Ignore the connection economy at your peril

by Contributor11 Dec 2018

Creating a culture of connection and purpose will inspire your employees and ultimately drive your organisation’s success, explains Alan Heyward, managing director at O.C. Tanner | accumulate

The single greatest cultural challenge facing HR and business leaders over the past 12 months has been the growing sense of disconnection among employees. It’s a common challenge faced by organisations spanning multiple industries on every continent, and one that will grow in significance and impact over the coming year and beyond if allowed to continue unchecked.

As highlighted in the Connection: 2018 Global Culture Report by the O.C. Tanner Institute, this sense of disconnection is largely being driven by an increasingly diverse workforce and a flood of new technology. The latter is of course enormously ironic, as we live in a time of unprecedented digital connection.

The challenge is perhaps best articulated by renowned neuroscientist John Cacioppo:

“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people. It’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. You have to be in it together – and ‘it’ can be anything that you both think has meaning and value.”

Connection to purpose is the key

Cacioppo is of course talking about purpose; that same report tells us that a paltry 53% of employees globally describe their company’s purpose as inspiring. We know that Gen Z and millennials have a stronger sense of purpose than previous generations, so business leaders will ignore this worrying trend at their peril.

So, where to start?

The key to success for leaders lies in their ability to shape their strategies around connecting their people strongly not only to organisational purpose but also to individual and team accomplishments, and to each other. Achieve those goals and the impact on employee retention, attraction, motivation, innovation and productivity, and business profitability (among other things) can be profound.

The 2018 Global Culture Report does a terrific job of exploring in depth the powerful connections that can be built when companies perform well within each of the ‘Talent Magnets’ – purpose, appreciation, leadership, wellbeing, success and opportunity – so I won’t delve further into that territory in this article.

Rather, I will share with you a couple of stories that encapsulate for me what we really mean when we speak of connection.

Creating a peak experience

At a previous company, I had reached my 10-year milestone. It came and went with little fanfare, and I thought very little of it at the time. I’m a classic Gen Xer in many respects; I don’t crave the spotlight, I work hard, and the satisfaction generally comes from seeing the business and others succeed.

It hadn’t really crossed my mind again until earlier this year, when I was part of a 10-year career celebration for a colleague, Alex, with whom I have worked closely for each of those 10 years. Note that I said “career celebration” rather than “milestone”. There’s a big difference.

“It is the connections to a well-defi ned, inspiring purpose, to the accomplishments of individuals and teams, and to each other, that are the core ingredients of a strong workplace culture” - Alan Heyward, managing director, O.C. Tanner | accumulate

Alex is a big personality. He is well liked and respected among colleagues and clients.

He has achieved a consistently high level of performance during his tenure, and he doesn’t mind being the centre of attention (in a good way). And that’s why I was profoundly moved by the impact of Alex’s career celebration on him, on those who witnessed it, and on myself and the other long-standing colleagues who participated in the celebration.

Alex was visibly moved both by the number of people who took time out to show their appreciation, and by the heartfelt words from his direct leader, myself and other members of the leadership team, who talked proudly of Alex’s contributions – as a colleague, leader and friend.

There was laughter, tears, and gentle ribbing, all underpinned by an amazing level of respect. While we have been in the culture transformation and recognition business for 20 years in Australia, it was something of a watershed moment for our Australian team, and one that is still spoken of fondly as a moment when we got recognition and appreciation absolutely right; when everyone felt a powerful connection to each other and to the purpose of the O.C. Tanner company as a whole.

The chair

The second story centres on Rob, a rising talent within our business. He was engaged in a recent performance discussion with his leader, and when it came to Rob’s proudest achievement for the year, the discussion turned to a chair that had appeared next to his desk during the preceding few months. He didn’t know how it had got there, but he had noticed a growing stream of people dropping by not only to discuss elements relating to his specific role and projects but also to seek and share ideas about broader issues. To Rob, this was a clear marker of his growing confidence and stature within the business. He was viewed as a subject-matter expert and mentor – approachable; knowledgeable. He was having a tangible impact on the day-to-day working lives of his colleagues.

Rob has achieved an impressive list of accomplishments during the year, but the ‘chair’ discussion was telling – he was speaking, of course, of the connections he had built during the year; connections to his role, to his colleagues, to the purpose of the organisation.

Focusing on what really matters

A seamless employee experience is important, from onboarding to offboarding. As is data integration. As is a natural, intuitive user experience on each employee platform you use. But it’s important your systems don’t become yet more pieces of technology that people can hide behind. Technology must complement culture; enable it.

It is the connections to a well-defined, inspiring purpose, to the accomplishments of individuals and teams, and to each other, that are the core ingredients of a strong workplace culture in which people can thrive, and that will heavily dictate the fortunes of organisations over the years ahead.

Influence greatness Learn how to influence greatness in your organisation with O.C. Tanner’s Culture CloudTM at octanner.com
Also, download your copy of  Connection: 2018 Global Culture Report by the O.C. Tanner Institute. 

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