12 Nov Fostering a Feeling of Belonging in Business
A friend of ours studied abroad and ended up in the wrong opening lecture. It was 3 hours long and on a topic of little interest to her. But she ended up joining the class for the entire semester. Why? Because she was finding it hard to meet people and she made a friend in that class. So she stayed. Just like work, it’s more than the job spec that keeps your people there. Sure, there are factors like pay, location and benefits at play for your people. However, one huge aspect of them staying with your company is feeling like they belong.
If this all sounds odd to you, think of it in terms of your own life. Are you involved in a team or community outside of your work? Maybe you joined a club when you moved somewhere new, played with a sports team for years or are part of an online group. Have you ever wondered about what has made you stay in it? Or what made you leave one that wasn’t for you? Chances are, you stayed because you felt accepted or left because you felt rejected.
How do you go about creating this in your company? Belonging, no more than culture, can seem like a challenge when we deal in the currency of tangible goals. It might not be as clear cut as ‘Increase X by Y’, but there are small, consistent efforts you can make to nurture a sense of belonging in business. We’ve identified three key pillars in which all of these operate within and have some ideas on how you can put them in place.
One of the ways in which people feel connected to something is through their good relationships with others. It’s vital you as a people leader, take the time to foster a healthy relationship with everyone. There are a few different ways to do this. Start with building trust. Leaders need to be transparent and accountable. If either of these is compromised, so will people’s faith in you so ensure your process reflects these values. Being consistent is a critical component of trust-building too. It builds a sense of reliance and stability and eliminates feelings of let-down or wavering morale.
You must adapt to your people. Keep everything fair and equal of course, but different people require different approaches, and if you take the time to figure out what works best for people, you will get the best out of them. Sticking with your approach, don’t be afraid to add in some empathy and show you care. Taking the time to acknowledge people have lives and challenges just as you do, goes a long way in building the right kind of connection between you and your people. It doesn’t only foster a sense of belonging but also improves company culture.
It comes in many forms, but effective communication is imperative between you and your people. Starting with them, you need to give them a voice in your company, provide a safe space to express it as well as a listening ear. If these things are not available, people are not going to feel valued and certainly not like they belong, because they won’t feel like they matter to you or the company.
Freedom of Expression
People need to feel like they can be themselves. There are two elements to this. Firstly, you hired them for their exceptional qualities and ideas, so give them the space to be that person. Don’t try and put them in a box; let them make the mould. Secondly, let them be who they are. No doubt your company is full of people with different likes and dislikes from various cultures and nationalities so ensure they have a space to express that rather than hiding it. It’s all part of being able to express yourself freely and being accepted for that.
Communicate like a Leader
Communication must come from you when it comes to company business. People need these channels to work to be informed and feel important enough to be communicated with. Think about it. Imagine if there was a decision made at a meeting by other people but it impacted you, and you had to hear about it casually through a colleague weeks later. It doesn’t make anyone feel very good about themselves, and it just makes people feel left out, which is the opposite of what we are going for here.
You Need to Recognise
Creating this sense of belonging through communication can also be fostered through recognition. Giving praise and acknowledgement for efforts and accomplishments is a no brainer, but don’t wait for the annual review. If you achieved something, you don’t want someone coming back to you months later with an outdated congrats. It feels like they forgot or it wasn’t very high on their list of priorities, feeding further into the unwanted sense of disconnection. We’ve built feedback in real-time into our software to avoid this kind of breakdown and to ensure recognition is happening when it should.
People feel like they belong when they are included in what’s happening. It can start with them being actively involved in the company and not just by carrying out their work. It means including them in the goal-setting process. It means aligning the values of your people with the company’s ones. It means valuing their contributions. It means, feeding back to earlier’s point, communicating with them on key decisions that will impact them and your company. It also means creating an environment that encourages parking the professional and promoting social activities; in and out of the office. These are also an opportunity for you to support the deepening of good relationships not just between you and your people but between them and each other.
When it comes to the right time to start implementing these changes, today is better than tomorrow. One time which offers itself as an excellent opportunity to activate these approaches is during a transition stage. This can be anything from implementing a new process to adding people to a team to moving office as examples. Periods of change are a good time to foster this feeling because you have the opportunity to make someone feel supported, included and understood rather than left out in the company cold. Another time to make a conscious effort with this is with the next new hire. If someone is joining the company, it’s a whirlwind for them, and they certainly don’t feel like they belong yet. When something is moving, people can feel uprooted and isolated, but it’s an opportune time for you as a people leader to intervene, offer support and create connections.