I once worked with a CEO who was having trouble retaining employees. His company had a high turnover rate, and he told me the endless process of hiring new people to replace those who had left was costly, both in terms of actual expenses and time spent by his staff onboarding and training new people.
I asked about the training. What did that involve? How did the company build a cohesive organizational community?
“Training?” he replied. “We show each new employee how to do their job and what we expect. We make sure that every person we hire is a professional and can hit the ground running. And we go one more step by helping our employees with additional education when they need it. We have a very generous program that helps them pay for professional certifications and even graduate school. Believe me, our people are very well trained.”
I replied that I was happy his company took a serious approach to job training and lifelong learning. It’s good to make that kind of investment in your people! But what measures did the company take to create a unified team, where every employee and leader felt as though they were members of a family who knew each other and supported each other as they worked toward a common goal? For example, how did the CEO feel when a key employee left? Any pangs of regret?
He looked at me as though I had just stepped off a spaceship and this was my first time on planet Earth.
“We don’t coddle our people, if that’s what you mean,” he replied.
I smiled. “Just out of curiosity, do you believe that members of the Navy SEALs or Army Rangers are coddled?”
“No, of course not,” he said. “They’re the best of the best!”
“You’re right — they are. And it may interest you to know that one of the most fundamental aspects of elite military training is unit cohesion. Do you know what that is?”
He rubbed his chin. “Unit cohesion? I think so. It’s all about getting the soldiers to watch each other’s backs and help each other. It’s about leaving no one behind.”
“Exactly! Unit cohesion is absolutely critical to battlefield success. And what’s true in combat is also true in business, only we call it by a different name — ‘emotional connectedness.’ The organizations that have a culture of emotional connectedness are always more successful than those that don’t. It’s not rocket science — it’s a plain fact.”
“I see what you mean,” he said. “I think I’ve been ignoring this aspect of our company culture. Perhaps that’s why our employees seem to have so little loyalty. We haven’t done enough to create strong connections.”
In Too Many Workplaces, It’s Every Person for Themselves
History is replete with examples of mergers that ended badly precisely because the people weren’t brought together. Perhaps the most notorious example in recent memory is the ill-fated union between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz. Both companies had highly talented people and the merger had every reason for success, at least on paper. But the cultural differences between the two companies were vast, and within two years the new auto giant, which had been christened DaimlerChrysler, fell apart.
You can see the same problem at companies at every level, from global corporations to the fledgling startup in a downtown loft.
You see it when Julie from accounting comes to your office and says, “I don’t understand where Bob is coming from! He thinks he’s the only person who knows what’s going on and nobody else’s opinion is worth listening to!”
Or when Raman says to his coworker Janice, “Yes, tomorrow is a holy day, and I need to take it off. Please stop giving me a disapproving attitude.”
Or when Susan goes to her boss and asks for maternity leave, and he grants it — but he makes it clear he’s doing it begrudgingly and only because the law says he has to.
In every case, the results of an emotional disconnect among diverse constituents are diminished company performance and stunted growth.
Organizational Cohesion Doesn’t Happen By Itself — You Need to Work at It!
I told the CEO the key thing to remember is that a strong sense of community cannot happen by itself. You cannot throw together a bunch of strangers from disparate backgrounds and with various personalities and expect them to magically form a cohesive unit. The mere fact that they’re working for the same company is rarely enough to bring people together.
Creating a team attitude takes planning and effort. The results are always worth it!
Make a Plan and Take Action
The keys to creating emotional connectedness are building a sense of psychological safety and making an effective commitment, both of which are reflected in these five key areas:
- Collaboration: An ego-free workplace, where everyone contributes to a common goal, is more agile and more productive than a culture where people are driven only by self-interest.
- Ethics and values alignment: Every stakeholder needs to know where the organization stands on its mission and vision and needs to share and endorse organizational values.
- Respect: A culture of trust and empathy will promote innovation and employee engagement.
- A positive view of the future: No one wants to work just for a paycheck! People want to contribute to making a better world for themselves and their communities.
- Achievement orientation: Orient your workplace around achievements in such a way that allows your people to become a functional community.
Success does not lie with simplistic “showcase” benefits such as taking your entire company on a cruise or having free food in the employee lounge. To forge long-lasting emotional connectedness, you need to transform your company culture from top to bottom. Incorporate active measures such as self- or 360-degree assessments, executive coaching, leadership development, and facilitated discussions within divisions and/or departments to identify specific behaviors that would result in an emotionally connected, peak-performance workforce — from the perspective of employees, stakeholders, and customers.
In any organization, the level of emotional connectedness is an accurate indicator of workplace outcomes. It’s a major factor in achieving many key workplace objectives, including increasing productivity, lowering attrition, retaining your best employees, and getting more voluntary discretionary effort.