Crafting the Common Language: Belonging and Inclusion in Workplace Culture

Crafting the Common Language: Belonging and Inclusion in Workplace Culture

When I joined McKinsey & Company some time ago, my first day coincided with an office conference on innovation and business in the new economy, the very area in which I was hired to contribute. How fortuitous! But to say that I understood about half of what people were saying is ambitious; truthfully, despite my years as a corporate lawyer and deep exposure to business and innovation, McKinsey spoke a language I had simply never heard.  

Thankfully, I am a quick study, and over the years I became fluent in that language – and long after leaving the firm, I confess to still using certain expressions that just work. But more important than the words themselves, I learned two important things: first, that this common language was a phenomenal unifier – part of a shared culture that bound thousands of professionals who rarely spent time in the office and whose work took them to all corners of the globe; and second, they had invented it themselves.

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The Beauty Is in the Details: The Prismatic Effect of Literature

The Beauty Is in the Details: The Prismatic Effect of Literature

If a piece of art explores a universal idea, a specific detail often exposes the particular, redirecting a viewer’s emotions to a more personal connection and creating an opportunity for deeper reflection on beauty, love, loss or other ideas. So does the power of detail bring us each closer to an otherwise daunting piece of art.

But the visual arts have not cornered this space. Good literature also has the power to use detail to catapult us back into our own lives, to render personal even the most distant stories.

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The Best Way to Reveal Essential Truth? Read Fiction!

The Best Way to Reveal Essential Truth? Read Fiction!

Throughout a colorful and productive career, Pablo Picasso exposed form and color, disassembling his subjects and reshaping them in ways that at once obfuscated and illuminated them. In 1923, in a famous written statement, Picasso defended his craft to those who failed to understand his motives and his work: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”  

So how does this truth-revealing “lie” apply to Books@Work?

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Changing Philosophies: Creating Open and Inclusive Workplaces

Changing Philosophies: Creating Open and Inclusive Workplaces

Recent research leaves little doubt that open, connected and inclusive organizations consistently outperform peers in employee wellbeing, innovation and workplace productivity. But the culture required to maintain openness and inclusion assumes an authentically collective mindset – a mindset that differs considerably from the individual focus that dominates Western society. How do we override centuries of Western thinking and open ourselves up to new philosophies of human relationships at work?

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The Power of Experience

The Power of Experience

One of the most amazing discoveries to come out of Books@Work is the power of participant life experience. Unlike a traditional classroom-based seminar, in which the professor and text have something to teach the students, the power of our model is that it fosters the unique collision of three important elements: professor expertise, text and participant experience.

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The Elephant in the Room: Healthy Companies Address Workplace Problems

The Elephant in the Room: Healthy Companies Address Workplace Problems

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on the importance of social interactions in the workplace at the International Conference & Exposition of the Association of Training and Development in Atlanta. Over four days, 10,000 attendees chose from 400 presentations on a broad array of topics.

In a session on culture, Joseph Grenny, author and co-founder of the social science research firm VitalSmarts, asserted simply: “The health of a relationship, team or organization is a function of the average time lag between identifying and discussing problems.”

We’ve all worked with someone who excels at finding all the things an organization does wrong. Maybe we’ve even found ourselves doing it too. Identifying problems is easy. Talking about them? Not so much.

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The Social Contract: Building Human Workplace Cultures

The Social Contract: Building Human Workplace Cultures

It’s hard to pick up a business journal without reading something on the importance of workplace culture, whether linked to productivity, employee contribution, creativity and innovation, or even physical workspaces. But how to create a strong, inclusive culture remains elusive, and the “right” starting point – more mysterious still! Should it be top down? We know that leaders are important models of desired behaviors. Or should it be bottom up? If we want every employee to consider his/her role in the culture of the organization, owning the challenge becomes critical. How should we organize our workplaces?

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Safe Spaces: Books@Work on the Shop Floor

Safe Spaces: Books@Work on the Shop Floor

Imagine yourself on an operating table. It’s a routine procedure, but you have to get it done. You choose the best doctor and the best hospital and you trust the system to deliver perfect care. It’s the last procedure of the day and the – very human – doctor is tired. But you’re comforted by the nurses and other healthcare professionals in the room: the system will protect you.

Or will it?

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Mirrors and Windows: Experience, Memory and Literature

Mirrors and Windows: Experience, Memory and Literature

Reflecting on the purpose of her writing, the Poet Laureate for Young People, Jacqueline Woodson, asserts an evocative mission: “to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of.”

In January, Woodson came to Cleveland, sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, with the support of Hawken School, Laurel School and the Beachwood City Schools. In an auditorium of teachers, staff, parents, and students, I first heard her metaphor and I can’t stop thinking about it.

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