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Why Prioritizing Task Excellence Over Human Connection Isn’t the Win You Think It Is

A lack of connection in our workplace today has real and significant side effects—outcomes that chip away at our healthy mindset, culture, and bottom line. According to a study by Officevibe, 70 percent of employees say that connections at work are the most crucial element to a fulfilling work life. Unfortunately, our obsession with productivity or task excellence is often a primary reason relationship excellence gets overshadowed.

I recently discussed the realities of this dilemma with connection-culture expert and author Michael Stallard. Our conversation caused me to reflect on my own career because I’ve experienced firsthand an overshadowing of task excellence when one of the companies I worked for encountered tremendous growth.

Focusing our energies on tasks versus people is an easy trap when a company grows by leaps and bounds; we don’t nurture the connective tissue that comprises our shared values and camaraderie because the rush of outperforming our expectations can be distracting. Yet when success fades and times get tough, the ability to trust one another is exactly the emotional currency we need to bounce back. Quite literally, strong bonds with our colleagues translate into positive performance.

In this third and final part of a series I’ve shared about my conversation with Stallard, I’ll share three easy-to-remember strategies he provided for overcoming imbalances between task and relational excellence and for promoting a culture of connection: vision, values, and voice.

“When leaders communicate an inspiring vision, when they value people as individuals rather than thinking of them as a mere means to an end, and when they give them a voice to share their opinions and ideas, then people feel highly connected,” says Stallard. “In fact, I would say if you get vision, values, and voice right, you’re better than 99 percent of the leaders. … I think of Howard Behar, who was the secret weapon of Starbucks; Jim Sinegal, who cofounded and led Costco; Vern Clark, who was the second-longest-serving chief of the United States Navy; and Trisha Griffith, who is the current CEO at Progressive—all great examples, but they’re in the minority.”

Stallard and I shifted our discussion to Costco’s implementation of vision, values, and voice to explore the minority in greater detail. When Stallard asked Sinegal to describe what it means to do the right thing for his culture, he said, “We obey the law, we take care of our members, we take care of our employees, we respect our suppliers, and we reward our shareholders—in that order.” Stallard applauds this statement because it demonstrates Costco’s vision, values, and voice.

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The company lives out this vision by taking care of its people. There’s pride in connecting and valuing their employees from the top down, which is evident in many of their practices. For instance, Costco’s leadership credits its apprenticeship approach to training, where they’re always helping people learn, grow, and rise to the level of responsibility that each employee pursues. In fact, many leaders in the company recall with a sense of loyalty that they started at Costco by “shagging shopping carts” in the parking lot.

Costco leaders also commit to their people though annual raises, lending a voice to employee efforts and showing they’re valued by offering increases every year since the company started. Costco leaders cultivate and reward innovation by showcasing ideas whenever possible. For example, during one of its annual conferences, the company shared video clips of employees from all over the world talking about ideas for reducing costs, improving the member experience, and making the company more efficient, signaling that leaders want to listen and act on input.

It’s tempting to fall into the majority by focusing on task excellence, but prioritizing a balance between performance and employee experience will yield greater results. Stallard said it best: “If you get the employee experience right, the customer experience and the shareholder experience will fall into place.”  

Read part one and two of this series.

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