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A sense of belonging is where organisational transformation begins

Three women in the workplace sitting on a couch looking at a laptop

Written by Staff Writer

April 23, 2024

By Teresa Marsicano, Executive Director of ‘and Change’ and Joyce Lebelo, Managing Executive of LRMG 

Representation matters. Diversity of thought matters. Belonging matters. And the organisations that realise this early are the ones that are making a social impact and experiencing financial success. Thanks to a widely cited McKinsey study, we’ve known for years that companies with more diverse teams were seeing higher profits and better performance.

Companies in the top quartile for gender-diverse leadership were 15% more likely to generate above-average profitability than their predominantly white-male competitors. Organisations with higher levels of ethnically diverse employees also had a 35% performance advantage over those without diversity.In South Africa, we’ve recognised the need to transform our economies and leadership structures for decades, and Women’s Month is when we are asked to reflect on the importance of gender parity.

Gender equality is important in the social sense – with women in South Africa facing high rates of domestic violence, unemployment, and discrimination – and also in helping to build the local economy.

Accenture posited in 2019 that improving gender parity could unlock R319-billion into SA’s GDP. In corporate structures, South Africa’s business leaders are seemingly realising this and talking about diversity and inclusion (D&I). Deloitte research from 2020 states: “80% of South African leaders (surveyed) cited D&I as “important” or “urgent/very important” to business (up from 59% and 70% in 2014, respectively)”.

But are they walking the walk? The same report wrote that many companies still underestimate the change required to become truly inclusive. “Cultural change only starts to become more substantial when leadership buy-in appears and is further enhanced by fully integrating D&I into the organisation, including staff behaviour and business processes. Cultural change is difficult and requires more effort than many leaders anticipate,” it reads. This change becomes even more complex if the organisation deploys D&I in a cross-cultural context (e.g. multinationals). Our experience in change management has taught us that fundamental transformation can only be brought about by creating a sense of belonging. Belonging has become interwoven with D&I, because that sense of belonging allows organisations to retain diverse talent and maintain trust even in the face of significant structural and cultural changes. Belonging, we now know, is firstly good for business.

Consulting firm BetterUp conducted research about the role of belonging at work – with high belonging linked to a 56% increase in individual performance, fewer sick days and more loyalty to their organisation – meaning a 50% drop in turnover risk.

 

A group of women in the workplace showing the power of organisation transformation

So, how do we create this sense of belonging? Most importantly, by allowing for open communication, inviting feedback – and taking it seriously – and prioritising connection between colleagues and their managers. Empathy and the ability to facilitate open conversations are our superpowers for change management practitioners and are central to preventing resistance to change.

Resistance is inevitable for any change, but transformative policies around D&I or gender equality are on the same level as a major cultural shift in the organisation.

Getting people to accept transformation is also about enhancing feelings of belonging – allowing people to feel heard as the change is implemented and adjusting change strategies accordingly. This multi-layered and reinforced model for communication is at the heart of Prosci’s ADKAR model. ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement) is about equipping leaders with the tools and partners with the correct information to move through organisational changes successfully.

Because when a significant change must be made, it must also be leader-led – especially changes that are fundamental to the success of an organisation and its people. Unfortunately, many organisations and their leaders don’t realise that change is rarely completed quickly. The move towards a more gender-equal and diverse organisation, for example, is a lengthy process that requires consistent growth in the organisation’s change capabilities to manage correctly. But this capability and skill sets are transferable across the many potential social and otherwise shifts that need to take place to remain competitive.

However, failing to maintain these changes – or reinforcing them as per the ADKAR model – often leads to future failures. Support from the very top of an organisation and coordination across all levels is necessary for successful implementation.

In the South African context, we have a rich legacy of transformation. Our government was able to implement an entirely new government and create one of the world’s greatest Constitutions. But now, it is up to other sectors to assist in changing society for the better by looking inward and transforming their own policies, workforces, and leadership structures. Yes, it makes financial sense, but it’s also the right thing to do.

Teresa Marsicano is the founder and director of and Change, a global company with offices in South Africa, UK, Turkey and Italy. Teresa has 30 years of experience in the industry and her areas of specialisation include Change Management, Learning and Development Management, Knowledge Management and HR Management.

Joyce Lebelo is the managing executive of LRMG Growth Enablement (Business Management Consultants). She is deeply passionate about enabling the development and performance of people. Joyce has spent the past 30 years partnering with others to achieve strategic objectives and performance measures across a number of industries. 

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