The Alchemy of Talent: Unlocking Team Performance in Times of Change

The Alchemy of Talent: Unlocking Team Performance in Times of Change

Vijay Pendakur, PhD, Principal at Vijay Pendakur Consulting, previously head of DEI at Dropbox, VMware, and Zynga, gave a captivating keynote addressing some of the biggest challenges—and opportunities—facing our industry today.

Current state of Employee Experience

According to Gallup's 2023 State of the Global Workplace report, employee engagement has reached an all-time high of 23%. While this is a positive development, it's essential to recognize that only 23% of employees are highly engaged. 

There has also been a significant amount of disruption in the workplace driven by macroeconomic shifts such as the pandemic and the subsequent transition to hybrid and remote work, followed by the return-to-office (RTO) phase post-pandemic. These changes have introduced significant stressors, contributing to:

  • 77% of employees reporting disengagement
  • 51% actively searching for new job opportunities
  • 44% experiencing significant stress

Addressing these challenges

One of the main challenges in employee experience today is that employees are tired of disruption. Employers must address this issue because it's crucial for a positive employee experience.

Behavioral science and industrial and organizational psychology research help us analyze the data and create solutions for Employee Experience (EX) that allow us to thrive even in uncertain times. If team leaders knew what levers to pull, we could unlock peak performance, even when the workforce is feeling overwhelmed by change.

Data shows that diverse, safe, and connected teams consistently outperform others which is why addressing these challenges is vital for organizational health and productivity. 

Understanding VUCA

VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) describes the challenging environment that affects workplaces today. Neuroscience research indicates that humans struggle with change, whether it’s positive or negative. Major changes can lead to stress and impact overall well-being.

Connection as a solution

One of the most effective tools for managing VUCA is fostering connections among employees. High levels of connectedness correlate with increased life satisfaction, better mental health, and greater resilience.

Statistics on connection:

  • 92% of C-Suite executives believe their companies need a greater focus on connection.
  • Only 36% of employees feel a strong sense of connection to their workplace.

Strategies to foster connection

A powerful tool for cultivating connection on complex teams is vulnerability and shared trust, which is called “mutuality” in the research. 

Connection through mutuality happens when you take a risk with someone, trust them with your vulnerability, and they respond with reciprocal trust and vulnerability. This is how connection is built - when you hear your employees and peers and give back.

Making connection happen: ritualizing connection moments

As an employer or organizational leader, a helpful trick is to think “Within the next 10 business days, which of these actions can I take to implement connection into the workplace?” 

  • Five minutes of fame – start with a gratitude ritual at the beginning of meetings
  • ”I see you” nudges on Teams or Slack
  • Have teams design "silly” into meetings
  • Model sharing about yourself on a team channel
  • Quarterly team-building activity, designed for remote teams

Spotting it: connection progress markers

Providing mileage markers as a measurement towards driving that exceptional level of engagement can help build connections in the workplace. Here is an example:

What good looks like: 

  • Regularly check in on team members' well-being and give them space to manage their work.
  • Celebrate birthdays, engagements, births, and other significant milestones.

What great looks like:

  • Leaders set the example by being open and vulnerable, creating a culture of trust.
  • Incorporate connection rituals into team meetings to build and maintain strong relationships.

Key takeaways

  1. Despite increased employee engagement, many remain disengaged and stressed due to pandemic-related changes and remote work. Addressing these issues is vital for a positive employee experience.
  2. Today's workplaces are marked by VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), making change difficult. Strong employee connections are essential to reduce stress from change.
  3. Nurturing team connections effectively manages VUCA challenges. Organizations can boost well-being, satisfaction, and resilience by emphasizing commonalities, fostering vulnerability, and creating connection rituals.

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