Today’s workplace is wired for communication—but the human connection is often missing. That’s the message coming through loud and clear, according to data we collected in a recent survey. Employees are saying that in spite of all the technology at our disposal, managers and direct reports aren’t connecting any better than they did in the past—and are possibly connecting even worse now.
It has set up a condition we call the Dysfunctionally Connected Workplace (see infographic), where the opportunity to connect exists, but the skills to take advantage of it don’t.
For example, more than 80% of people say their boss doesn’t listen well and doesn’t provide feedback at the level they want. And when it comes to the most basic types of performance-related conversations—goal setting, goal review, and performance feedback—survey respondents identified 25- to 35-point differences between what they wanted from their managers and what they were experiencing.
The fundamentals still apply.
Technology has shifted the playing field, but it hasn't changed the fundamentals. Good communication is still an exchange of information between two people that creates connection and understanding.
Connection is important. People who feel connected to their leader are more likely to feel good about their jobs, stay with the organization, and act in ways that support it. Without connection, people feel out of the loop. This leads to isolation, a lack of well-being, and possible disengagement.
What’s the level of connection in your organization? Are teams working together productively and engaging with each other on a regular basis? Are managers and team members aligned on goals? Do they review progress and look at new ways of doing things? Or are people working alone, doing their best on an individual basis to cope with an ever-increasing amount of work?
People are social animals. They need to be able to reach out to others, discuss what they are experiencing, and ask for help as needed—especially when demands are high and timelines are short.
Two conversations leaders need to master
We've always believed that the greater number of quality conversations you are having, the greater the likelihood that you are creating connection and understanding with others. Leaders need to conduct and promote two types of conversations if they want to create an environment where people feel aligned and supported in achieving their goals.
First, leaders need to have "alignment" conversations.
Work relationships often suffer from a lack of clarity. People make assumptions about expectations that often go unnoticed at first. Over time, things become unclear. This can create problems down the road that can surface when a little pressure is applied to the system.
Alignment conversations make sure clear agreements about expectations are in place. An alignment conversation begins with reviewing goals or tasks that have been assigned to a team member, along with agreed-upon timelines and quality expectations. It is a goal review conversation to check in on progress, obstacles, and solutions.
The key to success with these conversations is identifying the development level of a team member on each task they are working on. If a team member is new to a task, a leader knows they will have to provide a lot of direction. If a team member is highly experienced at the task, a leader knows the conversation will be a quick check-in call. Having this information ahead of time allows for efficient meetings and helps leaders avoid over- or under-supervising.
Second, once alignment is in place, leaders need to have one-on-one conversations.
What makes a one-on-one conversation unique is that it is directed by the team member, not the leader. The leader sets the time for the meeting, but the direct report drives the agenda.
As with alignment conversations, one-on-ones don’t have to be long meetings. In fact, we believe initial one-on-ones should be scheduled every other week for 15 to 30 minutes. These conversations can be more focused, because team members know they will get to meet with their leader at least every two weeks. The frequency of these conversations allows team members to ask questions and get the help they need in a timely manner.
One-on-ones are a wonderful way for leaders to learn how to best coach people. As the team member discusses how they are doing in relation to their goals, they will share what they need and what might be holding them back. The leader’s role is to listen, ask questions, and provide direction and support as needed.
Creating a connection with your people
Engaging in regular conversation—even in short bursts—is one of the best ways you can connect with your people. One of the findings coming out of our ongoing research into the factors that build employee work passion is that people want to feel connected to their leader and want to work for a leader who places the interests of others above their own. A significant correlation exists between these two constructs and a positive sense of well-being.
This, in turn, leads to team members who intend to stay with the organization, endorse it as a good place to work, perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort, and be good organizational citizens along the way. (See our Leader Values and Employee Work Intentions white paper for more on this research.)
Make time to meet with your people. Use technology to your advantage. Find ways to include short, efficient conversations that allow you to check in, see how things are going, and provide help when needed. In the right hands, texting with smart phones, virtual meetings via video and web conferencing, and online chat tools can all help create connections and avoid a dysfunctional workplace. It’s not the tool; it’s how you use it.