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From Initiative to Strategy: How Microlearning Can Help Build an Inclusive Culture

Written by Summer Salomonsen

In 2017, ground-breaking research from Bersin by Deloitte showed that inclusive work cultures are 6x more likely to be innovative, 6x more likely to anticipate and respond effectively to change, and 2x more likely to meet or exceed financial targets. Why? Because an inclusive culture values employees as individuals and creates a workplace environment that encourages them to bring their whole selves to work. In an organizational landscape in which teams are quickly becoming the go-to for major projects and employees are asked to do more with less, we need our people’s full scope of talents to meet our business challenges.

Yet, the track record of failed Diversity & Inclusion initiatives is overwhelming. Some are unsuccessful on account of funding, some because they lack leadership support; others are well intended but poorly executed, and still more are too limited in scope or represent outdated ideas. A 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trend Report showed that nearly 78% of leaders believe diversity is a competitive advantage. Still, the challenge remains.

Last summer, as part of my doctoral studies at the University of Southern California, I took a class focused on Diversity & Inclusion that emphasized the ways in which learning practitioners may lead change in this arena. We studied both academic and professional literature, discussed and debated critical terms and constructs, and proposed many solutions to solve for the most pressing problem: How can we create and foster inclusive cultures in our respective companies?

Not surprisingly, our recommendations were as varied as the industries we represent — and none were simple. Yet there was consensus that if we, as learning leaders, are going to make change, we need to dream big but start small. We must recognize that inclusivity is not defined or contained by an initiative; it is an issue of creating culture, evidenced in the daily conversations, interactions, employee behaviors, and team dynamics that build over time. We postulated that to be successful, we must shift the mindset around Diversity & Inclusion from something that’s seen as a single initiative to a strategy that’s central and critical for growth.

So how do we shift our mindset from compliance to culture? No surprise, but I advocate that there is a huge role for a Microlearning® strategy in achieving this goal.

Microlearning: A tool for your Diversity & Inclusion toolbox

Microlearning is an effective approach to workplace learning that offers employees targeted lessons within their workflows, empowering them to learn new behaviors over time. Employees need opportunities to learn new behaviors and practice them until they become a natural and functional part of the workplace. Here’s how a Microlearning strategy might be deployed to help teach and reinforce the behaviors that build diverse and inclusive cultures.

Start Small: Think Content That Promotes Self-Awareness

Microlearning content relies on the power of the single-concept – one idea at a time that employees are presented to consume and practice. When considering inclusion, take the temperature of your team to determine where they are struggling. Do they talk over each other? Are there voices that are consistently silenced? Target those behaviors specifically. Consider how deploying inclusion-friendly Microlearning content on unconscious bias might help to facilitate self-awareness, or how lessons on responding to microaggressions could improve communication between employees and teams.

Stay Focused: Integrate Learning Into Real Work

Identifying the content is only part of the strategy. Stay focused and integrate learning into real work by reinforcing the content within your employees day-to-day workflow. For example, discuss with your team what you’ve learned about unconscious bias, or how you’ve all seen microaggressions affect your workplace. Remove the false construct of “learning happens outside of my day-to-day job” and replace it with a more nimble and agile learning model. When employees engage with learning as they work, they are able to immediately apply new concepts to real scenarios, which deepens retention and promotes meaningful transfer. This is especially critical when considering inclusivity. Employees must practice new skills, engage with peers, and test their learning in a real environment to validate impact.

Make it Stick: Managers Can Build Context for Inclusion

Finally, consider how you will build meaningful context around new learning related to inclusive cultures. Managers are perfectly positioned to initiate and measure this impact. Establish meaningful feedback loops, in which employees are able to participate and share ideas and initiate new discussions around the needs they notice. Mechanisms for participation and interaction serve to promote cultures of inclusivity and respect. The goal is to create a safe workplace in which all employees are empowered to critique and assess decisions, recommend solutions, and engage in honest and respectful debate. After all, that’s what an inclusive workplace culture is all about.

How will you help to foster an inclusive culture in your workplace? Learning practitioners are uniquely positioned to help individuals learn the behaviors and attitudes that lead to inclusive cultures. It’s on us to set the strategy that enables everyone to bring their full selves, and their full talents, to work. To learn more about how you can use a Microlearning strategy to incorporate learning into your employees’ day-to-day, download our white paper: Microlearning: The Modern Strategy for the Modern Workplace.