Recognizing that innovation is the key to competitive advantage and growth, boards of directors are increasingly charging their CEOs with fostering innovation. But innovation doesn’t just happen. First, CEOs must create a culture of creativity and collaboration.
In the Forbes.com article What You Don’t Know About Building A Connection Culture is Hurting Your Business, author Mike Stallard explains how a “connection culture” can “transform even the most dysfunctional offices or organizations into innovative and thriving workplaces.”
The connection between culture and innovation
A connection culture is one in which employees share a bond based on “identity, empathy and understanding.” As humans, we have a natural desire to connect with one another. When we do, the outcome is beneficial for everyone involved. According to Stallard, “When our need for connection is met, we are more creative, we make better decisions, and we are more resilient.” In other words, a connection culture is a prerequisite for innovation.
Connection occurs when employees can talk with each other naturally regardless of where they happen to be. They can communicate from any location, and the experience feels no different from meeting in person – whether it’s a one-to-one or large group meeting. In other words, natural communication gives way to connection. And when connection happens, innovation is born.
Stallard explains: “When people feel connected to a group, they are more likely to give their best efforts, align their behavior with the organization’s and leader’s goals, more fully communicate so decision-makers have the information they need to make optimal decisions and participate in helping the organization innovate and improve.”
Challenges of building a connection culture
Unfortunately, today’s corporate environment is not conducive to connection. Thanks to the proliferation of high-speed Internet, it’s no longer necessary for employees to work from one central location. Acquisitions, sales offices, and work from home policies create teams that are distributed across wide geographic areas.
Similarly, many companies recognize the value of hiring remote employees. The talent pool grows exponentially when companies expand their search for qualified applicants beyond the immediate area. However, it can be difficult for remote employees to bond with other employees, especially when communications are limited to formal meeting times.
Meanwhile, managers and executives are often away from the office, traveling to customer and partner sites, and attending industry events. Between all this back and forth, growing workloads and the drive to balance work with everyday life, building a connection culture can be a challenge.
Some teams may only meet face-to-face once or twice a year, and at great expense to the company. Technologies like email and instant messaging enable employees to communicate in real time on a daily basis, but they strip away the personal element required to build a connection culture.
Use collaboration tools to overcome challenges and build a connection culture
When used strategically, the right technology solution can help CEOs create a connection culture. Considering 55% of communication’s impact comes from facial expressions and body language, visual communication tools should be the corner stone of a connection culture. An enterprise-grade/HD video solution most closely resembles in-person interactions, enabling colleagues to focus on the message instead of the technology.
The key is to make video a normal part of everyone’s work. This means integrating the tool into existing workflows. For example, by embedding video technology into Outlook meeting scheduling and instant messaging. If employees are already comfortable having impromptu conversations on Lync or Skype for Business, for example, embedding the capability to “upgrade” the conversation to a face-to-face video discussion helps defy distance so employees can connect on a personal level.
In addition to embedding video in existing workflows, the solution itself must be easy to use. Invest in technology with an intuitive and simple user experience. Have executives and management set the example by making impromptu calls to say good morning to employees, brainstorm or give feedback. The CEO’s use of video sends the message that a connection culture is a priority.
Regardless of technology, connection is ultimately about people, and so connection skills should be a priority for every new hire. This is particularly important when considering remote employees or those with roles that include significant travel. Conducting an interview via video can help hiring mangers gauge an applicant’s connectivity skills. Does he/she make eye contact? Is the applicant personable or distant? Is he/she focused on the conversation or distracted? Is the candidate comfortable presenting themselves in front of a camera?
Finally, companies can help employees develop connection skills through training. Develop role-based training so that employees can learn connection skills that apply to their job. For example, managers should learn how to give constructive feedback via both written and verbal communications. Everyone should learn how to communicate effectively via the specific collaboration tools you deploy so that they feel comfortable using them in a variety of scenarios. Remember, communication must be natural for a connection culture to thrive.
CEOs cannot force innovation. But they can create an environment that fosters innovation. That environment is a connection culture powered by video collaboration, and it can be established in any company thanks to modern productivity tools.