Smart Leadership


Inclusion: We All Want To Be Insiders (Part 2)

Inclusion: We All Want To Be Insiders (Part 2)

This is part two on how to develop red hot employees through inclusion. If we want people to perform we must focus on the dynamics that elevate performance. The tendency is to look at performance itself instead of looking at those things that performance follows. In part one we looked at acceptance as the first tier of inclusion. Next up is identity.

In order for people to feel like an insider, they must find an identity within the company culture. It’s hard to burn red hot if you feel like an outsider looking in.

One of the more challenging aspects of the interview process is determining fit. Will this person be a good fit in our organization? The interviewee from the other side of the table is asking the same question “will I fit in here?” Two sides of the same question but both are questions of inclusion.

Once people are in the door we must quickly address the “where do I fit” question.  By defining their role, we bring clarity to the larger question “why am I here”.  New hires tend to have many other questions, but let’s make sure we are answering this one.

Even veterans will need these question readdressed at different intervals in their career. It reinforces the sense of inclusion and above all else has a positive impact on retention levels. When I have a well-defined identity in my workplace it means it matters that I am here—and if it matters that I am here, then I matter.


Though identity is only the second tier on our red hot employee thermometer, I consider it the most significant part of inclusion.  The remaining two tiers VISIBILITY and DISTINCTION (part three), both reinforce identity.

People are driven by purpose but what drives purpose? Identity drives purpose. Without a well-defined identity, there is no sense of purpose. People will only connect to a company’s purpose when they can establish their own unique identity within it. There must be a connection between purpose and identity. The answer to the identity question “who am I” precedes the answer to the question “why am I”. Without the “who” there is no “why”.

How do we define people’s identity? In business, we tend to define people by their titles. We know this to be true otherwise why do we care about them. Titles do contribute to organizational structure and function. The problem is titles tend to fuel politics, egos, and pecking orders and at certain levels of the organization often restrict identity. Individuals easily get lost among those negative cultural dynamics.

At the top of the hierarchal structure because there are fewer people titles offer a more defined identity. There is only one CEO, COO, CFO, etc. As you move down the organization to the middle and lower levels, titles become more generic and provide less distinctiveness.  In addition, middle to lower level positions are more task oriented in nature, task and identity tend to become synonymous.

Because autonomy tends to be more restricted at this level, the task becomes the identity box of which there is no escape. This can create a lot of frustration and obscure identity even more. The real tragedy here is there is so much untapped potential at this level of the organization because there are fewer opportunities to get outside the task box. People either never have the chance to discover who they really are or they feel they never get to demonstrate who they are.

This is the essence of achieving inclusion through identity. People need opportunities to both discover and demonstrate who they are. Identity is not putting something in someone, it is bringing out what is already there and then giving it an opportunity to grow and develop and find expression in and through their job.  If leaders will approach each individual in this way I promise, you will produce red-hot employees.

One of the reasons it is so devastating to get passed over for a promotion is because of the assault it has on our identity.  Either you are not who you thought you were or those in leadership do not recognize who you really are. Neither of these options is self-assuring or self-affirming. The reason we seek promotions is we believe it will give us more opportunity to discover and express who we are. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t depending on the level of autonomy it provides.

Making sure people have a work identity can be much simpler than just giving out promotions and titles. It’s really the smaller things that can make the biggest impact like including them in a meeting, inviting them to participate in a special project or simply asking them for their input on something important. You will be surprised by what people can bring to the table. At the same time, people will surprise themselves as to what they brought to the table. Why not give them and you the opportunity to discover and demonstrate who they are.