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How can leaders make hybrid workplaces more inclusive?

A recent HBR survey of over 19,000 respondents found that one particular culture style differentiated the diverse and inclusive organisations from those that were not - a learning-oriented culture focused on flexibility, open-mindedness, and exploration.

Organisations with learning-oriented cultures value individuals who bring unique and varied perspectives and experiences to the table, increasing diversity and inclusion within the workforce. The power of any organisational culture lies in its alignment with strategy, meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, however, the flexibility that learning cultures create can be invaluable in navigating the post-pandemic uncertainty.

Leading a learning-focused culture

A critical driver of employee learning is what leaders do. As illustrated by the leadership value chain model, what leaders routinely do has a strong influence on the behaviour and performance of their teams. And the more senior those leaders are, the more impactful their behaviours will be on the rest of the team. Therefore, if leaders want to encourage learning, they need to practice what they preach, start by displaying their own learning and curiosity. Stanford University recently published a research study showing that people don’t simply have passions, they develop them. The best way to determine what we enjoy is to try new things, even if we are uncomfortable – therefore if leaders want their team to find purpose in their work, they need to feel encouraged to be curious.

Learning occurs when people become aware of opposing ideas, as recognising the value of competing functional outlooks and alternative views increases energy and motivation, sparks fresh thinking, and prevents demotivation. To learn, however, employees need to feel psychologically safe and comfortable expressing their thoughts, and be encouraged to take risks and explore the untested and unknown. Because learning is not simply about correcting mistakes and solving problems – it is also about crafting innovative approaches.

Bridging the communication gap

When leaders commit to building an inclusive organisation, it starts with the organisation’s mission, vision, values, and dedication to ensure everyone has a voice, however they often neglect to change the way they communicate every day with their employees. A recent analysis by Quantified Communications examined how inclusive leaders talk, and uncovered that inclusive leaders use language that is personalised to their listener 36 percent more frequently than the average senior leader, making an effort to put their audience first and adapt messages to the needs, values, interests, and demographic of those who are listening.

The same research showed that inclusive leaders use language that demonstrates subject matter expertise 21 percent more frequently than the average senior leader, establishing themselves as experts, often by citing research, and demonstrating the ability to understand different perspectives and communicate complex topics to their audience

Leaders who create inclusive organisational cultures consider the opinions of their audience — not just who they are, but what they have to say. Providing regular opportunities for employees to express their needs and concerns, asking for feedback, acknowledging, and implementing it, are the traits of an inclusive leader. Leaders who say that they want to hear from their employees, but don’t provide regular opportunities for feedback or questions, risk alienating listeners and losing trust.

When leaders respectfully address multiple points of view even if they may not agree, they demonstrate that they value and consider more than one perspective in the way they approach business decisions. This in turn makes employees feel heard and valued, and more inclined to respect and value their peers.

Creating a more inclusive workplace requires a shift away from the status quo — something that learning cultures are uniquely equipped to accomplish. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at



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