Elections have consequences. And one damaging consequence of the latest election has been a spike in hate speech and harassment. Odds are good that workers in your organization have been affected and they are scared. And if they don't feel safe, they are going to have trouble being productive in their jobs.
That means leaders are going to have to take steps to address workers' fears and restore their sense of safety. In a November 15 CNBC interview, GE CEO Jeff Immelt discussed how his company celebrates diversity -- a value that most organizations share.
As Immelt said in response to a question about Stephen Bannon -- associated with the so-called alt-right and reported to be heading for a job as chief strategist -- "At GE, we believe in diversity. We have many Muslims, Mexicans, and many great Americans that work for the company. A million people in the U.S. depend on GE to get it right for their livelihood -- our workers, our suppliers. We believe that every person around the world deserves to be treated with respect. I don't care who [Donald Trump] brings in, I'll never change my opinion on how much I believe in merit, diversity, [and] treating people with respect."
The question for such organizations is whether those values are just words -- or whether their leaders will give meaning to those values by taking action to make all their employees feel safe and vitally important to their organization's future.
In the past, I helped an organization seeking to reduce the climate of fear after incidents of hate speech and harassment. And I decided that the best way to accomplish this aim was to talk about two topics: Value Leadership and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
Based on that experience, what follows is how I'd suggest approaching this challenge at an organization whose employees were feeling fear due to hate speech and harassment.
I'd begin by talking with employees about the specific hate speech and harassment that had afflicted the organization.
Next I would present to employees the concept of Value Leadership -- the idea that a company can deliver superior returns to shareholders by creating a culture that attracts and motivates talented people to deliver superior value to customers and to its communities.
Value Leadership is based on seven principles. Of these seven, three -- value human relationships, fulfill your commitments, and foster teamwork -- align well with the emphasis that GE and many other organizations place on diversity.
I would suggest that a discussion leader ask employees to express their views on how embracing diversity helps attract and motivate talented employees, builds trust, and encourages respectful sharing of differing viewpoints to arrive at better solutions to challenges facing the organization.
Then I'd advise the discussion leader to show employees the organization's statement of values relating to diversity and discuss how that statement relates to the three value leadership principles.
Next, I suggest that the discussion leader tell employees to think about how hate speech and harassment could be thought of as a case study in how the organization tries to act in a way that gives meaning to its values in the wake of a threat to those values.
I'd advise that the discussion leader mention Warren Buffett's concept that it can take a lifetime to build up a good reputation and seconds to make it all go up in smoke and mention how important the organization's reputation is for its employees and customers. Indeed I'd suggest pointing out that a sudden and permanent decline in its reputation could make it difficult for the organization to attract new employees and customers and hold on to current ones.
Next I'd recommend that the discussion leader ask employees to opine on how well they think the organization is responding to the hate speech and harassment incidents and what they believe the organization could do to put more meaning into its values related to diversity.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
I would next advise the discussion leader to introduce the concept of Maslow's hierarchy of needs -- a sequence of needs physiological, safety, belonging-ness, esteem, and self-actualization.
I'd suggest emphasizing that Maslow's idea that if a person's basic needs -- such as for safety are not met, then the workplace is not going to be an effective place to meet their higher level needs -- for esteem and self-actualization.
And I'd recommend concluding by making employees aware of the resources available to them to help them feel safe -- including the corporate security department or employee assistance programs.
If your workplace is suffering from a spike in fear, you owe your employees a conversation along these lines to restore your workers' sense of safety.