Over 90% of all the world’s data was created in the last three years. Only two months ago, Apple’s market capitalisation surpassed the $2tn mark, just two years after it became the world’s first trillion-dollar company. These two distinctions, like so many others around us, symbolise the extent to which the 21st century can be defined as the century of technology.

The world today is saturated in social media and our working days can often feel swamped by information technologies that get in the way of our inherent desire for human contact and connection.

I’ve written before about how we’re in an epoch right now — with remote working creating the space for people to re-evaluate their lives and what matters most to them. But I wonder too if the coronavirus pandemic might also be the moment in which we reimagine what it is to be human in a technology-driven world. A chance to re-design workplaces to better focus on the individual.

In its ‘Human Capital Trends report for 2020, Deloitte identified two key and interlinked trends that it says all employers should be thinking about as they stage the return to work. These are — the importance to the individual of belonging, and wellbeing in the workplace.

The opportunity, Deloitte says, is “for organisations to go further than just fostering open dialogue and open practices around well-being. Now is the time to embed well-being into every aspect of the design and delivery of work itself and to fundamentally redesign work toward outputs instead of activities”.

But at the same time, Deloitte points towards a ‘Readiness Gap’ among employers. Of the firms it surveyed, 79% believe that fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months. But only 13% feel ready to address this trend.

What we are talking about here is cultural change, and the three ‘Cs’:

  • An individual’s ability to feel comfortable at work.
  • A team member’s connectionwith their place of work.
  • An individual’s ability to contributeto the organisation’s broader goals.

I’ve written in previous posts about how to ensure team members feel comfortable and connected to an organisation and the importance of integrating well-established corporate agendas around diversity and inclusion with the principle of belonging.

But it is the final objective, of contribution, which offers the most transformational benefits in terms of workplace productivity. Indeed, studies show that when employees understand how their work contributes to company objectives — when their personal goals and outputs connect with an organisation’s sense of mission — productivity can increase by over 50%.

I’ve been coaching individuals and teams for over 20 years guided by the conviction that employees need to feel they belong in an organisation. They need to know their unique worth is being valued if they are to make the changes from inside themselves. These changes can generate truly sustainable improvements in personal performance.

It’s with that in mind that I offer two thoughts around how to ensure that an individual’s productive potential is being realised for the benefit of your company:

  • Combining personal goals with company goals.
  • Instilling an ethos of teamwork as a prerequisite to creating high-performing teams.

Combining personal goals with company goals

Framing individual tasks around company objectives helps colleagues visualise their contribution in terms of the greater project.

Agreeing with individual teams and departments what it was the organisation is trying to achieve helps give them a set of principles to which individual colleagues can align. This helps massively when trying to help everyone pull together to align their efforts to a broader purpose.

The beauty of this approach is the way in which people feel emboldened by such a license to operate. It empowers them to express themselves and come up with their own solutions, knowing they are in sync with what is being asked of them.

Taking this approach open the possibility for all of us to seize the moment and show initiative. It cements a culture of trust and transparency without any of the stifling micro-management that can so often lead to deflation and your employees’ heads being turned elsewhere.

Of course, in large organisations, where contact time with the CEO is minimal, this kind of approach creates a need for an effective chain of feedback through established lines of reporting. But that’s where middle managers come in, and they too should feel empowered by the transparency in this method.

Personal development plans should be the responsibility of the individual, and I’ve written some advice here on how to construct them. But if those plans don’t comprise goals that meaningfully and measurably contribute to an organisation’s mission, you are not only doing a disservice to your staff but depriving yourself of a more productive workforce.

Creating high-performing teams

I’ve been lucky enough to work with and coach some very high-performing teams in my time and the crucial ingredient they all shared was that everyone was invested in what team was trying to accomplish.

It’s difficult to get to this point without first spending time to see things from each team member’s perspective, then identifying and marshalling their unique strengths in pursuit of a common goal. When a team lead gets this right, it’s a highly individualised approach to team-building that can help to dispel conflict and secure balance across the group.

Again, it goes back to the same core principle — awakening the individual’s capacity to change, contribute and collaborate with the team by creating a secure environment in which they feel they belong.

During the financial crash in 2008, President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel famously said: “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste”.

The coronavirus pandemic has been profoundly disruptive to our society but offers us a moment in which to reimagine workplaces at a human scale. By promoting employees’ well-being through meaningful personal goals, we can turbo-charge their contribution.

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