For employees to perform at their highest levels and be dedicated to the collective success of the organization, they have to love where they work. That requires far something deeper and longer-lasting than increasing salaries, offering huge bonuses, or investing in the latest engagement tools. What catalyzes people is Emotional Connection (EC): when they see how their work positively affects organizational outcomes, and that it matters to their managers, colleagues, and the wider world. Emotional connection is a motivating sense of satisfaction and intellectual alignment that can only come from feeling appreciated and part of a shared and worthy purpose.
Despite all the focus on engagement tools to better motivate employees, evidence shows they fail to spark a real sense of belonging. While 87 percent of organizations listed engagement as a top priority in a recent study, only 15 percent of employees report actually feeling engaged in the workplace. Perk-based plans such as financial incentives do not create legitimate, long-term buy-in from employees, despite the cost. Moreover, engagement efforts are often executed by HR departments, leaving leadership in the dark and detached from the process. That’s the opposite of what employees want: to be closely connected with the company and its leaders.
When employees feel supported by leaders and able to be themselves, and when employees connect to each other in a deeper way, it alters their perception of their workplace. It creates a positive dynamic — a sense of being “In Great Company.” You are in a place you love to be, you choose to add value, and you want to give more of yourself. As a result, you are more willing and able to achieve your business goals.
Is this fabled state of emotional connectedness really possible? Not only is it possible, it is instrumental to the success of organizations. According to Bob Maresca, CEO of Bose Corporation, “Emotional connectedness undoubtedly inspires discretionary effort and passion from our employees and our customers.” Dozens of other CEOs, such as Hubert Joly, Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, say the same thing.
To spark emotional connection, leaders need to tend to five distinct elements. All are critical for elevating workplace outcomes, including engagement and productivity. They are ubiquitous, implementation focused, and together shape a great workplace in which everyone is inspired to perform at their peak:
- Systemic collaboration:Employees feel part of a great company when true and functional collaboration—becomes a part of the inner workings of the organization
and its decision-making processes. Working in small teams, they co-create results using open communication channels, where information and advice for being better in the future are shared freely and frequently. Companies such as Atlassian and KeyBank observe several specific practices to co-create a sustained connection that drives results.
- Positive future: Employees thrive in progress-focused cultures that foster innovation and passion. Since positivity is a cultural contagion, emotional connectedness is achieved when individuals use it in a unified way to move forward together to achieve results. Although positivity may seem like a by-product of emotional connectedness, it is also a powerful catalyst for creating an emotionally connected culture — as happens in Big River Steel and Wd-40.
- Alignment of values: Employees thrive in organizations that place an emphasis on higher-order qualities such as honesty, integrity, and resonance with personal beliefs. The emotional connection is established when leaders and peers all embrace common values, and everyone holds each other equally accountable. Granular practices may be as simple as doing what you say you are going to do, or speaking truth instead of avoidance. More conceptually complex practices include living the values and ethics the company espouses, such as happens in Patagonia and Johnson & Johnson.
- Respect: The sense of emotional connectedness is far deeper in environments where respect is established as a type of social currency, and exchanged reciprocally. Making respect a part of the organization’s ethos and talent management processes, as Starbucks and Wegman’s have—is essential to applying this dimension. Feeling genuinely respected is the prime reason people love their workplace and happy to be there. It’s the element that catalyzes all of the others to drive peak performance, the match that sparks the flame.
- Killer achievement: Killer achievement delivers a combination of financial and emotional upside that amplifies the effect for everyone. Employees should be empowered to focus on the customers and critical goals, with extraneous minutia eliminated. And objectives need to be simply stated, with the system removing competing interests that block the path to success. This entails identifying and measuring the elements most important to the organization, and allowing easy options for executive coaching, leadership, and organization development. Companies like Netflix and Best Buy make sure their people can create killer outcomes, keeping the organizations relevant, strong, and innovative.
The key to establishing these five elements — aligning values, collaborating, co-creating a positive future, giving respect, and focusing on achievement — as a critical and intrinsic part of the organization is leadership buy-in and focus. It’s also vital to use frequent measurements to gauge the changes happening in the organization, establish a consistent pattern of follow-up, and make sure everyone in the company stays involved. When this dynamic is set into motion in the workplace, everyone is aligned and willing to do whatever it takes to preserve and grow the business together. That’s the scenario in which everyone wins.
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