Is your nonprofit team fired up or burned out? A case for connection

Connected organizations are more productive, more innovative and more profitable; conversely, a lack of connection will gradually burn employees out. Author Michael Lee Stallard makes the case for increasing connection at work and shows you how to build a “connection culture”—a culture that increases connection among people—by increasing the elements of a connected culture: vision, value and voice. Paying attention to these so-called “soft” aspects of the work environment will help increase employee engagement and, in the end, will make your organization more successful.

The case for connection

Research by the Gallup Organization shows that fewer than three in ten Americans are engaged in their jobs. Gallup also estimates the annual cost to the American economy from the approximately 22 million American workers who are extremely negative or “actively disengaged” to be $250 to $300 billion every year. Unless people in an organization feel a strong sense of connection to their work and colleagues, they will never reach their potential as individuals, and the organization will never reach its potential.

Conversely, employees in an organization with a high degree of connection are more engaged, more productive in their jobs, and less likely to leave the organization for a competitor. One trend in particular makes connection more important than ever: the increasing globalization of labor. As globalization makes it easier for companies to move work and jobs around the world, organizations that want to retain jobs in their home countries will need to boost the productivity of their people or lose business to competitors who reduce their costs by offshoring.

The connection formula

A “connection culture” is a culture that embraces the beliefs and behaviors that enhance connection among people and meet their basic human psychological needs for respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth and meaning. There are three elements of a connection culture that meet these basic needs: vision, value and voice. Leaders who intentionally foster these three elements will reap the benefits of a connection culture.

Vision exists in an organization when everyone is\motivated by the organization’s mission;

united by its values; and

proud of its reputation.

Value exists in an organization when everyone

understands the basic psychological needs of people;

appreciates their positive, unique contributions; and

helps them achieve their potential.

Voice exists when everyone

seeks the ideas of others;

shares ideas and opinions honestly; and

safeguards relational connections.

A good way to remember these elements is to remember this formula: Vision + Value + Voice = Connection.

When all three elements are in place, it’s a win-win for individuals and organizations.

The evolution of organizations

Most organizations today focus on task excellence—or the quantitative and analytical aspects of business. However, according to Stallard, organizations that focus exclusively on task excellence will fail to meet the basic human psychological needs that maximize employees’ contributions to the organization.

Stars, core employees and strugglers

Employees fall into three categories: stars, core employees and strugglers. Stars are the superior performers; they are either part of senior management or are on the management track. Core employees are valuable contributors but not stars. And strugglers perform poorly, either for temporary reasons or because they are not well suited to their position. Stars are the “favorites” of management and are treated as such—they may be paid more, listened to or included in social situations. This “caste” system within organizations makes most employees feel like second-class citizens and affects an organization’s economic, political and social aspects.

Core employees, however, are just as critical—and often more so—to an organization’s success as its stars. Core employees make up the majority of an organization’s employees and are often just as intelligent, talented and knowledgeable as stars. They differ from stars in three important ways:

They are less likely to call attention to themselves;

They are less likely to leave their current employer for a different organization or position; and

They are quietly dedicated to their work and to their colleagues.

Core employees are key

Organizations are at risk of losing their core employees if they do not foster a sense of connection in the workplace. The reason is simple: Core employees feel that their ideas and opinions aren’t heard and don’t matter, and that they are not respected or recognized for their contributions. Over time they become frustrated and feel underappreciated. This leads them to becoming disconnected and disengaged which, in turn, causes burn out. Leaders need to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and give core employees opportunities to shine as well as the stars. These so-called “soft” issues are essential to any organization that aspires to be the best.

Nonprofit implications

Much has been written about nonprofit “burnout” and the impending “leadership crisis” as Baby Boomers prepare for retirement. Disengagement, an aging population and globalization are converging to become the perfect storm that will make today’s leaders and organizations vulnerable. However, leaders can gain a performance advantage by intentionally creating a work environment that increases engagement and connection within the organization. Organizations that do this will attract and retain committed employees and, as a result, achieve high impact in the long run.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out free ebook

The Leadership Challenge (4th Ed)

The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

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