Talent

How to Build a Connective Culture at Work

In yesterday’s Advisor, Dalton Kehoe, PhD, author of Mindful Management: The Neuroscience of Trust and Effective Workplace Leadership, discussed the “critical couple” of manager and employee, as well as how the emotional mind contributes to employee engagement. Today Dr. Kehoe has a few tips on how to build a connective culture—and introduces the 5 C’s of mindful management.

Building Connective Cultures

To engage employees, the control dynamic in the critical couple must change. There are two ways organizations do this:

  1. Get rid of managers—eliminate the critical couple. In 1970, The Morning Star Company—a very successful food processor—was built as a company of “self-managing professionals.” There are no titles; anyone can spend company money, and employees negotiate responsibilities with peers, including compensation decisions. Morning Star generates $700 million a year in revenues with only 400 employees. Meanwhile, online shoe retailer Zappos has a similar self-managed structure. In 2011, it generated $2.2 billion in sales revenue with just over 1,400 employees. In these companies, a connective counterculture works because control kills commitment and quality.

  2. Keep managers, but remove their power in the critical couple. Remove managers’ ability to directly affect the fate of employees. At Google, managers can’t unilaterally hire, fire, promote, or give bonuses to employees. With no control, managers can only help. The company also builds flat, open workspaces for all employees, and has destroyed the other basis for hierarchy—informational control. Transparency is a key cornerstone of their system. Interestingly, as children, Google’s founders grew up in low-structure Montessori schools. They argue that control kills creativity.


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Start Where You Are

There have always been managers who have ignored situational cues that evoked controlling behavior. Like them, you can wake up to your situation, get “out of control,” and lead consciously and connectively. Follow the 5 C’s of mindful management:

  1. Connect. “Manage by talking around.” Get to know your employees. Be friendly or at least courteous and respectful.

  2. Caring clarity. Be clear about the work to be done and your idea of work “well-done.” And, when it’s well done, say “Thanks.”


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  1. Collaborate. Tell less and ask more. Engage your employees’ minds in telling you about their work and how it can be done better. Decide with them.

  2. Credibility. Keep your promises—and if you can’t, explain why in a timely fashion.

  3. Calm. In difficult situations, downshift your emotional responses so your employees will “read” a nonthreatening approach to solving the problem.

The first four guidelines get you “out of control,” and the fifth allows you to regain connection when things go badly. To enhance productivity, revitalize your critical couple. Connect.