“When everyone is included, everyone wins” – Jesse Jackson
When Jesse Jackson made this statement almost 70 years ago it was in a context made for a predominantly American world and a reality which was far more visceral and very visible. While the world has moved on past this, in the ensuing decades and into the next century, it is interesting to see how this word has acquired different and muted hues.
This issue of how corporates view and address Inclusion at the workplace, has been niggling me for a long while now. I have therefore endeavored to look at the various lenses and attitudes that we wear and exhibit for a whole set of an adjacent workforce, which are called in to work alongside the organisation. These are, in normal parlance, addressed as vendors or outsourced or contract workers etc.
Why is this so important today? And is it? Do we ever stop and think about this very visible and yet fairly silent malaise that is creeping in the way we work? Let’s stop and examine this for a bit.
Firstly, it is about expectations.
Interestingly, our expectations of our vendors are on par, if not higher, with those of our own employees. Be it delivering a sales target, or developing marketing material, or helping with recruitment, or delivering impact, we want them to do it all and with, well, near perfection. The reward system is monetary to a large extent and is linked to the delivery and that is the objective truth or the facts or to put it simply, the norm.
Secondly, it is about feelings.
Feelings? It’s like how Bertie Wooster said; “There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself,” Do trousers matter?”! So yes, feelings do matter. There are many feelings which either aid or detract a relationship or partnership, and what really lies beneath all of that is that everyone has this huge desire to be included. If we are making decisions that impact the other person, should we not at least take their inputs? By excluding them in co-creation we send a subtle message that they are just bodies to do their bidding. And we wonder why these vendors are so materialistic and do not display any ownership.
One of the places where we turned things around was with a global FMCG company, which has many plants in India. As with every plant, there were unions. This one particular plant had five unions and the plant for the last so many years was working way below its capacity. Every year there were multiple confrontations with the unions over all the usual things. The young HR manager there happened to be my coachee and after listening to him talk about this problem and all the actions that he was taking for “their” benefit, and that nothing was working, the only question that I asked him was, how did the unions feel about the actions and what ideas did they give.
The question stopped him in his tracks and for a long time he was silent and then he asked as to why that was important. On more questioning and reflection, he began to understand that the attitude of a benevolent master conferring gifts to the masses plainly did not work and had not worked for so long. We worked on the simple premise of Inclusion.
He began to involve the Union Chiefs in small decisions regarding the workings of the plant and seeking their inputs. At first, he was greeted with a lot of suspicion and veiled hostility. But this brave manager persevered and slowly the Unions began to thaw and change their approach. It took a good 4-5 months for this to happen and he also had to deal with his own managers who were completely taken aback by his approach and was counselled time and again to revert to the standard practices. However, his perseverance was rewarded, and the impact began slowly and then began to move faster in all spaces. For example, for a particular local festival, people would take leave for 10 days, sanctioned or not sanctioned, and that year only 60% or so took leave and that too for only two days. The company used to organize Family Day every year for the workers and their families which always saw very poor attendance and lots of wastage; that year, the manager asked them to organize and run it with the budget. There was almost 85% attendance and came under the budget. The plant began to run at full capacity and a line which was lying dormant was opened-up and this plant became one of the most efficient plants for the company worldwide. Many more such examples were to be found but these should suffice. I believe, the largest impact was felt by the manager, who never believed that such a small act of letting people in and allowing himself to be vulnerable would create such a great impact.
If I were to view it for myself, particularly being on the opposite side of the table, whenever any client has treated me as an equal partner, I just find it in myself to do, just that extra bit. The act of inclusion plays out everywhere; within the teams, between teams, between leaders and the people, in short, in any relationship. As the world is increasingly moving towards a gig economy, Inclusion is going to be the deciding factor on who will want to work with you. It is the person on the other side who will decide whether he / she wants to work with you or not!
After all, In the eyes of any law, man-made or God, we are all born equal. And lastly in the words of the immortal Shylock, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”