Photo of a person whispering into a child's ear

Are we using our inside voices?

When we were creating our 2025 business plan, our team decided we needed a rallying cry to articulate our continued aim to put people and purpose at the heart of everything we do. After some brainstorming, we landed on a message around the concept “WE is rising.”

This spring, when we unveiled our vision across the globe, the resounding feedback was positive. So, it took me by surprise when a colleague alerted me to a conversation happening in one of our employee resource groups. Several people thought the notion of “WE rising” used language similar to the U.S. civil rights movement. “Triggering” was the word one brave person used.

For the record while I initially liked the concept of rising, my own worry was that it was less than humble. But still, I very much liked the declaration our time is now. So I did not see this interpretation and appreciated this input. This feedback drives my point: We must examine the actions and decisions we take broadly and in this case particularly around the topic of confronting systemic racism. In our enthusiasm for the concept, this angle had not occurred to a number of us.

While this might seem a small thing, it is a reminder to always include a broad group of our most important stakeholders: our people. To run a relevant, successful and purpose-driven organization, we must listen and learn and lean heavily on our inside voices. When employees experience an inclusive, supportive and collaborative environment they are more likely to align together on a business mission. Internal audits and awareness of employee sentiment are vital. 

The 2020 Global Communication Report from the USC Center for Public Relations underlines the necessity to channel the passions of internal teams. The aftermath of the killing of George Floyd is only one example that your team needs to know exactly where your brand stands on important issues. So does recent research we’ve conducted with Quartz Insights. Of the 200 senior executives queried, 87% believe they’ll successfully adapt their approach to employee engagement as a result of recent events. Yet less than 20% are actually prioritizing investments to address factors like emotional health, equity and inclusion, and culture. 

That’s not a good ratio, frankly. Your team needs to own your purpose to be successful. And no, advertising alone will not cut it. 

Agility and adaptability are also critical. You must build in a new layer of feedback and incorporate this across every touchpoint — and then check your work with diverse voices. Leaders need resilience to map their way through a lot of input. Knowing the declared intentions and ambitions behind our initial language, I might have responded to this input, “no, we’re going forward.” After hearing more context for the input, I understood why it was raised. Every leader knows there are times to be the catalyst for change and bring your team with you. Leaders must also discern when you change because of what you learned. 

Growth and improvement can be uncomfortable. But it’s especially important in order to continue our evolution as empathetic and inclusive leaders and brands. People around the globe took to the streets and risked their lives in the middle of a pandemic to make their voices heard. Listening with the intention to act is mandatory. To evolve successfully in today's world, we must be sure we have broad representation — and that's the power of our people's voices in action.

To her clients and colleagues, Melissa Waggener Zorkin is renowned for her belief in purpose, potential and possibility.