One significant driver of the performance of people is the breadth and depth of the connections they have with the organisation whether it be a business, sporting group or association. Businesses, for example, have long regarded staff satisfaction as a critical factor in driving success but that term has been replaced mainly by ‘staff engagement’, representing ‘the emotional commitment employees have to the organisation and its goals … actually caring about their work and their organisation’.
This article explores various connections people can have with an organisation and how to maximise them to improve performance.
For an individual to be driven to perform there have to be strong connections to the organisation but everyone’s different and situations are different, and that creates a challenge. A challenge in sorting through whether each individual has a strong overall connection to the organisation, what specific connections are there, what connections are growing, which are dropping off, which are more positive and which, if any, may be less than productive. It’s not so simple as to assume that all connections are of equal significance nor that they are all positive. Apart from the skills required in sorting through all of this for each individual is the amount of time it takes, but it’s worth it to grow performance.
So, what connections might an individual have with an organisation? The list below is not intended to be complete. It can’t even be implied that the nature of each possible connection is either positive or negative, of itself. The same connection could be positive in its impact on one individual’s performance and negative on that of another, e.g. friends who are part of the same organisation. The best way to make use of the list is to allow it to stimulate observations and perceptions, and then to deal with each connection on a case by case basis.
- Location: Some people may simply be connected because of the location of the place of work and its proximity to something else, e.g. home, city. What impact is that connection having on performance?
- Co-workers: Some may be connected through the presence of other people in the organisation… friends, respected colleagues. This is one that could have a positive or negative impact on the performance of the individual. Consider the various forms this connection could take.
- Someone’s manager, mentor or coach: This can be the source of a very positive connection to an organisation for someone and, conversely, if not present, could have a negative impact on performance.
- The product provided to the market by a business: The nature of the product can connect a person to a business, especially if there is perceived worth in the product(s) for consumers. But where this is not the case, it’s more difficult for this to be a connection to the business. And even when there is perceived worth in the products some people may not connect to them if they don’t feel their role is directly involved with its provision, e.g. ‘I just work in Accounts’, ‘I just run the I.T. for the business’. In these latter cases, it’s up to the business to help each person create a connection to the product by understanding that it takes everyone to provide it, not just those directly involved in the making or delivery. Having everyone feel ‘we build homes’, ‘we provide fashion’ ‘we sell computers’, ‘we supply medicine’, etc. is an important connection to create.
- History: Some people will be connected to an organisation through just having been there for years. When this takes the form of loyalty it can be a strong driver of performance but when it takes the form of habit it may not. The impact that this connection is having on performance must be examined on an individual basis.
- The community: An organisation doing work for or with the community is likely to have an inbuilt connection for (most of) its people. Some businesses have been able to create this connection by engaging in genuine community support work on top of providing their core products, e.g. time release for staff to perform community work, support of charities.
- Income: Obviously, everyone works partly to support their living standards but this as a connection that will still vary between individuals. Indeed, if it’s the only connection, it could be strongly positive or strongly negative.
- Pride in performance: Some people just want to perform well because of their own pride … to do a good job. Whilst this is not strictly a connection to the organisation, it has the same effect. This is a good quality to look for in sourcing new people.
- Workplace flexibility / autonomy / independence: Whilst each of these is slightly different they are also related. If someone connects through (one of) these and they are altered, so may their performance. If someone values these aspects and they are not present then there is an opportunity to elevate performance by building them in.
- Culture: Whilst culture is complex and multidimensional it still comes from what we do and what we don’t do, and leads to the feeling people have about the organisation. Where the perception of culture is positive it is way more likely that will represent a strong connection in itself and impact performance positively.
- Variety: People can be connected through a variety. Of the people, they work with, of the tasks they perform, of the ideas they are involved with. Deprivation of variety for those who value it will drop their connection.
- Change: The same comments could be made here as for variety.
- Challenge: This can be a connection just through someone’s personality or their ‘love a challenge’. This would need to be kept up for them to stay connected.
- Customers: Connections with a business can be very strong through relationships with customers. It’s an indirect connection but a powerful one nevertheless. There can also be downsides to this type of connection though, sometimes through an individual behaving less than commercially for the business, in favour of the customer.
- Travel: Many people travel as part of their roles and this can also be a connection … just enjoying what that brings. But this can also be a connection that wanes over time and, if so, it has to be managed.
- Clear strategy and vision: The clearer these are, the more frequently they are communicated and the more ‘positive’ they are, the more likely they will grow strong connections for people. It goes to a sense of purpose and confidence in outcomes.
- The nature of the work: This is an obvious one to connect someone to a business and also one that can be challenging when it changes.
- Working in the practical, or the theoretical, or the strategic, or the analytical: This is slightly different from the actual nature of the work. Some people have strong preferences here that will affect their connection.
- Working in a non-office environment: Some people love to be out and about, work outdoors, or even want variety in their surrounds. They will be connected to the organisation through this and it will need to be maintained if so.
- Learning and development: A very obvious connector. People who are thirsty to learn will strongly connect to an organisation when they feel this is being accommodated (supplied, encouraged, supported or allowed).
- Having a voice / being heard: This can be a very strong connector for some people and has to be cultivated in reality and perception for it to exist.
- Managers who are engaging: Many people will connect more strongly to a business if they feel their managers engage them.
- Walk The Talk: An organisation that does this is easily trusted by its own people and can, therefore, connect them. The opposite is obviously Talk The Talk, which can be an absolute disconnector.
The above list is not complete and every organisation could consider what other connections its people have or could have, to elevate performance.
Some Points To Emphasize:
- It’s important to reiterate that connections to an organisation are not always positive in their impact on someone’s performance. Also, the same connection can lead to differing behaviours over time, moving from positive to negative or vice versa. Sound leadership is to be aware of the connections each person has, influence them where possible and therefore help to improve performance.
- It’s important for everyone to be aware of their own connections with an organisation, what they are, which are growing, which are reducing, which are more powerful, which may need to be managed?
- Can connections be deliberately cultivated? Yes, they can. That’s part of self-management as well as the leadership of others (helping to make people aware of the opportunity to grow their own connections).
- Identifying someone’s connections can be done in one of two ways: By just asking them or through observation and perception. They both sound simple but they require time, effort and skill. Awareness is ultimately important in managing people’s connections.
- It’s also important to consider whether someone’s connections are likely to link their behaviours to the organisation’s values. If so, fine. If not, then some management and coaching would be necessary. It’s also something that should be explored in sourcing and selecting new people.
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