To prevent negative effects of social isolation employees might be experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders should strive to build a culture of connection. In Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work, Second Edition (ATD Press, September 2020), leadership experts Michael Lee Stallard, Todd W. Hall, Katharine P. Stallard, and Jason Pankau provide updated evidence that a culture of connection is fundamental to the health of an organization and its employees and gives them a competitive advantage. They offer a five-step process to operationalize connection culture:
- Develop a “connection mindset” among the members of your group.
- Cultivate vision, value, and voice by developing habits of attitude, language, and behavior that connect.
- Measure connection in each subculture to identify connected leaders, connected members, and individuals who need help connecting.
- Mentor and coach individuals to become connected members and connected leaders.
- Celebrate and disseminate acts of connection (stories and practices).
“Well before the onset of COVID-19, greater social disconnection was already on the rise. There are reports of increased loneliness, isolation, and decreased face-to-face people time due to the stresses of the fast-pace lives people are living and more time spent on digital platforms. The outcome of this is increased disengagement and the breakdown of connection,” states Michael Stallard. “With the additional physical distance that a pandemic is placing between people and the increased disconnection that many employees are feeling, now more than ever it is an essential time in history to cultivate cultures of connection. Connection is a primal human need, critical in our personal lives and in the workplace. Leaders must create work environments where people feel connected.”
There can be no one-size-fits-all culture in today’s increasingly diverse and global working world. Organizations that have sustainable high performance will have common elements to their culture that enable them to be productive and at their best. Although the tasks will differ depending on the industry, when it comes to the relational aspects, there is a best culture: a culture that has a high degree of human connection.
Great leaders connect with people when they communicate an inspiring vision, value people as human beings rather than treating them as means to an end, and give them a voice to express their ideas and opinions. Vision, value, and voice create connection. If a leader’s sole focus is on seeing that tasks are accomplished, then success will be unsustainable. Connection Culture provides detailed examples of how leaders across the globe are fostering engagement and building and maintaining cultures of connection in their organizations during challenging situations.
“Employees who feel regularly left out, lonely, or out of the loop are not going to be able to do their best work and may not wish to. In the research my colleagues and I conducted, we found that isolation typically results from excessive control behaviors or from excessive busyness and indifference to the human need for connection. Cultures that connect people (which we have termed “connection cultures” or “cultures of connection”) are best for individual well-being and for helping organizations thrive,” explains Michael Stallard. “Specifically, cultures that intentionally connect people to their work, their colleagues, and the organization as a whole convey several performance advantages upon those organizations, including a cognitive advantage that makes people smarter and more creative, higher employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, better decision making, a higher rate of innovation, and greater agility and adaptability to cope with faster changes taking place today. These benefits combine to provide a significant performance and competitive advantage.”
About the Authors
Michael Lee Stallard is a globally recognized thought leader on how leaders create and maintain cultures of connection that help teams and organizations thrive for a sustained period. A keynote speaker, leadership trainer, and executive coach, he is co-founder and president of leadership training and consulting firms E Pluribus Partners and Connection Culture Group. Michael’s clients have included Costco, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NASA, Qualcomm, Turner Construction, US Air Force, and Yale-New Haven Health. Texas Christian University founded the TCU Center for Connection Culture based on Michael’s work. Michael is the primary author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out.
Todd W. Hall is co-founder and chief scientist of Connection Culture Group, a professor of psychology at Biola University, and a faculty affiliate in the Harvard Human Flourishing Program. He has more than 25 years of experience helping individuals and teams thrive. Todd’s consulting work focuses on helping leaders build a connection culture. His writing and work have been featured by Entrepreneur.com, Execunet.com, the Association for Talent Development, and AppreciationAtWork.com.
Todd has consulted with start-ups, government agencies, nonprofits, for-profit organizations, and universities, including the National Institute for Mental Health, Northwestern Medicine, McDonald’s, and The New York City Leadership Center. He is a licensed psychologist in California and holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Biola University and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA.
Katharine (Katie) P. Stallard is a partner at E Pluribus Partners and Connection Culture Group. She is a gifted connector, speaker, and teacher with diverse experience in marketing, administration, business, and nonprofit organizations. Audiences and seminar participants enjoy her sense of humor and practical advice. She has co-authored articles appearing in Leader to Leader and HR Magazine.
Jason Pankau is a co-founder and partner at E Pluribus Partners. He speaks, teaches, coaches, and consults for a wide variety of the firm’s clients. He wrote Beyond Self Help, contributed to Fired Up or Burned Out and What Managers Say, What Employees Hear, and has written articles for Leader to Leader and Leadership Excellence. Jason is the founding pastor of Chicago Hope Church and president of Life Spring Network, a Christian organization that trains and coaches pastors and church leaders.