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How well connected are you really?

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13th Aug 2014
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Jim O'Brien looks at whether technology is actually improving our connectability or not. 

Be honest: how addicted are you to your smart phone? Do you feel lost without it? Do you struggle to leave those Twitter and LinkedIn apps alone? Does it sleep with you? One US study has suggested we use or check our phones up to 110 times just during the day and then as often as every six seconds in the evening. That’s a staggering amount of time we spend ‘keeping in touch’, so why when it comes to forging genuine, personal connections are we falling short, especially in the workplace?

61% of us now own a smartphone - or 75% among the under 30s - so in theory communicating has never been easier. Yet a recent survey* suggests we actually suffer a dearth of meaningful connections in our workplaces.

Workers were asked whether they were satisfied with the quantity or quality of their relationships at work and the answer was a resounding ‘no.’ 81% complained their leaders don’t listen. 82% said their boss won’t praise them or give appropriate feedback.

Research also highlighted how 28% of people rarely or never discuss future goals and tasks with their boss, although 70% wish they did. The figures are even worse when it comes to sensitive matters such as problems with colleagues. Then, while 64% wish they did feel able to take this up with managers or supervisors, only 8% actually do.

This is deeply problematic. We know how vitally important it is to have good relationships with colleagues to help you feel good about yourself and good about your job. From an employers’ perspective, happy, engaged, communicating employees are more likely to be loyal to their organisation, support it, and put in discretionary effort. This is why good relationships with leaders are especially important – how often have you quit not because you didn’t like the job or the organisation, but your manager?

“People crave a deeper human connection at work; they want to feel a more personal and authentic connection with their leaders and their peers that goes beyond what technology can provide,” says Ken Blanchard. “Without this human connection, the typical workplace is at high risk of becoming what I call ‘dysfunctionally connected.’”

Creating connection in the workplace starts with conversation, yet most working people don’t have a shared leadership language to help them ask for what they want and avoid misunderstandings. This is especially difficult now because for the first time ever, we have five generations working together in the workplace, and many different cultures. 

Whether or not you use a leadership model, what is important is making sure our conversations are rooted in being clear that direct reports are given all the direction and support they need to achieve goals, goals that must have a clear vision when it comes to what success looks like. Building in frequent one-to-ones, either formal or informal, keeps conversation flowing and prevents resentment building up, as does providing regular and honest feedback. This is the glue of successful organisations, as is giving praise when praise is due, or redirection when a colleague steers off course. Starting difficult conversations at an early stage with ‘in order to get this job done I need you to...’ or ‘is there anything I can help you with so you can get this job done?’ is a far better approach than allowing a head of steam to build up at which point any conversation is going to become emotional.

This approach helps leaders to be more in tune with their people’s needs and aligned with their own intentions. We all face common challenges in the workplace from time to time and our work environments are constantly changing. Today’s leaders need to learn how to assess a situation very quickly, respond to it appropriately, and then move on to the next challenge. Economics, globalisation, the lightening pace of change, our generation gap and cultural differences frequently take us beyond the edge of our comfort zones. If we are to become the kind of leader others want to follow, and help our people be confident, competent and motivated, our goal-setting, people management, performance monitoring and feedback stills must be in tip-top shape.

Even in the digital age, one-to-one communication matters. And even if we communicate through technology, our approach still has to be human. 

*conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies

Jim O’Brien is EMEA MD of The Ken Blanchard Companies

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