being assertive or stepping in front of others to be heard. Those behaviors are counterproductive. Rather, employees should be praised for collaboration, openness, and demonstrating curiosity.
Every employee will have different goals, and it’s up to management to be attentive enough to identify them and proactive enough to reward them accordingly when met. After all, pulling for the best assets means pulling for the best team, and that starts giving employees the tools and opportunities they need to excel.
Set the right example
Far too often, employees bear the burden of effecting change within organizations. They’re asked to be more assertive, demand better pay, and step over colleagues on their way up the corporate ladder.
These so-called “kill or be killed” environments promote competition instead of collaboration, finger-pointing instead of focus, and arguments instead of action. But employees are products of their environments, and if these behaviors continue to be rewarded, they’ll continue to occur.
Leaders can fix this by setting a better example. At our company, every employee from our CEO to our office manager has the opportunity to share ideas and voice opinions. Everyone’s contributions hold weight.
This is easier to do at Unqork given our current size, but larger organizations can do the same by starting small. Begin by making changes across your leadership network, then allow change to trickle down to throughout the organization.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time to implement these principles—especially at larger organizations. But continued action from employees and leaders alike can create major shifts within your organization.
None of this is an exact science, and you’re bound to run into bumps along the way, but if you’re open to starting small, you’ll eventually start to see big results.
Sharon Rodriguez is Unqork‘s chief customer officer responsible for ensuring that clients and their products are successfully brought onto the platform. Before joining Unqork, Sharon was the vice president of Global Strategy at MetLife.
Jane Tran is head of solutions at Unqork working directly with clients to set the direction for the platform in both user experience and functionality. Previously, she worked on internal strategy teams for c-suites at JPMorgan Chase, Marsh, and MetLife.