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Nine Steps To Fostering An Environment Where Employees Feel They Belong

Jonathan Stutz, MA is the founder and president of Global Diversity Partners Inc. He has over 25 years’ experience working in leading-edge companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Zulily.

Executive Contributor Eddie Pate and Jonathan Stutz

Creating an inclusive culture where employees feel they belong, begins with you. Leaders who consistently exhibit inclusive leadership behavior can develop high performing teams that achieve their goals and objectives while enjoying a meaningful connection to one another. One of the most valuable tools you can employ as a leader is the One-to-One meeting with your employees. This is where you can build a deeper connection with each person, helping to motivate and inspire them, leading them to achieve higher levels of performance, be more willing to take risks, and to innovate with greater creativity.

Business person having a conversation.

One-on-one meetings provide a unique opportunity to get to know your direct reports on a deeper level, learning about their personal goals and aspirations, challenges they might face, and skills that could surprise you. It is also an effective way to help folks manage being an "only" when they are the only team member from a historically under-estimated, marginalized, or oppressed community.

Tips for holding inclusive one-to-ones

Some may seem obvious, but in our experience, most leaders could use the nudge to make these practices habitual.

Make the one-to-one a recurring events

Leaders spend time on activities that will propel their business success. A recurring calendar event communicates that the employee is important to the success of your business. When scheduling conflicts arise, ask to reschedule instead of canceling.

Be on time

This shows respect for the employees' time while sending messages that they matter. They are worth your time, and you want to hear what they have to say. 

Change the conversation and setting occasionally

Get out of the office and meet over coffee or lunch or take a walk together if you’re both physically able. Changing things to be less formal may help you both relax and be more comfortable sharing information. Leaders create connections when they show an interest in their direct reports’ personal life and goals outside of work.

Let them set the agenda

You may have a couple of items to share, but remember, this is their meeting, and their agenda should be paramount. Try to avoid status updates that can be accomplished through other means and encourage the employee to arrive with a prepared agenda, ideally sent to you beforehand.

Demonstrate vulnerability to build trust

Ask for feedback on your performance: How am I performing for you as your manager? Are you getting what you need? If there’s one thing I could change about my behavior or leadership, what would that be? Don’t defend your behavior or justify any action; just listen and seek to understand. Feedback is a gift, so when the employee shares, be sure to thank them. 

Focus on strengths and celebrate wins

Acknowledging their unique talents and abilities can be especially impactful when you’re doling out a new assignment. Let them know you see the gifts they bring to work every day and why you believe they can execute this new task well. Remember as well, not everyone enjoys public recognition, so the one-to-one is an ideal time to let the employee know that you value and admire their achievements. And for those who enjoy public praise, there’s no crime in doubling up and thanking them both privately and publicly. 

Ask precise questions

This communicates to your employee that you are engaged and listening. Take notes on your action items or follow-up commitments; it’s a great way to let them know that what they are saying is valuable.

Inform employees of impactful changes

The most respectful way to communicate changes is one-to-one. If plans are being discussed, gain their perspective. This is effective in letting people know that their opinion matters and an excellent opportunity to implement point 8.

Ask how you can help

Where does your employee need you to be involved? This may include attending a meeting, sending an email, giving them more independence, connecting them with someone in your professional network, or escalating an issue when needed. Show that you are there to be of service. Demonstrate that you have their back! 

Keep in mind the need to style-switch when working within a multicultural environment. It’s safe to say that some of our recommendations may prove challenging in some cultures, particularly numbers 4 and 9. For example, it may be harder for folks who grew up in a culture with a more rigid hierarchy to speak openly and candidly to individuals more senior than themselves. In these cases, you may need to observe their nonverbal cues to get at what they are really thinking. It may take more time and more direct encouragement for them to feel comfortable sharing. Your own vulnerability and willingness to share will ease the communication door open.


Jonathan Stutz, Co-authors of Daily Practices of Inclusive Leaders

Co-authors of Daily Practices of Inclusive Leaders: A Guide to Building a Culture of Belonging.

Jonathan Stutz, MA is the founder and president of Global Diversity Partners Inc. He has over 25 years’ experience working in leading-edge companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Zulily. Jonathan led Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (ID&E) for four international businesses within Amazon’s Worldwide Operations group.



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