This past week I spoke at a conference in front of 140 business leaders on the topic of connecting and engaging others. As I awaited my introduction, the emcee asked everyone to get on his or her feet, and the song “YMCA” suddenly filled the conference hall. I thought this was a rather unique introduction. I was then further taken aback when he asked everyone to stand up and form a conga line. As I sheepishly stood up with my two lapel mics wired to my hip, the poor girl behind me shot me a look, clearly unsure as to where to place her hands! I quickly (and thankfully) excused myself from the conga line.
Now I know what you’re thinking; party pooper, right? Well that might be true, but I thought it was interesting that although I had been invited to the event to help everyone learn techniques for how to engage with others, the emcee was actually demonstrating a technique I had not considered. I call it creating Commonality.
I meet on a daily basis with business owners and executives from a variety of companies and sectors, and it struck me that not enough of these leaders practice creating commonality as a tool to build stronger connections with their employees.
Now I’m not suggesting that you should start to pump lively music into your business and be the first to yell, “Conga!” (Although Toyota actually does a take on this with their morning exercise regimens.) What I am suggesting, however, is that by finding and creating common ground between leaders and employees, building engagement becomes a whole lot easier.
Having given this some thought, there are companies (like the aforementioned Toyota) that practice creating commonality, some of the most successful techniques include:
1. The one-on-one.
I know of one CEO who ensures he speaks to each of his 120 employees at least once every couple of weeks. The bond he has created has led to significant employee support despite whether his message is positive or negative. During one team discussion he had the unfortunate task of telling employees that there would be no profit sharing cheque for the year on account of poor sales. Rather than berate the CEO with boo’s and other complaints, employees were offering up ideas and support to help boost sales and ensure the next quarter was more successful. Spending time connecting with employees one-on-one helps to build stronger relationships, creating a greater degree of commitment from staff.
2. Personal stories.
I recall early in my career speaking with my boss, at the time the CEO of the company, about my upcoming marriage. He provided me with some sage advice (“Happy wife, happy life”) and told me an amusing story about his wedding day. I found his story to be sincere, and in turn I was more attentive and supportive of his ideas and thoughts from that point forward. He, in essence, was making a cheerleader out of me, and I, from that day forward, was more appreciative of his views and opinions. Smart move. Stop hiding behind the nameplate on your door and start investing some time sharing stories (appropriate ones of course) with employees. The only possible outcome is increased support and engagement from staff, two very highly desirable outcomes for any business leader.
3. After all, you are human aren’t you?
As a business leader, you are likely to find yourself immersed amid more issues and challenges than you know what to do with, but how are you handling this overwhelming responsibility in the face of your employees? For example, do you spend much of your time alone in your office? Do you walk the halls with your head down? There is nothing wrong, absolutely nothing, with sharing some of your challenges with employees. A good time to do so is during your one-on-one discussions I mentioned earlier. However, keep in mind that if the message is important you should also share it with the broader group as well (you don’t want to seen as favoring certain employees). My point is that everyone recognizes that your job is difficult, so by sharing some of the pressures you are faced with you shed light on your world, something employees rarely understand with significantly appreciate.
If you have a difficult time connecting with or engaging your employees, try applying the techniques above. Engagement will come easier, commitment from staff will strengthen, and the process will be considerably less embarrassing than forming a conga line.
© Shawn Casemore 2012. All rights reserved.