“Successful leaders create buy-in by flooding their groups with belonging cues.”
Daniel Coyle is the New York Times bestselling author of The Talent Code, The Secret Race, and, most recently, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. When The Culture Code became an official selection for the first season of the Next Big Idea Club, Daniel stopped by to offer an exclusive set of insights, the first of which we’re proud to share below.
We think about belonging and safety as this thing that sort of happens by magic—it either happens, or it doesn’t. But the truth is that relationships have a physics behind them. Successful leaders create buy-in by flooding their groups with belonging cues—these simple, clear signals that tell our brains that we’re connected, that we share a future.
I want to tell you about a group named Wipro, a big company that had a big problem. The problem was that people kept leaving. They were a call center, and they would lose about half of their workers every year. So Wipro decided to do a crazy little experiment.
They had two groups [of new hires]. One of them got the standard training, in which they’d meet a star performer and learn about why Wipro is a good place to work. With this second experimental group, instead of just telling them about the company, they also asked the employees about themselves. Simple questions: “What happens on your best day? What happens on your worst day?” They asked them, “If we were on this desert island and everyone was trying to survive, what special skills would you bring to that survival?” That was it, a simple exchange for one hour. And then they waited to see if that made any difference on retention.
Seven months later, they found out it had a massive impact: 270% improvement in retention. Why? Because of the signal that was sent in one hour. Safety gets delivered in small [moments] that send a signal of, “We are connected. I care about you. I’m listening. I’m curious about who you are.” Sending that small signal at the right time can make a massive difference in how connected your people feel.
Here are a few ways to do that. Number one: actively, relentlessly signal your connection. Smart leaders make members of a group feel connected by capitalizing on micro-opportunities to send this clear, unmistakable signal of, “I see you. I care about what you have to say.” [In particular,] focus on the first five seconds. The start of any interaction is when our brains decide whether we’re in or out, so take full advantage of that moment with your body language, with your facial expression, and with your attention.
[Number two,] embrace the messenger. The moment bad news arrives is the moment when group safety and belonging can evaporate. So, leaders, don’t just tolerate bad news; embrace that moment. Signal to your group that it’s safe to tell the truth.
[Number three,] the one-line email. If you want to send a quick signal of safety and connection, send this note to your team: “Please tell me one thing you’d like me to do more of, and one thing you’d like me to do less of.” It takes a few seconds, but it sends a powerful signal of safety and openness and encourages others to do the same.
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