How to build a culture of connectedness

Book excerpt: Bonnie Hagemann links leadership and connectedness.

Connecting with Generation Y presents a looming challenge for leaders, but that challenge can also be a great opportunity. In many organisations, there is greater connectedness on the front line, but it weakens as people travel up through the corporate hierarchy.

For instance, often employees on the front lines are working in the trenches together. They are barbecuing and going to ball games, carpooling, and working out babysitters together. They are living and working and caring for each other.

But then as people start to climb the ladder, they begin to lose that closeness, that connectedness. Competition increases, often causing the bonds that kept employees close to loosen. We have noticed that leaders often show less interpersonal connectedness as they rise higher and higher. In fact, many have been encouraged to separate themselves by well-meaning managers or mentors.

However, behaviour isn’t inborn and unchangeable. It can—and should—evolve over time. Our interpersonal need for connectedness doesn’t change as we rise through the organisation, so behaving as if it has lessened can be disingenuous.

The emerging workforce won’t stand for it. They demand authenticity, so reviewing success stories is a good way to learn how it can be done at every level. While every culture is different and will approach connectedness differently, we can learn the concepts that work from those who have already walked the path. 

Our interpersonal need for connectedness doesn’t change as we rise through the organisation, so behaving as if it has lessened can be disingenuous.

The process for creating a compelling vision

An underlying component of creating a compelling vision that engages others is the intentional aspect of process. The process for creating the vision matters at least as much as – sometimes even more than – the vision itself.

A simple vision can be set alight by an engaging process: one that excites, inspires, provides context, and connects with emotions and aspirations. This kind of process allows space for:

  • Others to contribute
  • The vision to become relevant
  • Delivering clear examples
  • Guiding the way people think, work, and behave

And when we say set alight, that is exactly what we mean. A vision should positively shine with interest, excitement, and passion. Employees will be taking the stairs two steps at a time on the way to work and investors will be looking to buy the stock. Suppliers will be showcasing their work for your business, and visits to your website will be growing quickly.

Unfortunately, not all leaders follow an engagement process or give it the focus required to achieve a truly compelling vision. This results in a vision that is flat, dull, and uninspiring, which culminates in a lack of connectedness.

We sometimes see chief strategy or chief experience officers who are fixated on creating an exciting, ingenious, and ‘perfect’ vision. But sometimes, by fixating on ‘ingenious perfection’, they apply a process that is weak, flawed, or nonexistent, and the vision struggles to gain any traction and influence at all.

The process for creating the vision and putting it to work matters as much as the vision.

So, what is that process?

  1. Imagine a dream. Consider what could be achieved, what success would look like, and what it would mean for you as well as for your team, business, and future.
  2. Check the dream. Discuss it, get buy-in, and ask for reflections from other leaders. Focus on how it could be improved and enhanced, and who would benefit and when.
  3. Create multiple options and routes to achieving the dream. Use a process of fast prototyping that allows for deviation from the map and leaves people feeling empowered and with the ability, permission, and opportunity to get involved. Allow for risk, innovation, and the potential for setbacks.
  4. Communicate it in a way that connects emotionally with anyone whose energies and attention are needed. Steer the process of messaging and storytelling. Taking the right approach is vital because it cascades the message down through the organisation and beyond: connecting with employees and customers, shaping the culture and brand, and guiding the decisions that are taken and the way people work.
  5. Personalise the vision. Be sure to help people understand their role in achieving the vision. For example, let them know what they need to do more of or better, what they need to stop doing, and where they need to start. Appeal to their own self-interests. For example, if they like stimulating, original work, show them how that plays a part. If they are concerned about new challenges and progression, show them where they can have an impact. Visions need to be simple, but they also need to be rich, adaptable, and able to fit in any context.

There are, of course, exceptions to the process rule, most notably when employees and stakeholders already buy in to the vision and drive of a powerful, charismatic leader. Consider Jack Ma, Richard Branson, Indra Nooyi, Arianna Huffington, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Steve Jobs.

They built their companies around their own established visions. But even these leaders’ visions yield results that can be measured while connecting with people. They offer clarity, they show courage, and thus they create cultures where the vision is put to work.

In any case, just because there are a few exceptions doesn’t mean that organisations should take a pass on process. Most organisations will be much more successful at creating a compelling vision if the process for getting there is thought out and developed.

Leading with Vision is now available through Nicholas Brealey Publishing and is available to buy here


About the author

Bonnie Hagemann is is CEO of Executive Development Associates, a boutique consulting firm specialising in top-of-the house executive development and the development of high potentials into senior leaders.


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