As much as we want to take emotions out of the equation in the workplace, they are what make employees feel engaged. So corporations should cultivate a culture of connection, where employees feel connected to their work, their co-workers and their organization’s identity.
“Emotional factors are on average four times as important as rational factors when it comes to the amount of effort that people put into their work,” said Michael Lee Stallard, co-founder, president and CEO of E Pluribus Partners and the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity, and Productivity.
“Emotional factors are how [employees] feel about the mission and values of the business, how they feel about the people they work with and whether or not they feel like they’re in the loop. Rational factors are compensation level [and] job title. It just goes to show how important feelings are in the workplace, and when you think about it, being fired up or burned out are really emotional states.”
The learning function can help create a connection culture, as Stallard calls it, by promoting the values that increase connection through training and coaching. And employee engagement surveys can be used to gauge connection in an organization, as it is an apt tool for taking the emotional pulse of the workforce.
Fostering a connection culture also helps develop a dynamic of learning and information sharing.
“When people feel connected to the organization, its identity, the people they work with [and] their work, they’re more likely to take an active position in proactively thinking about the business, looking for threats and opportunities in the external environment and also sharing information on a day-to-day basis that may be relevant to new process [and] new product innovation,” Stallard said.
By failing to foster a connection culture, organizations can create knowledge traps, in which communication is suffocated because people don’t feel comfortable in expressing themselves or sharing information.
“When you look at the evolution of organizations, if people are not kept in the loop, if they don’t feel connected, if they don’t feel informed, [if they don’t feel] they have a voice, then they become disengaged,” Stallard said. “And that’s when knowledge traps start to set in. For example, if there’s a change in the external environment and people who are out on the frontlines of the organization are not engaged, they may be aware of the change but they won’t communicate it up through the organization — especially if it goes against the current direction, because it’s a risk to communicate information that may not be accepted. Only when they care enough about the business are they willing to take that risk.”
Because Andy Grove helped to break the knowledge trap at Intel Corp. by encouraging “helpful Cassandras” to share their insights, he made the wildly successful decision to get out of the memory business and focus on microprocessors, according to Stallard, which illustrates that a connection culture leads to better business decisions.
The learning organization plays a role in helping to facilitate this type of communication, as it has a direct impact on learning.
“If you don’t have an organization that promotes knowledge flow and a connection culture, then it’s going to impair the organization’s ability to learn,” Stallard said.
He recommends using knowledge-flow sessions, in which decision-makers meet with small groups of people throughout the organization to create a culture of connection and communication.
“We have three questions: what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing from my thinking?” Stallard said. “In other words, you’re asking them to express their voice about your vision. You’re creating a safe environment for them to share their knowledge. Then you as a decision maker will make better decisions because you’re going to be more fully informed, and inevitably, you will discover things that you [were] not aware of.”
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