Is inclusion the key to innovation?
Most businesses want to be innovative. To lead their sector, to push their capabilities, maybe even to change the world. But when it comes to fostering a culture of innovation what are the ingredients that spring to mind? Creativity? Diverse capabilities? ... or inclusion?
Most businesses want to be innovative. To lead their sector, to push their capabilities, maybe even to change the world.
But when it comes to fostering a culture of innovation what are the ingredients that spring to mind? Creativity? Diverse capabilities? Operational agility?
What about inclusion? It might have been way down your list – it might have been missed off altogether. But inclusion could be the missing piece in your innovation puzzle.
An inclusive environment is a psychologically safe environment. And when we feel psychologically safe, we feel comfortable to make suggestions, to take risks, and to make mistakes. Creativity, capability, and big ideas are worthless if your team don’t feel secure to share and use them.
So how can we create an environment like this for our team? Timothy R. Clark has written a book packed with wisdom on this subject. In ‘The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety’ he outlines four steps to encourage innovation through inclusion in your business:
Stage One: Be truly inclusive
The first step is all around ‘inclusion safety’. Put simply it’s acknowledging that everyone unconditionally deserves respect and so deserves to be included.
To be truly inclusive you need to go beyond a D&I strategy and embrace inclusion. An authentically inclusive business starts at the top.
Ask yourself why you choose to include some people and not others in discussions, decisions, and processes? Are there biases and prejudices at play? We can’t completely rid ourselves of personal bias, but we can acknowledge it and work to eliminate its influence on our behaviour and actions.
Stage Two: Accept and reward failure
The second step creates ‘learner safety’. When we go beyond the norm, when we suggest new ideas or better ways of working, we often feel vulnerable. We’re laying ourselves open to challenge, criticism, or even failure. But what if we could unlearn the instinct that ‘being wrong’ and ‘feedback’ is bad?
Encourage your team to see that when things go wrong, it’s part of the process of getting it right. Lead from the top and be open when you encounter challenges or find something confusing. And if you see ideas being shot down by others, call it out and make sure all team members feel included.
Stage Three: Understand your team
Contributor safety is the third stage and it’s something that is earned. If your team has shown you they can perform, you need to ensure they feel trusted to do their thing.
As leaders we need to find the right balance. Give too much responsibility too soon and it could backfire. Hold off for too long and frustration can set in.
Take time to get to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses, listen more, and resist the instinct to save the day at the first sign of challenges. And when you understand your team encourage collaboration and help your people to think beyond the constraints of their roles.
Stage Four: Enable everyone to challenge
The final step is ‘challenger safety’. If a business has been successful, it’s all too easy to stick with the status quo. But for long-term success you need people need to feel comfortable and encouraged to take a risk and challenge what’s gone before.
Swapping certainty and safety for uncertainty and ambiguity isn’t easy for people. As leaders it’s our role to encourage this culture of challenge – to democratise it. One way to do this is to make troubleshooting the norm and charge people with finding problems in projects – think of them as internal hackers tasked with exposing vulnerabilities.
Also consider hierarchies and encourage people to interact and operate outside them. Consider having junior team members chair meetings or asking them to train senior members of staff in their skills to break down barriers and power dynamics.
Take the space and time…
Developing a psychologically safe environment doesn’t happen overnight and it’s vital you get to know your team and their individual needs. But when you take the time to explore what kind of safety they need and you can give them the support they require, they’ll be empowered to try new things, to innovate, and to push themselves and your business forward.