Q&A with Michael Lee Stallard: What is a Connection Culture?

May 6, 2015
Katie Russell

I recently interviewed Michael Lee Stallard, author of the new book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work, to learn more about the unique advantages a connection culture provides. Here’s what he had to say:

1. What does it mean to be a part of a “connection culture?” When you are part of a connection culture, you feel connected to others, included and part of the team versus feeling unsupported, left out or lonely. Although most leaders overlook it, connection is critical to success because it makes people more productive, healthier and happier. Disconnection sabotages individual and organizational performance. Unfortunately, two-thirds of American workers, and 87 percent globally, don't feel connected at work. It’s a huge opportunity for leaders and organizations.

2. Why is creating a connection culture at your organization more important now than ever before? Today the world is moving at a very fast pace. Many people are feeling overwhelmed. Furthermore, more than half of Americans struggle with anxiety, depression or addiction, which is more likely to occur when people feel disconnected. Connection gives us the psychological resources to perform well and makes us less vulnerable to stress, ultimately resulting in a more productive workforce.

3. Why do you think the business world in particular has neglected the value of connection? The business world tends to focus on what is most visible – which is not necessarily what is most important. Tasks are tangible and give us a sense of accomplishment, whereas relationships are not as visible and are often overlooked.

4. How does a connection culture differ from a culture of control and a culture of indifference? In a culture of control, those with power, control, status and influence rule over others. In a culture of indifference, everyone is so busy they don't take time for relationships. In a connection culture, people develop supportive, cooperative and collaborative relationships. In essence, connection cultures excel at relationships while cultures of control and indifference do not.

5. How does an emotional connection between management, employees, and customers actually provide a competitive advantage? Emotional connection gives people more energy and makes them more enthusiastic. It also makes them more creative and better decision-makers. All of these benefits are performance enhancers that provide a competitive advantage to an organization.

6. How does a connection culture affect the bottom line? A connection culture affects the bottom line in four ways. When people feel connected they give their best efforts at work. They also align their behavior with the leader’s goals so everyone is pulling in the same direction. Additionally, they communicate more, which gives decision-makers the best information to make optimal decisions. Finally, they participate in activities to help improve the organization through innovation. All four of these actions have a positive effect on the bottom line.

7. Doesn't culture change have to start at the top of an organization? It’s ideal for the leaders at the top to be intentional about creating a connection culture but not necessary. Local culture (subculture) matters the most. If a leader of a unit of an organization creates a connection culture, the people in that unit thrive and so will the unit’s performance. Every organization I’ve seen has a mix of subcultures. The challenge for leaders at the top is to get as many of the subcultures as possible to become connection cultures that contribute positively to the organization’s performance rather than subcultures of control or indifference that undermine sustainable success.

8. Doesn't culture change take a long time? If you get a leader at the top who understands how to create a connection culture and has the courage of his or her convictions, culture change can happen fast. In Connection Culture I describe how CNO Admiral Vern Clark changed the culture of the U.S. Navy, which resulted in a surge in first term reenlistment within 18 months. The Navy went from being concerned about having enough sailors to having more sailors than it needed. Sailors liked the Navy’s connection culture so much they didn't want to leave.

Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

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