Leadership Innovation & Friends at Work

As we talk about innovative leadership, many people are likely wondering what this really means in concrete examples, not some theory.

One concrete example is the shift from the view that good leaders and managers ensure their employees are doing their work and not spending time on activities that take away from their focus on tasks.

Early in my career, my boss asked that I make sure my team members do not spend too much time talking.  When they talked for more than about two minutes, I was to go over and ask them if there was anything I could help them with.  If not, they were to get back to work.  Now we have interesting research that suggests that this focus on productivity at the expense of camaraderie at work is counterproductive.  I understand there is a balance in all things and this this case is no exception.

So, what changed?  As we moved from the industrial era model for many jobs to a knowledge based economy, we are now more worried about “employee engagement”.    The world’s top-performing organizations understand that employee engagement is a force that drives performance outcomes. In the best organizations, engagement is more than a human resources initiative — it is a strategic foundation for the way they do business.

Research by Gallup and others shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace.

One of the questions in the Gallup engagement survey asks if employees have a best friend at work.  According to Gallup, “Those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged.  Social relationships at work have also been shown to boost employee retention, safety, work quality and customer engagement.”  So think about this – if I take time to have conversations with people at work enough to consider someone a good friend, I must be breaking the 2 minute rule.

Beyond the time, I was also taught that my personal life is private and not to be shared with colleagues.  I remember a boss who shared her struggles with this notion.  She was very private and she seemed distant and a bit uncaring.  My favorite boss was much “warmer” and more open.  She was professional and appropriate and could have a very direct approach and yet no matter how frustrated she became with the work, I always knew I could count on her to be fair.  My trust in her ran deep because I had a “friendship”.

So, this is one example of how the rules have changed in many workplaces.  If employee engagement is a differentiator, then we need to move beyond the old rules to a new and more innovative view of leadership.  This is one small example of how innovative leaders look at work and people in the workplace very differently.  They are not “human resources”, rather they are real people who have hopes and dreams and friends.

Do you have a colleague or friend at work that you trust to give you honest feedback?  Someone to help think through a challenging work situation?  Do you feel like someone cares about your career success?  What are you doing to be a “friend” at work to your colleagues?

Photo credit:  Al Abut

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7 replies
  1. Zeb
    Zeb says:

    I couldn’t agree more that employees need to have the oppurtunity to socialize in the workplace. Doing so allows us to form bonds with our co-workers that can be drawn upon to help us in work related situations. For example, as a new employee in my organization I often find myself in prolonged conversations with more experienced co-workers about personnel actions that I have encountered or the way I handle a phone call from a customer. These conversations allow me to gain valuable feedback and hear about the way they have handled similar situations.If I spend 10 minutes talking to my cube mate to learn how to handle a work situation, that is time that I will save not researching the answer the next time I am faced with it

    Also, there are frequently conversations that are not work related. These conversations allow us to develop a friendship with the people we spend so much of our time with. I don’t consider it being unproductive because it makes us enjoy coming to work more which leads to higher overall productivity in the long run.Afterall, if you enjoy your workplace you are much more likely to be engaged in the work itself.

  2. John
    John says:

    This is a very interesting topic. Fortunately, I have not had to deal with a “floor warden” at any of my professional level jobs. It seems that most good employers understand that they are hiring professionals and a big part of what gets the job done is that bond between employees.

  3. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    This makes sense on so many levels. First off, what kind of environment are people more likely to stick around in, one where they are treated as cogs or one where they are treated as human beings? Second, it’s a lot easier to form trust with people you know other than ‘that guy at work’. Additionally, there is a huge focus on teams and groups in today’s workplace, which kind of requires personal relationships with co-workers. It makes it difficult to work as a solid team if you only know each other as teeth on a gear in the industrial machine. What is interesting is when you get an employer/manager that stresses “team” or “team work” (most likely because they read it in an article somewhere) but, at the same time, send out e-mails strongly urging workers to keep socialization to a minimum. I’ve actually experienced this latter situation a number of times.

  4. Michael
    Michael says:

    I think it is important to have a best work friend that shares similar values and motivations. I had two best work friends at DFAS my friend Jack who I would work with on a lot of my projects. We could keep each other motivated which was nice. My other best friend would have been my wife. That is nice because it makes relating the work day home much easier. Having a best work friend is very important and at DFAS it really was encouraged.

  5. Torie
    Torie says:

    I believe it is beneficial to have a best friend at work who knows you on a personal and professional basis. If you develop a sense of loyalty, you can trust each other with feelings and opinions about what is best for you and your career in conjunction with the company, so that all parties are taken into consideration when making career choices. Otherwise, employees may feel that they need to do what is best for themselves, regardless of the effect on the company.

  6. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Work is were the average person spends most of their time. Of course when been are happy or choose to be somewhere they are more engage and the more engage and individual is the more the want the best thing for the organization or place. I have had personal experience with this during college. It was clear who really wanted to be there and who were just doing it for the title when in came to campus clubs. Those who really wanted to be there were more likely to show up for all the events and give other club members a helping hand. They were also the ones which had fun while we were together while still getting things done. The engaged work who enjoys the people they are around in the workplace are absolutely more productive, take more pride in their work, go the extra mile, and have less work residual stress. In addition to making the company or organization better internally they also make it better to external parties because they will likely express their support of the organization to friends and family. In turn they can positively affect people’s view and interest in the organization.

  7. Susanna Mayo
    Susanna Mayo says:

    I work in a small office and I believe that I could go to any person in my office to discuss a problem, whether it is work related or not. I would consider each of my co-workers to be a “friend.” Each person has different experiences and we do not hesitate to ask each other for advice. Developing relationships with each other is important. Knowing what’s going on in someone’s life makes it easier to relate to them when it comes to work. Plus – it makes work more enjoyable!


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