As leaders, we’re immersed in metrics — perpetually measuring and evaluating business performance and looking for the next improvement. Yet one metric that gets scant attention in some organizations is employee engagement. A 2010 Gallup report finds that 71% of employees are disengaged, up 4% year-over-year. That’s a disturbing number.
However, there’s a one-word, cost-effective solution for bolstering employee commitment: connecting.
Connecting is good for individuals and for business. It’s a little dated, yet back in the late 1990s, Sears discovered that a 5% increase in employee satisfaction produced a 1.3% positive bump in customer satisfaction, yielding a 0.5% increase in revenue growth. How? With leaders transcending “it’s all about me” and instead building connections and relationships.
All work gets done by and through people, so connecting with them should be high on a leader’s priority list, right alongside strategizing, budgeting and planning the next acquisition. As Doug Conant and Mette Norgaard write in “Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments”: “Each of the many interactions you have during your day is an opportunity to establish high performance expectations, to infuse with greater clarity and more energy and to influence the course of events.”
Besides knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses, there are three constituencies where fostering real connections (not just clicking a “like” icon!) pays big dividends: One’s own work team, others within the organization and the wider world.
Try one (or more) of these five ways to build meaningful associations with these groups:
- Be honest with yourself and with others, and own up to your mistakes. We’ve all seen too many examples lately where leaders lie, cover up and then lose all credibility. Leadership development author John Baldoni offers a helpful nugget for handling these situations: “Demonstrate through words and passion that you have done what you think is best. At the same time, do not be defensive. Act with honest confidence, even when you admit mistakes.”
- Be generous with your time. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you’re too busy to meet people for coffee, chat for a few minutes after a meeting or take in the occasional networking event. People want affiliation, so be the one who gives it to them.
- Take some advice from Tony Schwartz, president of the Energy Project, and view the world through “a reverse lens.” Of course, we want to get the sales report to the boss as soon as we can; yet when a colleague drops in unexpectedly, think of it as an opportunity to engage and influence rather than as an interruption.
- Champion and/or adopt others’ ideas. Being open-minded and practicing reciprocity belong on every leader’s playlist. If you want people to play in your sandbox, you must play in theirs from time to time.
- Be an information and connection broker. Share information (what you can), introduce people, make recommendations, pass along the names of articles and books, etc. Being viewed as a subject matter expert or the “go-to” person for ideas boost both personal and professional connections.
Make it a practice to connect at least once a day and avoid becoming out of touch and short-sighted by focusing only on short-term tactical situations.