ILM Discussion: Creating an inclusive culture

June 29, 2018
Business and finance journalist Matt Packer discusses key news stories with the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) head of research, policy & standards, Kate Cooper


As firms’ customer bases and workforces become steadily more diverse, it is crucial to adapt to accommodate and cater for everyone.

Whether it be age and stage of life, personality type or cultural background, people of all shapes and sizes are valuable to business success.

Sainsbury’s has recognised the needs of its customers recently by trialling a ‘relaxed checkout’ lane in its Prestwick, Scotland branch specifically targeted at dementia sufferers, who may need more time to finalise their purchases.

As well as including a hearing loop, the lane is staffed with employees who have received special training on how to assist dementia sufferers and the elderly. The branch is conducting the trial in partnership with Alzheimer’s Scotland.

Speaking to The Independent, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “Our aim is to be the most inclusive retailer and we want all of our customers to have a great shopping experience in our stores. There are many aspects of a visit to the supermarket which can be stressful for those with dementia, so by trialling a slow shopping option we hope we can make their lives easier.”


Loyalty points

Another retail brand that is putting significant effort into its customer base is Majestic Wine, which has unveiled a strategy to invest more in customer relationships than it does in stores. Indeed, it is aiming to double its investment in customer acquisition from £14 million per year to £28 million.

Speaking to online journal Internet Retailing, chief executive Rowan Gormley said: “Rather than investing in bricks and mortar we are investing in acquiring new customers. We believe – and have good evidence to support – that this is a better strategy because investing in your customer makes you value them more and treat them better. This improves loyalty, which builds a better business.”

How can firms who are making such large investments in their customer relationships ensure that the funding – and the strategic thinking behind it – is targeted in the most effective ways?

Kate Cooper says: “The Sainsbury’s initiative is a solid example of how the chain is acknowledging and grasping shifts in the demographics of its customer base. Not everyone is comfortable with shopping online. Not everyone is comfortable with a fast – yet curt and impersonal – experience at the checkout.

Cooper points out: “as a result of those demographic shifts, retail brands must meet an ever-increasing requirement to cater to customers with an array of different, neurodiverse needs. Firms that learn to appreciate those changes in their demographics will get better at customer-sensitivity all the time.”


Quirky genius

While it may go without saying that we adapt to the needs of our customers, it’s also key to create an inclusive environment for employees. Not only because it improves employee wellbeing – but because it creates a more innovative environment.

For example, recruiting for cultural fit may be fine for leaders who are after a quiet life, but less so for those who are looking for truly innovative thinking, according to a 15 June Business Insider article.

In the piece, Owen Grover – CEO of podcasting app Pocket Casts – talks about the pearls of wisdom he picked up from his mentor Bob Pittman: founder of MTV and multi-platform broadcasting and ads giant iHeartMedia (formerly ClearChannel).

While at iHeartMedia, Grover says, “Bob told me to always accept people with towering weaknesses as long as they are accompanied with towering strengths. These are people who are so quirky that their genius is often completely missed. It’s easy to want everyone to get along, or to hire people that are easy to manage. But doing so is how you get Bs hiring Cs hiring Ds.”

He adds: “If people have strong strengths, encourage them, even if they don’t fit in.”

The piece chimes with a recent Harvard Business Review column by former Netflix talent chief Patty McCord, in which she argues that finding the right people is “not a matter of ‘culture fit’. What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own”.


Creative tension

McCord notes: “Making great hires is about recognising great matches – and often they’re not what you’d expect.” As a prime example, she cites Netflix’s Anthony Park: a “buttoned-down” programmer hired from obscurity because an app he’d developed enhanced the platform’s user experience. Park eventually rose to the level of vice-president.

What are leaders missing out by making culture fit a high recruitment priority?

“A great, confident team is one in which people can be challenged,” says Kate Cooper. “This is particularly true of teams in which people can be challenged out of their comfort zones and spurred to glean insights from different views of the world. People who join you in your comfort zone in order to achieve some sort of cultural fit are not going to challenge you. I don’t like to use the term ‘personality clash’ – more often than not, they’re more about power than personality – yet within that challenge dynamic, there’s a clash of world views. And the main by-product of that clash is creative tension, which leads to innovation.”

Cooper notes: “If you get what someone is saying in a very instantaneous fashion, because the pair of you have some kind of shorthand, then that individual often doesn’t need to fully articulate their ideas. One undesirable result of that may be that those ideas – and your acceptance of them – may not receive reasonable scrutiny. However, if you don’t get what the person opposite you is saying straight away, it will require a better and more detailed explanation – and that’s a positive step all by itself. Pockets of discomfort like that are really helpful for encouraging you to challenge yourself and think about your decision making.”

She adds: “of course, we should want work to be fun, and it’s important to enjoy working with our colleagues. But even in teams with an element of clash and disconnect, when they start to succeed, the individual members start to like each other. Success truly galvanises team building, because the individuals concerned move to a new phase of accepting – and valuing – difference. And that, in turn, increases trust and confidence.”


For more on these topics, listen to Episode 3 of the ILM podcast in partnership with LID Radio:


About the authors


Matt Packer

Matt Packer is a business and finance journalist who provides expert comment for organisations such as CPA Global, Inemmo Leadership Development Consultancy, The Institute of Leadership & Management and the Chartered Management Institute.



Kate CooperKate Cooper is head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM). She has appeared on BBC Television, BBC Radio 4, has a regular column in Dialogue magazine, is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from the Institute’s research agenda.


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