Editor’s note: Dan Prosser is the author of Thirteeners and CEO of The Prosser Group and BreakthroughSchool.com.
Here’s an inconvenient business truth for you to consider: It doesn’t matter how valuable, cutting-edge or unique an organization’s product or service is if its people can’t connect positively and effectively with each other. In fact, workplace connectedness is one of the hallmarks of a great organization with a culture of high performance. Consider the following statements made by employees from Glassdoor’s 2014 top five best places to work:
- “The people above you really want you to be successful and offer a ton of valuable coaching and feedback.” – Bain & Company
- “You are surrounded by smart, hard-working people who genuinely care about the company. You truly feel like everyone is pulling the company in the same direction.” – Twitter
- “Eastman cares about its people through open communication, training opportunities, career advancement, and work-life balance … I like the focus on innovation and customer engagement to drive results.” – Eastman Chemical
- “Employees are…some of the smartest and dedicated I’ve worked with, and also a lot of fun to work with (seriously).” – Facebook
Best places to work companies don’t achieve connectedness through grand, expensive gestures. Their success comes down to the conversations that take place every day between employees and their leaders.
As I discuss in my new book Thirteeners,business – all business – is actually just a network of interconnected conversations. In too many companies, these conversations are destructive. They spread like a virus and keep people disconnected. In others, the conversations create environments where people feel heard, mirrored and validated.
A small percentage of companies consistently achieve the kind of authentic dialogue that connects people, allowing them to execute through conflict, chaos, good times and bad. These are the thirteeners. They’ve figured out how to promote conversations that contribute to employees’ feeling connected to each other, to their company’s vision, to their common purpose and to their strategy. Your company can promote these kinds of conversations, too.
Here, I spotlight the 10 connecting conversations happening in successful companies:
Conversations that encourage contribution. Your employees invest a huge amount of their time and intellect on your organization’s behalf – and they want a return on their investment. Believe it or not, the return they want most is not a bigger paycheck. What they want is the chance to make a difference – to contribute something meaningful to the outcome of the organization and be appreciated and acknowledged for it.
When your people don’t create this opportunity, your employees leave you for what they perceive as a greater opportunity to matter. But when you assign responsibility and allow people to provide solutions that you actually put to use, they’ll speak highly of you and they wouldn’t think of leaving. In fact, they’ll want to work harder to make you even happier. Be sure to let them know that you want to hear their ideas and suggestions!
Conversations that convey acknowledgment and appreciation. Chances are good that many of your employees were wounded in the workplace before you hired them: They’ve been passed over for promotions and given insufficient compensation for hard work. They’ve been taken for granted and treated like numbers. (Maybe this has even happened within your own organization.) The good news is, you can help right these past wrongs – to your benefit.
Your first impression might be that saying thank-you and good job is awkward and might feel clumsy, and your employees may also feel that way at first. However, I promise you that the rewards of your efforts will greatly outweigh your initial discomfort. You’ll be giving your employees a gift they’ve never received anywhere else, and they’ll feel a sense of wholeness that they’ve never experienced at work. And as a result, their engagement, loyalty and productivity will soar.
Conversations that encourage alignment. In companies that are listed as best places to work, everyone heads in the same direction – not necessarily just by following the leader but also by making sure that when any strategic element is altered, everyone has an opportunity to contribute to changes that must take place in other areas of the business. Operations in aligned organizations have minimal confusion. There are no territorial disputes, and everyone looks out for everyone else.
If you’re a CEO or executive leader with final authority, it’s important that you use contribution conversations to allow others to bring ideas to you. Your job isn’t to find the holes in their concepts but to be able to say whether you can be aligned with the proposed effort or action. If you can, then you empower others to dig deep into themselves and contribute. If you can’t, then share what’s preventing you from being aligned. That becomes a teaching opportunity.
When people are aligned, they understand the business goals for the year and the role each goal plays. They recognize there must be alignment for their efforts to affect the bottom-line success of the company.
Conversations that build accountability. When employees are being accountable, they make specific promises to take action to accomplish goals. Everyone sees everyone’s promises, and there are no secret deals to undermine the effort to keep those promises. And, of course, those promises are kept. The results of people’s actions are fully measured, and everyone’s contribution is visible.
In a culture of accountability, everyone is “count-on-able.” And it’s not just leaders who make sure that accountability happens. In a connected organization, everyone holds each other accountable for fulfilling promises. If a person promises to produce a particular result, someone (or a team) holds that person accountable for fulfilling that promise.
This requires saying, first, “You said this, but you didn’t do this”; then, declaring what’s missing; and, finally, requesting a promise to clean up the situation (or renegotiating the original promise). There is no shaming involved.
Conversations that facilitate continuous communication. Even great companies struggle to shore up communication. But in companies where there is a high degree of communication, employees hear from management about anything that happens, especially if it impacts the way they do their jobs in a timely manner.
In many organizations, one of the first steps in shoring up the communication gap is ensuring that no one finds out about task-essential information accidentally or after the fact. It doesn’t reach anyone first through gossip or the grapevine. Whenever possible, strive for proactive transparency.
Conversations that build relationships. I call relatedness the source of all results. When there is relatedness, it’s very easy for an employee to talk to his or her direct supervisor, because that supervisor listens. And there is real solidarity among executives, managers and employees.
Nothing meaningful happens unless there is a relationship between the two people working together. Two strangers might have a problem starting the conversation necessary to getting the issue handled – even if they work for the same company. But two colleagues with an established, positive relationship can get the ball moving quickly and without misunderstandings. This is how connectedness cures a host of ills.
Conversations that underscore responsibility. When most people hear the word responsible in a workplace context, they assume it has to do with blaming others for what went wrong or for not doing what they said they would. But no company listed as best places to work practice that. For them, being responsible means taking the initiative to do what is necessary to get the job done.
Responsible employees don’t wait for a supervisor to tell them what they need to do before taking action. Make sure your people know that they have permission to take the initiative. Then make sure they have the resources and support to do so.
Conversations that encourage integrity. What does it mean to demonstrate integrity? It begins when management says they are going to do something, and the statement is followed with authentic action. Their actions are always in-step with what they said they would do.
This is not the same as being honest, decent or virtuous. Integrity is a way of being in which management says X is going to happen, and X happens. And it applies beyond management. There is a clear and total match between what people in the organization say and their actions.
Conversations that develop a sense of possibility. When employees can see and understand where the company is going and can feel connected to their company’s plans for the next three to five years – and longer – they will not fear that their job could end suddenly through no fault of their own.
Your job as a leader is to discover possibilities for your business – both for your workplace and your marketplace. You must then share those with your employees and let them contribute, as co-creators, to a strategy you can successfully execute together.
Conversations that acknowledge (and enhance!) fun, rewards and gratefulness. This isn’t a discussion that you can start around a conference table or during a one-on-one meeting with an employee. (Can you picture yourself saying to your team, “So, how much do you love working here? I feel so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful company, don’t you?”) Instead, it has to originate – voluntarily – with your employees. The good news is, it will develop organically once you start having the previous nine conversations.
On most days, employees of best places to work companies can’t wait to get to work. Yes, really. They say things like, “This is a great place to work, and I feel grateful to have the opportunity to be here with these great people.” Often, they say they can’t believe they get to work there. That’s because they feel involved, appreciated and connected.
I attribute many of the outcomes in business to the degree of connectedness that exists between people. Can I prove it? Not scientifically. But there are enough people who accept this view of how the world works to make it worth talking about. Even more, it’s important to implement it in our organizations so that we can realize our potentials and so that our employees can experience a level of relatedness that brings them satisfaction.