A Place to Belong – Holding the Vision Alongside the Reality

When you are at your most comfortable, what does this look like for you? For some of us, this involves being in a particular place – for example, your home, your car, or your childhood town. For others, this is when you’re doing something in particular – speaking to a friend, reading a book, doing gardening…? Our comfort zone is unique to who we are; what’s most comfortable for you may be very different from what’s most comfortable for those you work or live with. But a sense of belonging relies on being comfortable. So when an organization says they are committed to being a place of belonging for its employees and/or guests, what does this mean? If you have ever felt like you don’t belong among your co-workers, does that mean that the organization has failed in some way? (Or perhaps even worse, that you have?)

This question came up in a group I was part of this week, as we read through an organization’s values and vision statements. We discussed what it means to belong, and our responses were as diverse as the group taking part. Some said it meant they could have all pieces of their identity fully expressed without judgement from others. Some suggested it meant they could proudly call themselves members of the group. How can an organization hold a commitment to being a place of belonging if that means such different things to different people? How specific and measurable is this? How will you know if you’ve achieved this or not? If the expressions of comfort and belonging are subjective, would the sense of whether the organization is a place of belonging also be subjective? With some people answering strongly in the affirmative while others disagree just as strongly?

The answer, of course, is yes. And there is nothing wrong with that. Vision statements, after all, are meant to be aspirational. And inspiring vision statements will continue to be aspirational for years to come. Rather than the binary summary judgments of “we succeeded”/”we failed” that we might see with goals or projects, a vision statement is different. It holds out a possibility to orient toward; a center target rather than a boundary to cross. Individuals, teams – and sometimes the organization’s leadership team itself – may veer off course sometimes, but that vision remains as a guiding point to orient toward; a reminder of what is possible. Like a rainbow, it may seem forever just out of reach. But it can be a “both/and” – you can still make moves to head in that direction, even while honestly examining the reality of ways your organization (and perhaps you personally) are not experiencing that vision now.

How can this idea of holding the vision and reality together be helpful this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Take some time to review your organizations (and/or your team’s) values and vision statement documents, and reflect on how closely they match your experience. If you’re not sure if your organization has a document outlining your values and vision statement, ask your manager. If none exists, or if you’d like one for your own team, start the conversation to create one.

  1. If your experience feels far removed from the vision as outlined, speak to your manager or others you trust about your experience. If the issue is more systemic, ask what could be done (and what your role could be) in affecting change.
  2. If your experience is close to the vision as outlined, ask yourself how you can help others also have experiences closer to that vision – especially those with different cultural and lived experiences than you. As you ask around, if you find that everyone’s experiences are closely matched with the vision, that could be great news – and it could be a sign that the vision is not aspirational enough! Perhaps it’s time to begin a conversation for a new vision!

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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