Inclusive conversations: a step by step guide

Follow this step by step guide to understand how to promote inclusivity, diversity, and performance through 1:1 conversations.

Inclusive conversations: a step by step guide

A revolutionary approach to tackling inclusion.

Inclusivity is not a tick-box exercise. There’s no fix-all solution, or any standalone initiative you can put in place to drive it.

What inclusion means is different for everyone: it’s deeply personal and, often, difficult to define. So how are you, as an organisation, supposed to define it? HR and D&I leaders are so often tasked with the frustrating challenge of ‘fixing’ inclusivity in their organisation, but where do you even start, when it’s such a unique concept to every employee? It’s time to reframe the narrative. Inclusion is not something that can be applied from the top down in an organisation. It’s something that has to rise from the bottom up.

True inclusivity is about giving every employee a platform to express themselves: to feel seen, heard and recognised as an individual by their employer. The more we recognise every employee as a complete person – not just their job title – the more included they will feel. The more they feel included, the more motivated (and able) they will be to perform their best.

How can you do it – and makes sure that culture of inclusion reaches every employee in your organisation? Through conversation. But we’re not talking about a water-cooler chat: we’re talking about open, honest 1:1s between managers and their reports. We’re talking about dialogue that addresses every employee’s unique circumstances, challenges, goals and drivers.

In this guide, we show you how the right conversations can revolutionise your approach to inclusivity – and drive better performance across your team as a result.

Why is inclusivity important?

Inclusive companies are 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders, according to Josh Bersin.

1. Shifting expectations

Inclusion is not a benefit or a perk in the workplace: it’s fundamental to ensuring that you attract and retain talent, and maintain a happy, motivated workforce. The world of work has changed: younger generations in particular expect more in terms of inclusion, recognition and purpose. Older generations, too, are actively looking for a better work-life blend, with the recent shift to remote (and later hybrid) working creating a sea-change in how people perceive their job and its impact on the rest of their life.  

2. Motivation and performance

As well as being good for morale, inclusivity makes good business sense. Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders. They’re 1.8 times more likely to be more agile, quick thinking, and ready to embrace change. According to the same study, they also make better decisions and deliver better results. Why? Because a diverse workforce – one that is empowered to bring their whole self to work, is motivated to achieve and has an open forum for discussion available to them – brings a more diverse, proactive mindset. 

3. Employee engagement

Research has unsurprisingly found a strong link between inclusion and engagement. In one study, workplaces that actively foster inclusivity boosted their engagement among millennials, but it’s not just millennials who are affected by inclusion. A workforce where every employee is able to be their authentic self and unlock their full potential will, by its nature, experience better engagement through respect, recognition and understanding.  

Creating a culture of inclusion

An inclusive culture doesn’t just happen. As organisations embrace diversity, they need to make sure that they are also allowing their diverse workforce to express their differences. A work culture that promotes diversity on the surface, but doesn’t recognise each individual’s unique situation, background, experiences, culture and outlook when it matters, is not really diverse or inclusive. To create an inclusive culture, you need to promote dialogue – and take action to make sure that every individual feels included.  

Tackling bias

All of us have unconscious bias, no matter how much we would like to think otherwise. Just look at the return-to-work debate after Covid, and the issues it has raised around proximity bias. To promote inclusion in the workplace, managers need to be given the means to break down their own unconscious bias and see an unfiltered picture of employees. Giving managers and employees a structure to discuss wellbeing, motivation, and performance in one conversation, with tools to measure and assess all of those areas, can help managers to dismantle preconceptions and see each report as a whole – their challenges, their goals, the merits they bring to the team.  

Inclusion starts with conversation

A friendly chat isn’t enough to be 'inclusive'. To become an inclusive workplace, you need to focus on enabling deeper 1:1s that reveal every employee’s unique drivers and motivators. What’s important to them? What motivates them to get up every day and do a good job? How are they really feeling, about their workload, their home life, their stress levels, and their confidence? Real inclusion allows everyone to discuss whatever it is that’s impacting them – but how can managers make sure they are having these conversations with every employee?  

What makes an inclusive performance management conversation?

It’s not an easy question to answer. That feeling of inclusivity is hard to put your finger on, but when you don’t have it in your workplace, you feel it. If you’ve ever worked in an environment that took a cookie-cutter approach to performance management, you’ll know just how damaging it can be to feel that you’re not being seen as an individual – with unique circumstances, needs, challenges and drivers all affecting your performance. It’s not just damaging for the employee, either. Inclusivity is crucial to getting the best from your teams and creating a diverse, high-performing and engaged workforce.  

Before we outline our six steps to more inclusive employee one-to-ones, let’s first look at the most common frustrations we need to overcome. 

Barriers standing in the way of effective performance management conversations

Here are just a few ways that performance management conversations could be doing more harm than good in setting the stage for an inclusive workplace:

It’s a box-ticking exercise

Inclusive performance management is not about ticking off objectives – it’s about personal and professional development, recognition, goal setting and identifying/overcoming barriers to success. If you’re not listening to what the employee has to say, and what’s affecting them, it isn’t an inclusive performance management conversation – it’s just a checklist.  

The relationship isn’t working

If there is a breakdown in the relationship between manager and employee, these conversations are never going to be comfortable, productive or inclusive. The key is preventing this breakdown in the first place, and that means facilitating clear, structured, coaching-led conversations that recognise both parties as ‘people’, not just workers and managers.  

Conversations aren’t frequent enough

What’s the point in performance management conversations that occur once in a blue moon? If they aren’t often enough, it’s impossible to keep track of objectives and set realistic goals, and it’s impossible to foster a sense of inclusivity in the workplace. How will you know how each employee is feeling, and the challenges they’re facing, if you don’t talk to them? 

They are demotivating

No one wants to sit through a list of their failings, without recognition of their achievements. It’s all too easy to focus on the next areas that need to be improved, and ignore existing successes, but it will hinder, not help, performance. Dwell on negative feedback consistently, as employees can start to feel ostracised.  

It’s a one-sided agenda

An agenda that prioritises one party over the other will be frustrating and, ultimately, futile. Simply citing a list of demands (be it from the employee or manager) is not going to improve performance or create an inclusive performance conversation 

6 steps to inclusive conversations

At OpenBlend, we built our entire platform based on inclusive principles, creating a framework that enables coaching-led performance management conversations  that make a real impact on productivity and engagementas well as creating strong foundations for a diverse, inclusive and successful workforce. 

It's our belief that one-to-ones between managers and employees are the single most important tool to drive inclusion from the bottom up. In light of this, here are the 6 steps we'd suggest following to pave the way for inclusive conversations in the workplace. 

1. Keep them consistent

Hold regular, not sporadic, 1:1s: not only does it develop trust between managers and their reports, but it ensures that every employee knows they have a platform to raise whatever issues are important to them on a regular basis.   

2. Don’t assume. Listen.

Let the employee set the agenda. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to inclusivity is managers’ unconscious bias and assumptions – in order to open truly honest dialogue, managers need to give employees space to raise their own talking points. A forced agenda can never be truly inclusive.   

3. Ask the right questions, at the right time

Some people may be more reticent to sharing their thoughts and feelings, particularly if they feel that it could have a negative impact on their role: e.g., a parent who worries about raising childcare issues, or someone struggling with cultural exclusion in the workplace. Managers need to be prepared with questions that allow employees to feel safe and respected as they open up. 

4. Recognise differences, don’t ignore them

Ignoring people’s differences doesn’t mean they don’t exist. To be inclusive, managers need to see people’s differences. More than that, they need to embrace them, recognising that just as everyone has different challenges, so, too, do they bring different strengths.  

5. Create actions and objectives

Conversation can only take you so far. The difference between a workplace that pays lip service to inclusion, and a truly inclusive workplace, is action. Make sure that employees and managers are empowered to set objectives and act on them – it will also help you to measure progress more effectively and promote accountability.  

6. Turn managers into coaches

To create an inclusive culture, every manager needs to become a coach – but they can’t do it alone. You need to support managers on this journey, and give them the framework, training and resources they need to effectively coach their teams.  

Take a different approach to inclusivity

At OpenBlend, we’ve helped the likes of Gymshark, Lacoste and Dr Martens to promote inclusion in their workplace, by providing a platform where every employee can have open, honest and productive conversations with their managers.  

Inclusive performance management conversations don’t just happen: they need to be part of a people-centric structure, where employees and managers are guided to have the right conversations, at the right time. 

The OpenBlend platform facilitates effective, inclusive performance management conversations by providing a framework for regular, productive 1:1s that recognise the individual.

It’s only through recognising every individual – their challenges, their goals, their priorities, their feelings – that you can create a truly inclusive environment, and enjoy better motivation, performance, wellbeing and engagement as a result.  

To see how the OpenBlend can help you tackle your inclusion download our full guide below, or book a discovery call with our team and see the difference our platform can make.  


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