How Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation

human footprint

Create Connection

Though we live in an ever-connected, always-on world, we somehow seem less connected to actual, real people than ever before. Is it possible that the very technology that connects us is contributing to a sense of loneliness and isolation?

In Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel answers that question. Based on research spanning thousands of managers and employees, Dan’s new book is a fascinating look at the impact technology is having at work and at home. Dan is a best-selling author, a partner and research director at Future Workplace and the founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com.

I recently asked Dan to share a little more about his research.

 

“Our hyperconnectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden.” -Arianna Huffington

 

Workplace Loneliness

Tell us more about your research into workplace loneliness and its connection to technology.

There is a loneliness epidemic spreading across the entire world. An Aetna study shows that almost half of Americans are lonely. In the UK, nine million people are lonely and over 200,000 haven’t spoken to a close friend or relative in the past month. In Japan, 30,000 people die from loneliness each year. I’ve read about the impact of loneliness and have felt lonely myself as an only child and someone who lives alone in New York City. For my book Back to Human, I conducted a global study with Virgin Pulse of over 2,000 managers and employees from ten different countries. Overall, I found that 39 percent say they at least sometimes feel lonely at work. I spoke to the former U.S. Surgeon General, and he said that loneliness has the same health risk and reduction of life as smoking fifteen cigarettes each day. In the workplace, technology has created the illusion that we are all hyper connected, yet in reality we feel disconnected, isolated and lonely over the overuse and misuse of it.

 

“It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.” -Ed Catmull

 

Share a little about personal fulfillment and how we can enhance it on the job. 

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after we meet our physiological and safety needs, we need to focus on belongingness and love if we want to be self-actualized, reaching our full potential at work. We spend one-third of our lives working, so if we have weak relationships with our teammates, we feel unfulfilled. We are less productive, happy and committed to the team and organization’s long-term success as a result of not having close ties. In order to best serve the needs of our teammates, we have to first focus on our own fulfillment. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing the most, what do your past accomplishments say about your strengths, what your core values are, what brings out your positive emotions and where you envision yourself in the future. Once you’re fulfilled, it’s important to get to know your teammates on a personal level, understand their needs and then service those needs. You can do this through on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring and regular meetings where you show you’re committed to their success.

 

“Given how much time you’ll be spending in your life making a living, loving your work is a big part of loving your life.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Create a Culture of Engagement

Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences at Work

culture

Innovating Experiences at Work

Organizational culture isn’t just a hot topic–it’s an untapped asset and potential liability for all businesses. And yet, for all its potential to make or break, few know how to manage cultures with proficiency. In her newly released book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work, Karen Jaw-Madson provides the much needed, step-by-step, “how-to” for designing, implementing and sustaining culture. Karen is principal of Co.-Design of Work Experience where she focuses on culture and organizational change.

We recently had the opportunity to ask Karen some of our own questions.

 

A 2015 survey from Columbia Business School and Duke University found that out of almost 2,000 CEOs and CFOs, 90% said corporate culture was important, but only 15% felt that their culture was where it needed to be.

 

Would you give a quick synopsis of DOWE? What is it and how does it work?

Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is a concept and methodology that partners employees and their employer to co-create, implement, and sustain culture. DOWE is comprised of four main components: the combination of DESIGN and CHANGE processes enabled by leveraging and building CAPABILITY and ENGAGEMENT throughout. When you dig deeper, the process is further segmented into 5 phases: UNDERSTAND, CREATE & LEARN, DECIDE, PLAN, and IMPLEMENT. All the phases are organized as a series of iterative learning loops, each with its own specific set of activities.

 

4 Components of DOWE

Is there one of the four components of DOWE that is more difficult than the others?

The difficulty (or ease) with any aspect of the DOWE process would depend on the individual organization–their current strengths and capabilities, as well as their current context. For example, a company used to constant change may find the change process more familiar than one that has not experienced a lot of change. Another may be dealing with apathy, so engagement may be a challenge, and so on and so forth.

1,001 Ways to Engage Employees

employee engagement

Increase Employee Engagement

One of the top priorities for leaders is employee engagement. For several years, I have seen countless books and executives looking at every possible method for increasing engagement.

Bob Nelson says that it’s time to move beyond measuring it. “It’s now time to focus the behaviors that truly impact employee engagement, and not just the scores that measure it.”

In his book, 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees: Help People Do Better What They Do Best, Dr. Bob Nelson provides the methods for increasing engagement. I recently spoke with him about his new book.

 

“If you have a good boss, you have a good job. That’s true the world around.” –Dr. Bob Nelson

 

Simple Things to Do Today

Share some surprising gems from the 1,001 ideas in the book.

Probably the biggest surprise for me has been the fact that the greatest motivators for today’s employees don’t require a big budget to implement, but are relatively simple, behavioral things any manager can do with their immediate team.  Thanking employees for doing good work, asking for their input and ideas, providing them autonomy and authority to get their work done, involving them in decisions that affect them, two-way communication, and using mistakes as learning opportunities for them to improve are some of the key take-aways.

 

“Most managers ignore or underestimate the power of praise.” -Roger Flax

 

Which ones have gotten more enthusiastic feedback than you expected? 

The book is still new, but readers in general love the real-life examples and pithy, fun quotes—both of which support the topics discussed. Hearing a great example makes readers immediately ask, “Why couldn’t we do that in our work group?” In this way, the book becomes a motivator of change: to try something new that may very well get you a better result. That’s my ultimate goal: to help people better manage their employees so they feel more valued for what they do and are more successful as a result.

 

And which ones might be most useful when the organization needs to bounce back from a bad shock?

Communication is critical in working with others, and you have to do more of that in tough times and times of change.  Managers’ tendencies, however, are to withdraw during tough times, so you have to fight that tendency and force yourself to be out there, speaking with employees, answering questions and helping them do a better job. Likewise, for employee recognition.  So many managers have an unstated assumption that they expect employees to always do good work, so they don’t have to thank them for it when they do. To the contrary, you need to proactively catch people doing good work in order to get them to more easily continue to do so. No one likes to work for a manager that only finds their faults and mistakes…

 

What do most managers get wrong when they think of engagement?

Are Your Conversations Worth Having?

conversations

Leadership Conversations

Conversations are a critical part of conducting business, of leading teams, of interacting with others.

Despite their obvious importance, how often do we think about them as a crucial skill?

Imagine if everyone on your team became exceptional at having meaningful conversations. Do you think it would translate to more wins? I’m certain of it, and that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed reading a new book by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres. The authors packed so much wisdom and experience into Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement that you will find yourself referring back to it as an essential conversation reference guide.

Jackie Stavros is a professor at Lawrence Technological University; Appreciative Inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute; and an associate at Taos Institute. Cheri Torres is a Senior Consultant with NextMove and Partner at Innovation Partners International.

I recently spoke with Jackie and Cheri about their work.

 

“We live in worlds our conversations create.” -David Cooperrider

 

The Power of a Good Conversation

Talk about the power of a good conversation.

Torres: Actually, conversation is powerful, period, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. A bad conversation can turn a good day sour, influencing interactions for hours to come. A good conversation can brighten your day and propel you into high performance and a sense of elation. When you think about it, everything arises from conversation. We’re either carrying on an internal dialogue or engaged with others, each conversation influencing what’s possible in the next moment. Conversations influence our health, wellness, happiness, relationships, performance, and what’s possible.

 

“Sometimes the greatest adventure is simply a conversation.” -Amadeus Wolf

 

With their importance, why do conversations not seem to get enough attention in business?

Torres: Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-fontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.

 

Contrast a destructive versus an affirmative conversation. What are the effects of a destructive conversation? How long do they last?

Torres: In our book, in Chapter 2: What Kind of Conversations Are You Having, we classify four different kinds of conversations. All interactions either add-value or they devalue people and situations, and all conversations are either inquiry-based or statement-based.  If your questions devalue a person or situation, we refer to those kinds of conversations as “critical conversations.” If you are telling and devaluing others, we call those “destructive.”  Critical and destructive conversations typically trigger a threat response in others, and we just spoke about how that impacts us. The impact of such conversations can last a long time, long after the cortisol has left the system.  The reason why? Our memory stores our experience; this person is recognized as unsafe. This of course inhibits working well together.

On the other hand, if you are telling and adding value, we refer to those interactions as “affirmative conversations.” Acknowledging strengths, complementing a job well done, advocating for someone or something are examples of affirmative conversations. If you are asking questions that add value or generate value, we call those conversations worth having. Affirmative conversations will shift the brain from distrust to trust; conversations worth having will broaden and deepen that shift allowing people to bring their full value to relationships in the workplace, at home, and/or in communities.

 

“Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.” -Tao Te Ching

 

What is appreciative inquiry and how does it relate to communication?

What’s Your Digital Business Model?

Transform Your Business

Digital transformation. We read about it often. Organizational leaders struggle to determine the possible threats, the impending changes needed, the opportunities that are possible.

Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner’s new book, What’s Your Digital Business Model?, provides a strategic framework for thinking about these issues. Peter is a Senior Research Scientist and Chair of the Center for Information Systems Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Stephanie is also Research Scientist at the same institution with a specialty focusing on how companies manage organizational change caused by digital disruption.

I had the opportunity to speak with them about their research and new book.

 

Rate Your Digital Readiness

How would you rate most organizations readiness for the era of digital disruption that we are in and are facing?

Most organizations we talk to and research know they have to change to stay relevant and have improved in some areas (perhaps they’ve worked on business process optimization or they’ve automated a lot of processes). However, as customer experience demands have increased, we find that many older, bigger companies have not made the improvements and changes needed to address those demands. Plus the leaders of the average large company (more than $7B in revenue) identified that 46% of their revenues are under threat over the next 5 years if they don’t change.

 

Fact: large companies predict 46 percent of revenues are threatened in the next 5 years absent change.

 

How was the research developed?

The book is based around six questions we think every executive and organization has to be able to answer in order to be competitive in the digital economy. We started this research by interviewing leaders from large, global companies, asking them to describe their most important digitally-enabled business transformation initiative. From there we developed a model, tested the preliminary findings in more than 50 workshops with senior executives, identified capabilities needed, conducted several surveys to test those capabilities and show links to financial performance, and interviewed many companies to help us understand what it takes to transform a business. The book resulted from five years of research which shows that the senior executives of top performing firms honestly answered the six questions. To help, each chapter concludes with a self-assessment on one of the six questions. The reader can then compare their self-assessment results to top financial performers to help leadership teams understand the gap they have to close.

 

Needed: Honest Conversations about the Future

Of the six parts, is there one step that more organizations get stuck in than another?

Probably the hardest question for most organizations is having an honest conversation about whether they have leadership, at all levels, who will persevere and successfully deliver the business transformation. Along the way the culture will have to change and adapt to the new digital business model and often this means changing people at the top. But it is not just the top layer of leaders that has to change. Successful transformation requires getting the whole company to behave differently – from the board to the lowest level of employees. For example, DBS Bank in Singapore, which was one the Euromoney’s most digital banks in 2016 has managed to get 14,800 of their 22,000 people involved in a digital innovation activity every week.

 

“Successful transformation requires getting the whole company to behave differently – from the board to the lowest level of employees.”