Engagement may be a hot buzz word in organizations today, but I believe it’s much bigger than what goes on at the office. When we truly understand what it takes to engage with others, we begin to create a world of compassion and connection rather than resentment and isolation. As I often say, “when you get people, you get results.”
For decades, researchers and psychologists have declared a sense of belonging as one of the core psychological needs of every human being, if not, the most essential need across all cultures.
It makes sense, even our cavemen ancestors figured out that there was safety in numbers.
Unfortunately, lack of belonging sometimes shows itself in tragic ways. The recent Las Vegas shootings show the worst possible result of not feeling connected and feeling severe loneliness. Charlie Hoehn recently published an article discussing potential reasons for the massacre, and revealed loneliness as one of the key commonalities among people who commit violent crimes.
In the workplace, there’s also a loneliness epidemic (HBR). As more and more companies move to remote or virtual working, there’s a growing concern that there’s less opportunity to actually connect with others. Some companies, such as IBM, once known for leading the trend in teleworking, now recognizes the tremendous value of bringing people together and recently asked 5,000 of their employees to come back to the office. But you can’t guarantee connection simply because people are now working under one roof.
I’m thinking back to the days where I worked in a “hoteling” situation. I walked into work, logged into a system so I could find a free working space, sat down at a desk on a random floor with random people around me and spent the day in back-to-back conference calls at my desk. And, not only was I sitting alone on my phone, my lights would often click off automatically because I wasn’t moving enough to activate the light sensor!
So, here I am, in an office, alone, on the phone in the dark! To state the obvious, I was not feeling so connected. So, how can we help others feel more connected both professionally and personally?
The New York Times recently published an article describing how organizations are investing time and money to create more collaborative work environments. A change of environment is one solution, but what’s that old saying about leading a horse to water?
The fact is, we simply can’t force others to feel connected or engaged. But as leaders, we can create a culture of engagement and connection - both at work and at home.
During last month's “In the Know” book discussion, we reviewed Bob Anderson and Bill Adams’ book, Mastering Leadership, and their leadership assessment tool, The Leadership Circle. A portion of the assessment identifies behaviors to help leaders create an environment of connection and belonging. The authors refer to this as "Relating." When leveraged positively, a leader fosters team play, establishes caring connections, and takes the time to mentor and develop others.
Although we want to encourage leaders to focus on building connection, there is a danger in over-focusing on “relating.” For example, a leader may be overly concerned about being liked by their team that they end up being too pleasing or too passive, resulting in inadequate results or lack of direction. The Leadership Circle refers to this as “Complying.” By taking this assessment, a leader can gain insight into how well he/she is creating an environment of connection (as well as several other areas) and learn strategies to enhance that connection.
There are simple actions too that require very little effort. In the article, The Social Muscle, the authors share some quick and useful techniques to encourage connection. They suggest to unplug, make time for face to face interactions, do small favors for others, find reasons to collaborate with others, and (my favorite), just say hello as you're walking by. You wouldn't believe how many times when interviewing teams about their leader's performance, I hear the employees say, our leader "doesn't even say good morning to us when she walks in." These simple acts of kindness and connection go a long way.
And, I know no one wants to attend yet another meeting but meeting structures (e.g. weekly one on ones, team meetings, and All Hands) create connection. Establishing set times where employees know they have your attention, will not only help you connect but studies from David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology reveal this can actually reduce the amount of emails you receive! For example, when employees know they can rely on meeting with you for an hour a week, they are more likely to create a list of their questions and concerns and save it for the weekly meeting rather than sending you individual emails randomly throughout the week when the thought occurs to them. There is one caveat here, employees have to feel they can rely on these meetings. In other words, they need to believe this meeting will not be changed or cancelled each week. I always recommend to schedule one-on-one meetings first thing in the morning when they are less likely to be canceled or moved. When you honor your commitments to one-on-one meetings with your employees, you send the message that you care. You are conveying that it's worth your time to invest in them. This alone can increase a feeling of connection and value among employees.
Besides the workplace, there are "meeting" structures you can implement as a leader at home. The more opportunities you provide for connection, the more likely you will actually connect. Here are some ideas you can implement today:
A sense of belonging and connection is vitally important for the health of individuals, companies, and communities. As Vivek Murthy so eloquently said in his recent HBR article, “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society…. We must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities — and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us. ”
I couldn’t agree more. As history has proven time and time again, we’re all stronger together. As a leader, I challenge you to find new ways to build and strengthen connections both at work and at home.