The Connected Employee
The Egyptian artisans hired to build the necropolis for Pharaoh Ramses III in the 12th century BC were not connected in the sense of today’s connected employee. In a word, they were not SMAC, Social Mobile Analytics Cloud, empowered. Despite the lack of SMAC gear that’s the norm for connected employee in today’s leading companies, the Pharaoh’s artisans connected without hesitation when they got shorted on their food rations. Thus, we have the first recorded labor strike in the history of Earth.
Connection is an essential human need. It ranks just above basic needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The papyrus record of the first labor strike illustrates how employees have organically connected of their own accord for at least 3,200 years and likely longer. And employees continue to organically connect today. What’s new are the high-tech tools—mobile devices, cloud computing—that make connecting far easier.
The realisation of the obvious is likewise very new: connected employees are engaged employees. And engaged employees generate more revenue and profit for businesses than non-engaged employees. In times past, the notion of employees connecting with other employees meant unwanted grief and costly drama for the employer. In short, employers actively discouraged the connected employee.
The Hawthorne Effect
Some cynics might dismiss the importance of the connected employee to business prosperity as a marketing gimmick to drive sales of mobile devices and cloud computing services. But industry leaders knew of the beneficial effects of the connected employee to organisations from the Hawthorne experiments in the 1920s.
The original intent of the Hawthorne experiments was to study how physical working conditions affected worker productivity. The experiments were conducted at the Western Electrics factory in Hawthorne, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Two worker groups were the guinea pigs. Group I got much better lighting in the work area one day while the lighting area for Group II, the control group, remained unchanged. In response to the lighting change, the researchers found the productivity of the Group I workers increased much more than that of the Group II workers when they improved the lighting for Group I.
The researchers changed other working conditions; working hours, rest breaks, and so forth. In each change in working conditions. The worker productivity improved after the change. The productivity of the workers improved when the original dim lighting was restored. By the time all physical work conditions returned back to the original, productivity for the entire factory was at the highest level and absenteeism had plunged.
The researchers concluded the improved worker productivity had nothing to do with workplace improvements at the Hawthorne factory. Rather, worker productivity improved from the workers just knowing people were concerned about workplace conditions and the workers were included in discussions about the workplace changes before they occurred. In a word, the Hawthorne workers became engaged.
Connected Employees Are Engaged Employees
Connection is an intuitive sense of belonging. Connection is the difference between I am and We are. It’s a special knowing being employed by an organization connects you to with a team of like-minded people who are doing big projects way beyond the ability of one person. Connection extends beyond social engagement to a kindred of mission, culture, values, and our customers. The connected employee views work as a special place. Team members form a brotherhood who have each other’s backs without hesitation.
Connection is an evolutionary process from fit to belonging to integration. Connected employees believe at the cognitive and intuitive levels their employers fit who they are as individuals in terms of compensation, culture, the people, the physical accommodations. The connected employee’s feeling of belonging evolve out of the fit. He belongs because the work is pleasant, motivating, satisfying, rewarding, produces good outcomes, and team members are awesome.
After an employee gains the sense of belonging, it’s the employee’s colleagues who signal his values match their values and integrate him into the flock as one of theirs. You get the engagement clue when the I am, seamlessly morphs into the We are. That’s when you know the employee is likely a connected employee and engaged at a far deeper understanding than digital capabilities.
High-performance teams of connected employees are a characteristic of winning businesses competing in today’s knowledge-based economy. C-suite executive teams run corporations. Marketing teams engage customers and drive demand for products and services. Sales teams engage channel partners to distribute products and services to customers. R&D teams create new products and services that sales and marketing teams monetize.
High-performance teams are well-suited for competing in the global economy for a variety of reasons:
- Synergy: high-performance team members have diverse and complementary skills and experiences that produce combined effects far greater than the individual abilities of team members.
- High-performance teams solve real problems in real time because they are flexible and readily adapt to rapid change.
- Social engagement within high-performance teams is a business asset that drives profitability.
- Socially engaged high-performance teams have happy team members who have far more fun at work than low-achievement teams.
What separates teams of high-performance connected employees from low-achievement teams is you don’t manage such teams. Herding cats is far easier. High-performance teams are goal-oriented, self-managing units. The defining characteristics of high-performance teams are:
- A keen sense of dedication to team members and to the team mission.
- Interdependence and trust among team members
- Mutual accountability to each other
- A clear knowing of team and personal responsibilities
- Aggressive, above-average performance goals.
- A diverse and complementary range of team members’ expertise
That connected employees are usually found in engaged, high-performance teams is axiomatic. They use multi-discipline assets to compete in a knowledge-based economy where engagement and diverse expertise are essential. Business organisations planning for long-term success must create the infrastructure and environment conducive for high-performance teams to flourish.
Cultures of Success
Connected employees are engaged because they work in fun workplaces. Engaged employees drive greater profits than disengaged employees. You make more money with engaged employees working in fun workplaces because engaged employees are happy employees. Happy employees work harder and are more productive. Researchers at the University of Warwick found the happiness mindset made people 12 percent more productive, while unhappy workers were 10 percent less productive. Google in particular satisfaction metric rose by 37 percent from heavy investing in employee support initiatives.
Gallup research that shows higher-engaged organisations enjoy success across several metrics. They have 22 percent higher productivity. Higher-engaged firms in high-turnover industries, e.g. hospitality and healthcare, reported 25 percent lower turnover. Engagement also impacts the quality of work and workplace health. Higher-engaged firms reported 48 percent fewer safety incidents; 41 percent fewer patient safety incidents; and 41 percent quality/defect incidents. Companies have also discovered engaged, happy employees are the best brand advocates and drivers of customer satisfaction, which lead to improved business outcomes
For the first time in the history of work, it seems businesses are cashing in on the counter-intuitive notion that happiness precedes rather than follows success. Shawn Achor, happiness guru and author of The Happiness Advantage, presents a compelling argument for why happiness precedes success in his TED talk.
It’s all about the brain. The brain works far better when you feel positive. Neuroscientists who study brain wave functions link happiness to the higher end of the alpha brain wave patterns. These high-alpha brain wave patterns link to super-learning. When brains are in a high-alpha pattern, people become happy. Happiness stimulates smarts and creativity. And happiness is so infectious, you can smell it.
According to Achor, “optimism is the greatest predictor of entrepreneurial success because it allows your brain to perceive more possibilities.” Achor continued, “only 25 percent of job success is based upon IQ. Seventy-five percent is about how your brain believes your behavior matters, connects to other people, and manages stress.”
Connected employees are engaged because they are happy. They are happy because their brains waves are in the less-stressed high-alpha state more often than not. Cold, stifling, repressive work environments are a curse upon happy dispositions and a curse upon business profits.
Tools of the Connected Employee – Digital Basics
Constant change in technology is the main driver of the connected employee phenomenon: mobile devices, cloud computing, and big data. Brian Solis coined the term connected consumer in 2012 to describe how consumers have adjusted their minds and behaviors to rely on their connected devices for most everything. Connected consumers use their connected devices to decide what to buy to and to store data once stored in their brains.
The relevance of the connected customer to today’s businesses goes far beyond adjusting marketing strategies to accommodate the behaviors of the connected consumer. Businesses cannot ignore the indubitable. The connected consumer is the connected employee. The digital behavior of the connected consumer seamlessly transmutes into the digital behavior of the connected employee in the workplace. Moreover, employees get dissatisfied and disengaged when denied the digital tools of connection at work they are accustomed to having at home.
In response to the digital behaviors of employees, especially millennial employees, today’s businesses are not just embracing the connected employee as good for business, they aggressively invest in digital basics to enhance the connection. Digital basics is all about the Internet. It includes dependable devices, high-speed access for cutting-edge services that demand fast access, cloud computing, quality IT support, and flexible IT policies to accommodate employees wedded to BYOD, bring your own device.
The connected employee places the highest of priorities on the enabling tools for fast Internet access. Some pundits argue fast Internet access is a basic employee need. It belongs at the base of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs.
Advocates for the connected employee stand on firm ground when they link digital technologies to employee happiness. Connected employees loathe repressive work environments with antiquated digital technologies. A study by Google and Deloitte Australia operations confirms organisations with winning digital technology strategies have a distinct advantage in recruiting and retaining employees. The study found up-to-date IT policies and digital technologies increase employee productivity, energize employee engagement, and amplify employee satisfaction.
Conversely, organisations using dated IT policies and technologies that do not align with the expectations of the connected employee risk becoming digital roadkill. Employment choices abound. There’s a worldwide shortage of talented knowledge workers. When choices abound, expect connected employees to choose to work for organisations that have the requisite IT policies, digital tools, and digital connections which align with their expectations.
In a nutshell, the connected employee’s needs and characteristics are:
- Wants a happy, goal-based, not a place-based, work environment that allows telecommuting, remote work, and flextime.
- Prefers to customize work to accomplish goals.
- Needs to share information within and across teams.
- Explores cutting-edge ways to communicate and collaborate.
- Is a team member with leadership qualities.
- Shifts from knowledge worker to knowledge teacher to learning worker at will.
- Places a high value on continuous learning.
Driving the Connected Employee Experience
Engagement is a mindset that drives the connected employee’s behavior. In contrast, job satisfaction is how employees feel about the job. The feeling does not necessarily impact behavior. Connected employees approach work with enthusiasm and great urgency. This behavior is persistent, proactive, and infectious. Satisfied employees just feel pleasant, content, and grateful.
To successfully move beyond a workforce of satisfied employees to a connected employee workforce, firms view the endeavor through the lens of the “connected employee experience.”. The four aspects of the connected employee experience:
- Leadership requires management to holistically lead by example with a focused intent that infects the entire organisation. HR initiates and facilitate C-suite discussions that zero in on the talent and cultural changes needed.
- Development requires the proactive focus of HR in developing coaching and training resources, and an organization infrastructure that allows employees to continuously grow and learn organically, and that supports the connected employee experience as a best business practice.
- Recognition requires HR leadership in designing programs to acknowledge and reward hand, heart, and mind so employees get inspired to do their best work.
- Culture requires HR leadership in bringing about the paradigm shift that enlightens and modernizes organisational strategies for diversity, inclusion, and transparency while sustaining corporate knowledge.
Getting the connected employee experience down right so it permeates the corporate culture will create the environment where connected employees can thrive, and the organisation can prosper