“One of the things I believe is important to being a true leader is that you connect emotionally to your employees,” says Jim Welch, president and founder of The Growth Leader, Inc.
It should come as no surprise that emotional connections are at the forefront of Welch’s leadership philosophy. After all, Welch was once Senior Vice-President of Marketing at the company that has built a business around helping people foster emotional connections: Hallmark.
Now a principal owner of LeaderFuelNow, LLC and author of the book Grow Now: 8 Essential Steps to Flex Your Leadership Muscles, Welch is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant on the subject of leadership and growth culture. Next month in collaboration with CareerBuilder, Welch will lend his expertise to the masses for a special webinar titled, “Real World Employment Branding: A Blueprint for Success.”
When I spoke with Welch over the phone recently, he gave me a sneak peek into what he planned to cover in the webinar, including what it means to connect emotionally with your employees, what it means to build a strong employment brand, and why it’s essential that great leaders do both.
“The need for emotional connection is your brand.”
“Emotion” isn’t often a word you see in business books; yet in Grow Now – as well as in daily conversations with clients – it is the central topic of discussion. “In the business world, emotion gets a bad rap, but the fact is an emotional connection – whether it be with your customers, your employees or your peers on the team – is critical,” Welch told me. Critical, because without that emotional connection, employees easily become disengaged from their jobs, their leaders and the companies they work for. They have no motivation to put forth more than the minimum amount of effort required of them – and no motivation to stay when better opportunities come along. Thus, today’s leaders need to work to ensure that emotional connection is there.
That emotional connection, Welch explains, starts with trust. “There has to be a culture of trust created where employees can give feedback…openly and without any reprisal or negative repercussion for their career or personal growth within the company.”
He recommends having regular small group meetings – such as monthly roundtable discussions – where employees are not only able, but encouraged to speak candidly about their concerns. Not only do these types of discussions establish trust between employees and leaders, but it’s better for business. After all, issues that are important to employees are important for the organization overall. But because leaders are all too often disconnected from their employees, they fail to get the information they need to make crucial organizational decisions.
“As you move up in an organization and get more and more senior, you actually get less and less given to you in a straightforward manner. There’s a real danger that by the time you become CMO or CEO or whatever that you’re too far removed, and you end up making decisions without getting all the answers,” Welch says. For this reason, it’s crucial that leaders have meetings to check in with their employees in order to stay engaged in what’s going on in the organization.
“You need to break down through those levels in the organization and talk to the people who are doing the work and out on the frontlines every day and find out what their issues are. And you need to do that in small groups,” he says.
Another good practice, Welch says, is simply blocking off time in your calendar each week just to walk around the organization and have conversations with people, something he used to do as chief marketing officer at Hallmark. “I’d talk to administrative assistants, I’d talk to catalog coordinators, whomever, and just ask them open-ended questions like, ‘What are we doing that’s working? What are we doing that’s not working? Is there something we’re not doing that we should start doing?’ And people would really open up.” Welch says the practice not only kept him aware of important organizational issues, but helped him establish connections with his employees as well.
“You’ve got to be transparent with people.”
“How many times have we heard, ‘Well, people are just happy to have a job right now’? Well, the key part of that sentence is ‘right now,’” Welch says when we get on the subject of succession planning. The recent finding that only 35 percent of companies have a succession plan in place doesn’t surprise Welch, who says in his book that leaders fear succession planning because they want to avoid making promises to top performers and causing average achievers to overreact.
And while there may be risk in being transparent with people about succession planning and where they stand in the organization, it’s far more dangerous to stay quiet. “If you don’t talk to people, they assume the worst possible case scenario…People leave an organization because of that.”
Failing to discuss succession planning with your employees is especially risky now, when employers are most at risk for losing top performers. “It’s a proven fact that whenever an economy turns around, or whenever an organization goes through change, it’s the top performers who leave first,” Welch points out. “At that point, anything you do [to try to keep those employees from leaving] seems disingenuous because you didn’t demonstrate that back when they were ‘lucky just to have a job.’”
“Employment branding isn’t nearly as top of mind as it needs to be.”
One of the determining factors in retaining that top talent is the strength of one’s employment brand, something that Welch believes employers place far too little emphasis on as a business strategy. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a company that names employment branding as a top priority, he says, the majority of companies do believe that recruiting and retaining top talent is a priority. What many companies fail to understand even today, however, is the connection between these two concepts.
An employment brand is essential to be able to recruit and retain top talent. And that entails understanding how you as an employer are perceived through the eyes of employees. According to Welch, the key to retaining great people is to establish connections with them, which only happens when they feel appreciated, that their opinion counts, that they have the freedom to do what they like and the resources to be successful, that they get frequent, valuable feedback from their leaders, and that they have a future with the company.
All too often, leaders are too far removed from their employees to know for sure how their employees really feel about them. Assuming simply isn’t enough. “People want to stay with organizations they believe in and they share common values and they connect with their leaders. People leave organizations because they don’t feel emotional connections to the boss and they don’t feel a connection to the organization in total.”
Keep reading to learn about the 8 Cs of The Practical Growth Leader