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Simon Sinek, Crocodiles and Engagement

Do you know what makes a crocodile a cold-blooded loner, unlike other animals?

There is no part of the crocodile’s reptilian brain that triggers positive feelings when cooperation is offered or received; thus, crocodiles have no biological reason to cooperate and seek the company of others.

By contrast, the evolutional addition of the mammalian layer of the human brain helped us become highly functioning social animals and to seek the security and warmth of living in tribes.

Whether we like to admit it or not, as human beings we need each other to survive and feel content. In other words, we need to establish genuine human bonds and connections with other beings and to have a sense of belonging.

The first time I came across this fascinating allegory of crocodiles racing against each other towards a juicy piece of flesh was when I read Simon Sinek’s inspiring book titled Leaders Eat Last.

The story was a perfect fit for the introduction of Chapter 4 of  my leadership book “The MARVEL of Engagement: Turning Passive Employees into Active Ambassadors” called “Relatedness”.

Relatedness is the third key ingredient of employees’ engagement and the “R” to the MARVEL framework.

Relatedness, being the need to establish genuine relationships and deep human connections with other people, must be satisfied for individuals to flourish according to the seminal work of Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, the two psychologists who developed the self-determination theory of human motivation.

In today’s workplace, the need for relatedness requires employers to carefully design and create a space that is conducive (and not contrariant) to human interactions; not only between members of the same team but between members of different teams and different ranks as well.

Three of the key ingredients for satisfying the human need for relatedness are the following:-

  1. The (re)assessment and where necessary(re)design of the workspace in a way that will be conducive to more diverse and frequent human interactions between people coming from different ranks and departments. In practical terms, even subtle shifts such as moving the water stand or the coffee machine to a different location in the workspace could change the dynamics and flavours of human interactions between the people.
  2. The cultivation and feeding of a corporate culture that embraces and thrives by encouraging empathy and openness in its human interactions.
  3. Improving the level of transparency between the organisation and its people. This can be achieved by making important information concerning the employer such as the level of its commitment/investment in learning and development, its level of charitable contributions to the society, its tax and fiscal contributions to the state coffers, its commitment to environmental initiatives and more.

Practically such initiative could be organised by the production of a quarterly or annual employees report addressed to the employees of a firm. Such report would contain such useful information.

In a world where employees are becoming more sensitive (and where employees’ retention becomes increasingly more connected) to the positive impact that their employer is (or is not) causing to the community, such initiatives are proven to help in boosting the morale of employees by demonstrating that their employer is not only a profit-maximiser but a purpose-maximiser as well; i.e their employer cares about the community in which it operates and gives back to that community part of its profits.

Employee engagement is a complex subject that requires a multifaceted approach by management at all levels.

There is no silver bullet or magic wand that will do the job in a blink of an eye.

Rather, leaders need to be prepared to keep twisting the various “knobs” of engagement in one direction or another so as to keep everyone on their toes.

This is why a corporate culture is precisely this:

A “culture”.

A culture that lives, breaths, expands or shrinks depending on the values, initiatives and intentions and generally the quality of our leadership.

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