Despite all the focus on engagement tools to better motivate employees, evidence shows they fail to spark a real sense of belonging. Although 87 percent of organizations listed engagement as a top priority in a recent study, a mere 15 percent of employees report actually feeling engaged in the workplace.
For employees to perform at their highest levels and be dedicated to the collective success of the organization, they need to love where they work. They need to feel an Emotional Connection (EC): a motivating sense of satisfaction and intellectual alignment that can only come from feeling appreciated and part of a shared and worthy purpose.
When employees see how their work positively affects organizational outcomes, and that it matters to their managers, colleagues, and the wider world, that’s an emotional connection. It requires something deeper and longer-lasting than financial incentives. Increasing salaries, offering huge bonuses and other perk-based plans will not create legitimate, long-term buy-in from employees, despite the cost. Neither do engagement efforts, as they are often executed by HR departments, which keeps leadership in the dark and detached from the process and from employees. Employees want the opposite: they want to feel aligned, and connected, with leaders.
When employees feel supported by leaders and able to be themselves, and profoundly connect to each other, it shifts their perception of their workplace to being “In Great Company.” It’s a positive dynamic: you’re in a place you love, you want to give more of yourself, and you choose to add value. As a result, you are more willing and able to achieve your business goals.
Not only is the state of emotional connectedness possible, it’s instrumental to organizational success. “Emotional connectedness undoubtedly inspires discretionary effort and passion from our employees and our customers,” says Bob Maresca, CEO of Bose Corporation. Dozens of other CEOs, including Hubert Joly, Chairman, and CEO of Best Buy, concur.
Leaders need to tend to five critical elements to spark emotional connection and improve workplace engagement and productivity. These elements are ubiquitous, implementation-focused, and together create a great workplace in which everyone is inspired to perform at their peak:
1. Respect: Feeling genuinely respected is the prime reason people love their work and are happy to be there. 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. Respect is the element that catalyzes all the others to drive peak performance, the match that sparks the flame.
2. Alignment of values: Employees thrive in organizations that place 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 a truth instead of avoiding it. More conceptually complex methods include living the values and ethics the company espouses, such as what happens in Patagonia and Johnson & Johnson.
3. 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’s also a powerful catalyst for creating an emotionally connected culture — as happens in WD-40 or Big River Steel.
4. 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 KeyBank and Atlassian observe several specific practices to co-create a sustained connection that drives results.
5. Killer achievement: Killer achievement delivers a combination of financial and emotional upside that amplifies the effect for everyone. Employees need to be empowered to focus on the customers and critical goals, with extraneous minutia, eliminated. Objectives should 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 leadership, organizational development, and executive coaching. Companies like Best Buy and Netflix ensure their people can create killer outcomes, keeping the organizations relevant, strong, and innovative.
It takes leadership buy-in to establish these five elements, that makes aligned values, collaboration, co-creation, respect, and a focus on achievement all intrinsic parts of the organization. Frequent measurements should be made 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 a workplace, everyone is aligned — and willing to do whatever it takes to preserve and grow the business together. In that scenario, everyone wins.