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Develop, not just Hire – Leverage Peer Coaching for an Inclusive Culture

By Numly - Leadership Coaching Group
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The past decade saw a huge convergence of three predominant trends – the accelerated use of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in the thick of the pandemic, the new hybrid workforce dynamic that has exacerbated the skill gaps, and an extensive call for greater organizational inclusion. A relatively large cross-section of organizational promotion and attrition data has endorsed the thought that individuals alone cannot create an inclusive work environment. Colleagues, leaders, and talent processes, therefore, play an equally pivotal role in promoting inclusion. The efficacy of these measures, though, is yet to be gauged through the lens of employee experience.  

Deep-dive studies into inclusion strategies indicate that organizations adopting inclusive cultures are more equipped to stimulate larger networks, lower attrition rates, and break into new markets. Employee networks have been known to display an immense impact on the strong sense of connection and belonging in the workplace. Meaningful networks not only unify employees on a platform for sharing, learning, and inspiring, but drive a more inclusive organizational culture for a collective mission. A mission to be able to differentiate ourselves as ‘employee experience’ leaders. Connected Commons believes that the ability to generate energy and enthusiasm within networks is the largest predictor of high performance. 

Whilst a majority of organizations are cognizant of the diversity right in DE&I, inclusion is where they are experiencing a shortfall. Often referred to as ‘identity cover’ in the DE&I community, employees fear exposing their religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic backgrounds, therefore, eluding themselves from the ‘open-door’ policy that facilitates an environment where employees are welcome to bring forth their unique talents and beliefs. 

Inclusion is about providing an opportunity for every employee to thrive – with a ‘voice’. Though diversity reflects all of our many differences, without inclusion, diversity is inconsequential. And inclusion is a true measure of how the organization has fostered a culture where employees from diverse backgrounds have a voice in how they feel respected and included, and how it can be practiced for the larger picture. Measuring inclusion requires more than transcending numbers – pure demographics as a metric of diversity does not address crucial measurements of inclusion such as the feeling of respect or being recognized in the workplace. 

Understanding the significance of inclusion has made organizations cognizant of the need for advocating targeted changes to their talent development practices and processes – and especially in underrepresented groups. Cultivating an inclusive culture through personal networks is a continual process of analyzing employees’ networks to determine the effectiveness of their access and ties, and is a sign that organizations are developing employees and just not hiring them. 

The Power of the Peers

The World Economic Forum’s toolkit provides extreme clarity on how businesses that are proponents of inclusive cultures go on to realize long-term benefits in profitability, innovation, decision-making, and employee engagement. And often, it means learning from peers. Peer coaching programs across diverse organizations is a paramount method of learning the fundamental ‘emotional skills’ – awareness, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion.  

Peer coaching is a powerful learning mechanism with multi-pronged advantages and is being leveraged as a tool for network development. Furthermore, peer coaching humanizes work, supports networking, and propels employee experience and fulfillment. With many learning functions currently stretched thin, the opportunity to elevate the social, experiential, and psychological nature of peer coaching makes it uniquely positioned to address the most pressing demands of the modern workplace paradigm. 

As opposed to traditional coaching, peer coaching synthesizes connections and transformational learning among employees. With organizations promoting decentralization in today’s accelerating work dynamic, the dissemination and management of change are ably addressed by peer coaching. Typically, a peer coaching program must match employees with multiple peers from different business functions, where they cultivate their internal networks. Potential career paths and opportunities within the organization are, thus, exposed in a way that would not have been identified otherwise. Inarguably, practices that were once considered a luxury are now imperative for driving inclusion and trumping the war of workforce attraction and retention.

The quintessential impact of networks depends on the most crucial factors such as developing early access and ties, bridging those ties, and subsequently, mentoring and coaching from peers. Coaching and mentoring advice flowing from peers in comparison to senior employees are more effective and feedback-friendly. Organizations are being urged to adopt peer coaching processes as a mechanism for fostering connections not just with the organizational leadership but also with peers – peers are technically more in the know of the ‘day-to-day’ of the employee and well connected in networks. In its essence, network development peer coaching strengthens a self-advocacy capacity in employees whilst transforming peers into champions for other employees. The science of peer coaching is about discerning the needs and abilities of fellow employees where they are more than likely to be recommended for roles that resonate with their interests and abilities. 

Success in the workplace is fundamentally a repercussion of the quality of our relationships – it influences the ability to learn, collaborate, and be productive. Work relationships are the core of well-being, and organizations are striving to elevate agility by deviating from the erstwhile hierarchical and ‘command-and-control’ leadership models. The unique systemic ability of peer coaching in fostering relationships across the organization is harnessed through ‘listening’. From a psychological perspective, it frames a colleague as an ally and paves the foundation for long-term trust and support.

The Diversity and Inclusion handbook from Lever notes that one-on-one conversations can also be instrumental in helping overcome detractors to DE&I initiatives. Conversations around building networks and allies in the face of the current business complexities have far-reaching consequences – more the allies across an organization, the more inclusive and coherent it is bound to be. 

Most organizations offer commonplace freebies – coffees in the break room, competitive perks, lavish pay hikes and bonuses, and employee recognition programs. The pivotal factor for boosting inclusion, however, lies in shifting focus from just hiring to creating the internal escalators necessary to develop diverse talent in purpose-driven ways. Conclusively, it is all about making our organizations more humane.

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