Inclusion dissonance

Jon Husband's blog 'Knowledge, power, and an historic shift in work and organizational design' opens with the statement 'Horizontal networking often creates dissonance in the vertical enterprise'. He says that 'there's ongoing dissonance between the Taylorism-derived methods .. the ones behind structured, highly-defined organizational activities forms .. and the growing demands imposed by the world of hyper-linked flows in which knowledge and meaning are built layer by layer, exchange by exchange, resulting in the 'scaffolding' of knowledge to feed continuous improvement and innovation . These are the results which, increasingly, networked social computing enable'.

I agree with this and it becomes very evident in the dissonance created by vertical employee grading systems (in the US Government Agency I worked in there were 21 levels/grades of staff) and statements of inclusion which imply, or state, the requirement for fluid, networked, and emergent activity: One example of an inclusion statement illustrates: 'Inclusion involves the University and its staff in designing and operating flexible services, practices and procedures that take appropriate account of the needs of students, staff and visitors'.

Typically, coming with grading systems are things like 'Senior Leadership Away Days', or 'Leadership Development for Middle Managers', or 'Supervisors' Forum'. None of these types of targeted events are inclusive as each is open only to certain grades of staff and closed to those not in the 'right' grades.

Take a look at the UK CIPD's (2012) report 'Diversity & Inclusion: Fringe or Fundamental?' In the survey that underpins the report, '74% of respondents saw diversity and inclusion as central to people strategy but only 64% had active involvement from board members and senior directors'. The report discusses 6 key implications of its finding. But nowhere is the suggestion that grading people in a vertical hierarchy is a part of the inclusion challenge.

A report from Deloitte 'The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Influence' tells us 'Millennials define inclusion as having a culture of connectedness that facilitates teaming, collaboration, and professional growth, and positively affects major business outcomes. Leadership is supportive of individual perspectives and is transparent, communicative, and engaging.' Their findings reveal that '83 per cent of millennials are actively engaged when they believe their organization fosters an inclusive culture, compared to only 60 percent of millennials who are actively engaged when their organization does not foster an inclusive culture.'

Think of a workforce where not only millennials but also the rest of the workforce were participants in an inclusive context, where the world of hyper-linked flows of information and knowledge building/sharing was one where grades and vertical hierarchies were immaterial to the business of problem solving and getting work done. In this environment 'all points of view carry the same weight, and … people have the freedom to express themselves [in problem solving] whether they have 30 minutes or 30 years of experience.' (from Deloitte report).

What could this mean in practice?

  • It could mean that development was not targeted at 'grades' but at issues or specific skill/capability building. (I did hear of someone who was promoted for a two week period so he could attend an influencing course that was not open to his grade).
  • It could mean that reward and advancement were not through the grades but through skills and capability development.
  • It could mean that people stopped elbowing each other to get 'promotion' up a grade ladder, and helped each other learn and develop skills for inclusive, collective and collaborative high organisational performance.
  • It could mean fluid structures where people were valued, included and rewarded for their contribution on an issues basis and not for their position in a hierarchy on a fixed basis.
  • It could mean that we saw the end of statements like the one I received in an out of office notifier. 'If you have a question please ask one of my Grade 6'. (No names or contact details given).
  • It could mean people could show initiative, feel confident, and make suggestions because they are as adult in the workforce as they are in their non-work lives.

I've suggested here is that a vertical grade structure is dissonant with statements of inclusion. What's your view? Let me know.

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