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How to Create a Culture of Belonging

August 1, 2022

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We all have a hardwired need to feel like we belong — whether it’s among our family, friends, or colleagues. But in a 2021 Mind Share survey, an astounding 34% of people said they had a low sense of connection at work.

And now, with the current state of employment (remote, in-person, or something in between), there’s an even bigger need to make team members feel safe, seen, and supported. But how do you actually create a culture of belonging?

To find out, we hosted a webinar with culture experts and co-founders of Trailblaze Partners, Jerry Gratton and Rhys Green. Their firm helps businesses solve problems through a people and cultural lens. And they gave their best tips for making employees feel they like they belong.

1. Recognize that DEI isn’t enough.

Belonging is often mentioned alongside diversity, equity, and inclusion (or DEI). As a result, some leaders assume that hiring a diverse team inherently means a culture of belonging. But Jerry says that’s only the first step. “Don't hang your hat on [diversity] because [belonging] is deeper than that,” he explained.

In other words, you have to invest in a culture of belonging as much as you invest in your DEI. It’s your job as a business leader to reach out to employees, listen to their needs, and learn how to better support everyone in the organization (and not just the majority).

Because without a sense of connection, even a diverse and inclusive team can still feel isolated and invisible. So, instead of banking on diversity providing belonging, actively foster connections between your employees through social events and sync meetings. That way, you open paths for communication and ensure that connection and belonging are part of your work culture.

“If [employees] don't feel [like they] belong, [they’re] not as committed to the group in the workplace. That means low engagement, and low engagement is tied to productivity.”
<blockquoteauthor>Jerry Gratton, CPO and co-founder at Trailblaze Partners<blockquoteauthor>

2. Commit to belonging as an ongoing effort.

When companies treat “a culture of belonging” as an event or end destination, their efforts are unlikely to succeed. Creating a company culture where everyone feels like they belong is an ongoing effort. It takes strong communication across the entire organization. And to see actual results, you have to seek feedback and address areas where you can improve continually.

For example, Jerry suggests sending out engagement surveys, listening to the responses, and developing a solution for any negative feedback. “Do the surveys, ask the questions, have the difficult conversations, and then make a plan,” Jerry explained. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how your employees feel or when problems arise.

A woman saying, "Let's have a talk."

And according to Rhys, there are tons of free tools for collecting feedback. “There’s Culture Amp, Gallup 12, and Survey Monkey, which have free templates for engagement surveys,” he shared.

Whatever survey tool you choose, the significant bit is that you ask, listen, and put a plan in place (one that you can actually act on). Then, continually revisit this three-step process — maybe once a quarter — to show employees that you care about their needs. And that you want to get better at making everyone feel like they belong.

3. Give belonging cues.

Besides gaining feedback from your team, Jerry and Rhys talk a lot about sending belonging cues and how these cues can help create a safe, supportive culture.

If you’re not familiar, belonging cues are verbal and non-verbal signals that show someone it’s safe to share their identity, ideas, and abilities freely. For example, when you’re vulnerable with employees, you signal that it’s safe for them to be vulnerable, too. But that’s just one example.

“The actual cue can be many things,” Jerry explained. “But if you can send messages that [communicate] one of these three themes, you're hitting the outcome of a belonging cue.”

First: I see you.

The first belonging cue is around personal connection and identity affirmation. “[When employers say] I see you, it means I care about you,” Jerry explained.

For example, when you send out engagement surveys, you’re saying as an organization that you see your employees and their needs. And more importantly, that you’re listening and ready to act in response.

Also, just allowing employees to own their identities is a way to say, “I see you.” Or, simply connecting with your team members individually (whether it’s via Zoom or in-person) is a great way to communicate that you care. And when you do link up, avoid any work talk and focus on personal connection instead.

Second: I know you’re capable.

The second belonging cue is around abilities, and more specifically, capabilities. “[When] I give feedback and coach [employees], it’s because we have high standards,” Jerry explained. “But it’s also because I think [they’re] worth it and can do it.”

A woman doing a thumbs up sign and saying, "You got this."

Besides incorporating one-on-one coaching or mentoring, you could also consider employee development plans or cross-training for this belonging cue. Or, you can offer team members the opportunity to build affinity groups. That way, they can use new skills, grow their abilities, and connect to people with similar identities.

Third: I want you here.

The third and final belonging cue is around having a future at your organization. And Jerry says you can communicate this to employees by telling them, “This is what I have in mind for you here, these are your goals, and this is your part of the organization.”

Like the last cue, you can also use employee development plans to show team members they have a future with you. Or, during your 1:1 or mentor sessions, help employees map their career path to signal that you see a future for them within your business.

4. Learn from low-performers.

Rhys suggests collecting feedback from low-performers (department-wide or individually) to see if isolation is causing the problem. “Rather than looking at [the operational levers], consider the cultural pulleys and levers at play,” he explained.

For instance, maybe some of your remote employees are feeling isolated at work. As a result, their work might suffer because they’re not fully engaged or committed. But once you’re aware of the issue, you can tackle it head-on.

Put simply, stop looking at metrics with only an operational lens because you may be missing out on cultural clues that are impacting performance. And when output metrics are low, it might be the work environment that’s impacting productivity rather than an employee's ability to do their job. Either way, use it as an opportunity to help your employees feel more like they belong.

“Look at your underperforming units to see if any values are translating into behaviors in that part of the organization.”
<blockquoteauthor>Rhys Green, CEO and co-founder of Trailblaze Partners<blockquoteauthor>

5. Make happy collisions happen.

Before the pandemic, most employees were in an office environment where social interactions happened all day. And those chit-chat sessions helped create a sense of belonging with co-workers. But now, with work-from-home or hybrid-work models, there aren’t as many (if any) chance encounters.

Meaning, it’s up to business leaders to make these happy collisions happen. And it’s as easy as incorporating meetups into your onboarding plan. “If you've got a 90-day plan for new employees, set up some time where they can sit down virtually [with other employees] to socialize about anything other than work outcomes,” Rhys explained.

He also suggests linking up new hires with employees outside their workgroup. For instance, connecting a new sales rep with someone from customer service.

That way, they can open more lines of communication, understand how all sides of the business work, and create new connections (outside their department).

Here’s the reality: Creating a culture of belonging is not an overnight achievement. It takes intentional action, investment in your people, and an ongoing commitment to finding gaps and solving issues. But if you start with these tips today, you’ll be on your way to a belonging culture in no time.

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Article

How to Create a Culture of Belonging

August 1, 2022

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You're all signed up! Look out for the next edition of The Manual Weekly coming Wednesday am!
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We all have a hardwired need to feel like we belong — whether it’s among our family, friends, or colleagues. But in a 2021 Mind Share survey, an astounding 34% of people said they had a low sense of connection at work.

And now, with the current state of employment (remote, in-person, or something in between), there’s an even bigger need to make team members feel safe, seen, and supported. But how do you actually create a culture of belonging?

To find out, we hosted a webinar with culture experts and co-founders of Trailblaze Partners, Jerry Gratton and Rhys Green. Their firm helps businesses solve problems through a people and cultural lens. And they gave their best tips for making employees feel they like they belong.

1. Recognize that DEI isn’t enough.

Belonging is often mentioned alongside diversity, equity, and inclusion (or DEI). As a result, some leaders assume that hiring a diverse team inherently means a culture of belonging. But Jerry says that’s only the first step. “Don't hang your hat on [diversity] because [belonging] is deeper than that,” he explained.

In other words, you have to invest in a culture of belonging as much as you invest in your DEI. It’s your job as a business leader to reach out to employees, listen to their needs, and learn how to better support everyone in the organization (and not just the majority).

Because without a sense of connection, even a diverse and inclusive team can still feel isolated and invisible. So, instead of banking on diversity providing belonging, actively foster connections between your employees through social events and sync meetings. That way, you open paths for communication and ensure that connection and belonging are part of your work culture.

“If [employees] don't feel [like they] belong, [they’re] not as committed to the group in the workplace. That means low engagement, and low engagement is tied to productivity.”
<blockquoteauthor>Jerry Gratton, CPO and co-founder at Trailblaze Partners<blockquoteauthor>

2. Commit to belonging as an ongoing effort.

When companies treat “a culture of belonging” as an event or end destination, their efforts are unlikely to succeed. Creating a company culture where everyone feels like they belong is an ongoing effort. It takes strong communication across the entire organization. And to see actual results, you have to seek feedback and address areas where you can improve continually.

For example, Jerry suggests sending out engagement surveys, listening to the responses, and developing a solution for any negative feedback. “Do the surveys, ask the questions, have the difficult conversations, and then make a plan,” Jerry explained. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how your employees feel or when problems arise.

A woman saying, "Let's have a talk."

And according to Rhys, there are tons of free tools for collecting feedback. “There’s Culture Amp, Gallup 12, and Survey Monkey, which have free templates for engagement surveys,” he shared.

Whatever survey tool you choose, the significant bit is that you ask, listen, and put a plan in place (one that you can actually act on). Then, continually revisit this three-step process — maybe once a quarter — to show employees that you care about their needs. And that you want to get better at making everyone feel like they belong.

3. Give belonging cues.

Besides gaining feedback from your team, Jerry and Rhys talk a lot about sending belonging cues and how these cues can help create a safe, supportive culture.

If you’re not familiar, belonging cues are verbal and non-verbal signals that show someone it’s safe to share their identity, ideas, and abilities freely. For example, when you’re vulnerable with employees, you signal that it’s safe for them to be vulnerable, too. But that’s just one example.

“The actual cue can be many things,” Jerry explained. “But if you can send messages that [communicate] one of these three themes, you're hitting the outcome of a belonging cue.”

First: I see you.

The first belonging cue is around personal connection and identity affirmation. “[When employers say] I see you, it means I care about you,” Jerry explained.

For example, when you send out engagement surveys, you’re saying as an organization that you see your employees and their needs. And more importantly, that you’re listening and ready to act in response.

Also, just allowing employees to own their identities is a way to say, “I see you.” Or, simply connecting with your team members individually (whether it’s via Zoom or in-person) is a great way to communicate that you care. And when you do link up, avoid any work talk and focus on personal connection instead.

Second: I know you’re capable.

The second belonging cue is around abilities, and more specifically, capabilities. “[When] I give feedback and coach [employees], it’s because we have high standards,” Jerry explained. “But it’s also because I think [they’re] worth it and can do it.”

A woman doing a thumbs up sign and saying, "You got this."

Besides incorporating one-on-one coaching or mentoring, you could also consider employee development plans or cross-training for this belonging cue. Or, you can offer team members the opportunity to build affinity groups. That way, they can use new skills, grow their abilities, and connect to people with similar identities.

Third: I want you here.

The third and final belonging cue is around having a future at your organization. And Jerry says you can communicate this to employees by telling them, “This is what I have in mind for you here, these are your goals, and this is your part of the organization.”

Like the last cue, you can also use employee development plans to show team members they have a future with you. Or, during your 1:1 or mentor sessions, help employees map their career path to signal that you see a future for them within your business.

4. Learn from low-performers.

Rhys suggests collecting feedback from low-performers (department-wide or individually) to see if isolation is causing the problem. “Rather than looking at [the operational levers], consider the cultural pulleys and levers at play,” he explained.

For instance, maybe some of your remote employees are feeling isolated at work. As a result, their work might suffer because they’re not fully engaged or committed. But once you’re aware of the issue, you can tackle it head-on.

Put simply, stop looking at metrics with only an operational lens because you may be missing out on cultural clues that are impacting performance. And when output metrics are low, it might be the work environment that’s impacting productivity rather than an employee's ability to do their job. Either way, use it as an opportunity to help your employees feel more like they belong.

“Look at your underperforming units to see if any values are translating into behaviors in that part of the organization.”
<blockquoteauthor>Rhys Green, CEO and co-founder of Trailblaze Partners<blockquoteauthor>

5. Make happy collisions happen.

Before the pandemic, most employees were in an office environment where social interactions happened all day. And those chit-chat sessions helped create a sense of belonging with co-workers. But now, with work-from-home or hybrid-work models, there aren’t as many (if any) chance encounters.

Meaning, it’s up to business leaders to make these happy collisions happen. And it’s as easy as incorporating meetups into your onboarding plan. “If you've got a 90-day plan for new employees, set up some time where they can sit down virtually [with other employees] to socialize about anything other than work outcomes,” Rhys explained.

He also suggests linking up new hires with employees outside their workgroup. For instance, connecting a new sales rep with someone from customer service.

That way, they can open more lines of communication, understand how all sides of the business work, and create new connections (outside their department).

Here’s the reality: Creating a culture of belonging is not an overnight achievement. It takes intentional action, investment in your people, and an ongoing commitment to finding gaps and solving issues. But if you start with these tips today, you’ll be on your way to a belonging culture in no time.

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How to Create a Culture of Belonging

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