By Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau

Most leaders focus on achieving task excellence alone. With metrics and programs such as Six Sigma, Lean and benchmarking, the quality of our work has certainly gone up. The problem is that focusing on task excellence alone is not enough. What happens every time is that the failure to establish and maintain relationship excellence ultimately sabotages task excellence.

Research generally shows that 75 percent of employees in organizations are not engaged in their jobs. In addition, 15-20 percent of this group are so disengaged they work against the interests of their organization. The pattern we typically see is that people with power and influence, those in management and employees who are recognized as “stars,” feel connected like partners but a significant number of employees do not. Over time these disconnected employees stop caring, stop giving their best efforts, stop aligning their behavior with organizational goals and stop fully communicating.

When people feel disconnected, Knowledge Traps abound. (Silo behavior, personal rivalries and other forms of relationship failure that impede the flow of knowledge are Knowledge Traps.) A disconnected employee who has knowledge of information that is contrary to management’s view or the consensus view tends not to take the risk of sharing it. When this occurs, decision makers do not have the information required to make optimal decisions. In such cases, suboptimal decisions are made and organizational performance suffers.

Our research has identified a force in organizations that we describe as “connection.” It is a bond based on shared identity, empathy and understanding that moves self-centered individuals toward group-centered membership. If Knowledge Traps are the cholesterol of organizations, the force of connection that fosters relationship excellence is the statin drug that breaks up Knowledge Traps, restores Knowledge Flow and keeps the environment healthy.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas. Everyone has different thinking styles, experiences and perspectives so the only way to get a 360-degree view of issues is to consider the opinions and ideas of others. Greater Knowledge Flow, therefore, is essential for leaders to be better informed so they make better decisions. Greater Knowledge Flow also fuels the marketplace of ideas that stimulates innovation.

Connection is critical during difficult times like those we face today. It helps employees pull together through the tough times rather than retreat into a state of relational isolation, fear, distrust and finger pointing that sabotages performance.

There is evidence across many fields of knowledge that confirms the positive effect of connection and I’d like to highlight two from the scientific arena. Neuroscience research has established that when stress rises, levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise in the human bloodstream and this biological change can make human beings behave in a reactionary or rash way. Feelings of connection reduce cortisol levels to help individuals remain calm and rational during stressful periods. Neuroscience research has also shown that feelings of connection boost hormones including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that make us feel more energetic, confident and trusting of those around us.

From the field of psychiatry, we learn that psychiatrists see a continuous flow of people from the business world. These patients experience feelings of boredom and emptiness and they don’t know why. Many begin to self-medicate by seeking thrills from taking excessive business or sexual risks, or by numbing the pain with substance abuse. Professor Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries at INSEAD has also recognized this pattern in his research of CEOs (which goes to show that the dangers of disconnection extend to the C-Suite, too). Psychiatrists treat these disconnected individuals by helping them bring more human connection into their lives.

The Corporate Executive Board’s 2004 study of 50,000 individuals worldwide established that employees who feel more engaged and connected are 20 percent more productive than the average employee. Just imagine the cumulative effect of an additional day of productivity a week on an individual’s career.

Connection moves people to give their best efforts and align their behavior with organizational goals. It engenders loyalty and increases productivity, innovation and overall performance.

The bottom line is that the force of connection improves our performance and well-being at work. Knowing that, it is rational to be intentional about creating cultures of connection. Being intentional about developing task excellence and the relationship excellence that comes from connection is the key to unlocking corporate potential. It is the next step in the evolution of organizations.

Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau are co-founders and partners of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training and development firm. They are co-authors of the best-selling book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity. For additional information: www.michaelleestallard.com