Company Culture Building Block #6: Connection

August 8, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Company culture has come a long way in 50 years, but maybe not in the ways you might think. When my father was a salesman back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, he put 40,000 miles a year on his car traveling to client meetings. When there was an emergency or a really big meeting, he flew to get there even more quickly. Sure, there were phone calls and correspondence between trips. But my dad believed in looking people in the eye, and he strived to make it happen, no matter how far away they might be. My father had genuine connections with the clients he served. Relationships he actively built over time. Not surprisingly, they were connections he held for the length of his career. The same was true of the people he worked with.

When he wanted to talk to someone in the office, he had two choices. Send an inter-office memo that would take until lunchtime to reach the 4th floor. Or he could get up and go talk to the recipient, intersecting half a dozen other friends and coworkers along the way. There was no email. No texting. If it wasn’t by phone, it was face-to-face, physical, human interaction. With today’s tech, it’s easy to look at my father’s era and wonder how they ever got anything done. Connection, that’s how.

We live in a world of instant gratification. But that’s not how connection is built. It takes time. Intention. Vulnerability. Commitment. It’s a lesson we need to start paying attention to if we have any hope of building great company cultures of our own.

The absence of real connection.

The greatest irony of the digital age is that when we are more globally connected than at any other time in history, in many ways we are more disconnected than ever. Company cultures be damned. Our firms are filled with smart, talented, likeable, hard-working people. But through no fault of their own, many of them lack a fundamental understanding of real connection. They have 1,500 friends on Facebook, more followers than that on Instagram, and they’ve managed to make 697 connections on LinkedIn. But even those connections aren’t connection.

Thanks exclusively to social media, today’s employees, teams, and close circles have been conditioned to measure their connectedness in likes, shares, follows, and clicks. Each one a dopamine-filled ping Pavlov would have marveled over. It’s not something we can change. But, as leaders, it’s something we have to manage if we ever hope to build a transcendent company culture.

How connected are you?

Consider your relationships with the people who work with you. How close are you? How close do you think the relationships are between your team members? They spend more time together than with their families. You would think connection would happen organically, but it doesn’t always. Connection happens when people are included, when they’re trusted, when they are invited to be part of something bigger than themselves. It happens when people buy into leadership, into the company culture, and into what makes your brand special and unlike any other.

For challenger brands in particular – those smaller, undercapitalized brands chasing the category leaders – connection is something to foster every day while size works to your advantage. With the right people in place, the tighter your bond, the faster you can grow. Albeit, with one caveat — the connection has to be real. Genuine connection is about physically doing life — and business — with people you love and trust. In many companies, that’s easier said than done. But when you get it right, people stick. On the heels of the “Great Resignation” when 25 percent of the American workforce changed jobs, can you think of anything more important than that?

An even deeper need.

With more and more millennials and Gen Z entering the workforce every day, company culture and fostering real connection is more important than ever. Here’s why. For both millennials (aka Gen Y, born after 1981) and Gen Z (those born after 1997), loneliness is epidemic, and not just because of cell phones and social media. According to the 2018 Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds are the loneliest generation in America, even more than our nation’s elderly. That backs up what a landmark UCLA study uncovered in 2015:

According to UCLA’s 2015 Freshman Survey which included responses from 150,000 full-time students at more than 200 colleges and universities, over the past 10 years, the number of first-year students who spent 16 or more hours a week hanging out with friends fell by nearly half to 18 percent.

● The same survey showed that 41 percent of students said they felt “overwhelmed by all I had to do” and logged the highest levels of unhappiness ever recorded among women.

● The study found that 69 percent of the age group felt the people around them were “not really with them” and 68 percent felt as if no one knew them well.

Digging a little deeper into the Cigna study:

● Approximately one in six adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental health condition, and research has noted that mental health issues are one of the most rapidly increasing causes of long-term sick leave.

When examining the different issues affecting people with mental health conditions, there is a consistent part of the pathology: they also suffer from loneliness.

● Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.

● Generation Z (ages 18-22) and millennials (ages 23-37) are lonelier and claim to be in worse health than older generations.

Consider for a second, the first six essentials for building a meaningful culture that we’ve written about: safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, and now connection. Can you think of any six things that a generation suffering from loneliness and overwhelm need more?

Imagine a place where we foster inclusion and diversity, and where we show empathy and genuine concern for the people we work with. A place where we’re transparent, open and, when necessary, apologetic. A place where we manage with purpose, live our values, lead by example, and place ethics above all else. Those are the things that foster real connection and build meaningful company cultures.

We have it in our power to create that kind of environment. And when we do, we won’t just attract these super talented young people who are determined to make us better. We’ll connect with them. We’ll thrive with them in a loving, supportive, collaborative environment. And best of all, we’ll build a company culture that helps us hang on to them.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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