Timothy R. Clark: Highly engaged employees look for connections, meaningful return on connections

Published: Monday, May 28 2012 6:14 a.m. MDT

Connecting is the process of exchanging emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual value. In our digital, globalizing world, we talk a lot about connectivity. But that’s not what we mean. We’re talking about something much deeper, richer and more meaningful. We’re talking about a type of connecting that is unique to our species. It can’t be replaced by technology. It’s something the virtual world can support but never duplicate. The multisensory experience of connecting with other human beings, your work and your surroundings is what makes you singularly human. We strive for it. We thrive on it. When we connect meaningfully, it fuels our engagement. When we don’t, we are left hollow, empty and unfulfilled.

Getting a return on connection

There’s nothing new about connecting. It’s a basic human need. We are social creatures who have an innate need to connect. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, relationship and belonging needs are right next to safety and survival needs. Forming strong bonds and attachments is essential for a healthy, balanced life. It’s true for children, and it is no less true for adults.

Here’s the challenge: Most people are constantly connected, even tethered, to some digital device. The irony is that we can be constantly connected and yet feel disengaged and isolated at the same time. Many people are confused about how to connect. Society is filled with blanket directives to connect in this way or that. You need this device. You should join this social network. You must have so many contacts. You need to meet so-and-so. You must participate in these activities. You ought to join this organization, take this class, download this smartphone app or take this survey. It’s simply over the top. How do you make sense of this tangle of advice?

Have you ever traded a half hour of your time to watch an infomercial at 2 a.m.? Was it really worth it? Here’s the principle: Highly engaged employees focus on one thing: They look for meaningful return on connection. If connecting is about an exchange of value, highly engaged employees are always asking the question, “Am I getting a high return on connection for my investment?” No one can answer that for you, but you can certainly answer that question for yourself. If you’ve just spent the last two hours at a networking event and you did nothing but talk about truck pulls and professional wrestling, your return on connection was near zero on a 10-point scale. Move on.

It’s a simple metric, but it works. Judge everything you do on the basis of meaningful return on connection. We even suggest that you assign a return on connection (ROC) score to the things that you do and the way you spend your time. If your investment of time yields a low ROC — say, something in the 1 to 5 category — cut it loose. At the very least, make some changes to raise your ROC. Highly engaged employees don’t necessarily connect more. They connect more effectively. They are discriminating with their time and invest only in high ROC activities.

Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark LLC, a management consulting and leadership development organization. His new book, "The Employee Engagement Mindset," has just been published by McGraw-Hill. Email: trclark@trclark.net.

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