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Have We Over-Indexed on "Connection" at Work? Time for Stage 3.

· sales leadership,decision science,leadership

Could we be over-indexing on “Connection” at work?

As I’m researching for my next book, focused on transparent sales leadership, something jumped out at me that can’t wait until the book comes out.

Every sales leader tells me they’re focusing on ensuring their teams feel connected, which is great, necessary, and can never stop. 

Meetings always start with icebreakers. Everyone knows each others pets and has seen their homes. They're doing Zoom Happy Hours and spending extra time during the week to just connect. 

Marketing departments are now amping up their investments on company swag. Branded socks, t-shirts, Yeti coolers, laptop stickers, you name it!

However, if you look at the evolution of our reactions and adjustments to the shift that took place in earnest in March of 2020 due to the pandemic, another shift needs to happen to stave off what could be the largest turnover binge in the history of our profession.

What Inspires Us Beyond $$$

 As human beings, we’re intrinsically inspired by essentially six categories of feelings: 

The first is “Feedback” - which encompasses things like being recognized for doing good things, given status (titles and president's clubs), and the feedback which allows us to grow in our lives and careers.

The second is “Forecast” - our brains are prediction machines, and when we can’t predict, our IQs actually go down while in the situation. We crave certainty, which is why many went out and hoarded toilet paper fourteen months ago. 

The third is “Freedom” - being micromanaged? Bad. Given the trust, autonomy and independence to do our best work? Good.

The fourth is “Family” - this is the connection and security that comes from being a part of a team or a pack as mentioned above.

The fifth is “Function” - doing work that means something...having a purpose or a mission beyond just hitting a number.

The sixth is “Fairness” - is the reward worth the effort? Are things equitable, meaning, are the rewards I receive balanced between myself and others? This isn’t just compensation, it’s equal treatment void of politics. 

The best leaders balance these naturally, or keep them as a checklist. Am I consistently recognizing effort, helping the team predict through transparency, giving the team my trust & space to succeed, showing the team I/we have their back, helping them recognize their impact beyond their quota, and treating them fairly?

The Pandemic

In March of 2020, every business scurried to shelter like a pack of mice when the lights went on. We all went home, and had to adjust everything. 

From a leadership perspective, the behavioral adjustments leaders have had to make has been incredibly interesting to watch. 

There have been stages:

Stage 1: A Struggle Between Freedom and Control 

We were all forced to go remote, and I would argue that the largest psychological shift that needed to take place was for leaders.  As described above, we’re all driven to predict. And we’re all driven to flourish in resourced autonomy. 

The drive to predict against the drive to be autonomous - that creates a conflict between leaders & reps already...but a remote environment amplified it!

Leaders are humans, too. They could no longer see their teams. Their drive to forecast (not in the “numbers” sense, but predict and be certain) suffered when their teams were now out-of-sight and at home full time. 

The adjustment was so interesting to watch. Many leaders started doing daily check-ins, and really hammered on activity tracking and data. 

But that wore on the individuals under their leadership, as humans crave that freedom and autonomy, so that wouldn’t last. And it didn’t…

Leaders had to, and did, find the balance between “How do I make sure everyone is on track?” with “How do I make sure my team doesn’t feel micromanaged?”

Stage 2: Build and Maintain a Pack

Once the adjustments were made, and the realization that remote work could still be good work, the next realization rose up.

How do we make our individuals feel a part of a team? How do we make our culture seep into the walls of the homes of our team? How do we create a connection to individuals whom we’ve never met in-person? 

The walls came down in terms of ultra-professionalism. Meetings were now personal. We met each others' pets, kids running by were a welcome sight, Zoom happy hours became a regular occurrence. Team members offices now were in bedrooms and kitchens instead of actual offices. 

We’ve been in this stage for 12 months.

Leaders have balanced all six of the elements that drive engagement.

But turnover is starting to grow. As a result, companies are doubling down on “Family”, connection and relatedness. More Zoom social events. MUCH more company swag being sent home. There’s a swag-inflation going on right now that is amazing to watch. Companies one-upping each other on LinkedIn posts with the stuff they’re sending to their employees.

However, that hasn’t prevented a slow progression towards what I believe to be a turnover binge, Why? Because connection cannot be replicated to the level of being in an office with one another. It just can't over Zoom. As a result,..

  • The physical cost to changing jobs is almost non-existent. No change of commute. Simply swap out laptops. 
  • The emotional cost to changing jobs is also almost non-existent. While we try with all of these "family building" efforts, if you haven’t met your co-workers, leaving is easier. Branded swag is not unique to your company, and you don’t have to give it back if you leave. 

The slightest triggers can drive someone to start looking. 

  • Lost a deal. Higher quota. 
  • Smaller territory. 
  • New manager.
  •  A friend making a ton of dough somewhere else, raving about how much fun their having...and they’re hiring!

We have to shift to Stage 3 to prevent massive turnover from becoming reality in our organizations, as turnover comes with hard-dollar and opportunity cost that will drive businesses to stunted growth.  

Stage 3: Establishing A Clear Purpose Beyond The Forecast

  • Do your team members know what their work means to you as a leader? Beyond the number. When they succeed, what does that mean to you, personally? Do they know the answer?
  • Do your team members know what their work means to your organization? Beyond the number. When they succeed, what does that mean to the organization? Do they know the answer?
  • Do your team members know what their work means to your customers? When a customer invests in your solutions or services, what’s the impact on them, personally, and their business?  Do they know the answer?
  • Do your team members know what their work means to your customers’ customers? When your customers succeed, how do their customers succeed? Do they know the answer?

As I speak with leaders, without prompt I will often ask them, “What is the focus of your 1-on-1’s with your reps?” The answer is almost always, “Their forecast. Deals and deal strategy.”

Swag isn’t unique to your company.

Zoom happy hours aren’t unique to your company.

Your mission and purpose is unique. The impact your company makes on the ultimate end-users’ lives is unique.

A medical device company whose workers tighten screws in a warehouse all day: It’s not about how many screws they put in that day. Their work keeps people alive and keeps families together. 

A SaaS reviews company who’s sellers cold-call and guide buyers through their journey all day: It’s not about their percentage to quota. Their work helps families make smarter decisions on where they spend their money. Their work lifts everyone up.

The medical device company I described above? They bring people into the warehouse often to share their stories - their families - their emotion of how that work that feels so repetitive is what has kept their family together. 

Ask your customers. 

Now is the time to go beyond the deals and forecast in your 1-on-1's. Spend time right now - this week. Then make sure your teams know what their work truly means. 

It’s at least some adhesive to keep turnover low, and intrinsic inspiration high...which leads to better performance, regardless of the environment. 

(I've created a workshop to help companies find their "function" - their mission, their purpose. It's virtual, takes around 90 minutes, and I'd love to talk to you about it. Reach out for more...)

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