Before I launched Cooleaf with my amazing co-founders, we all spent a lot of time in the corporate world.
Here’s the thing. I had autonomy. I had focus. I really enjoyed driving forward many of the business initiatives that I was involved with in my prior roles. And guess what? While I wasn’t focused on bringing clean water to the 3rd world or saving the rainforest, I believed deeply that many of the products I was helping to launch would have a tangible and meaningful impact on their respective industries.
But there was something vastly different from my position at a company in New York City versus a job that I held with a large healthcare IT company in Atlanta.
In New York, I had an opportunity to really get to know my colleagues on a personal level. We spent time hanging out. We became friends and did a lot of fun things together on our own or as a team. On the other hand, in the corporate job in Atlanta, I didn’t know anyone. I had extremely limited opportunities to get to know anyone. People came into their cubes and offices and kept to themselves. Yet, my creativity was being exercised every day, I had autonomy, and I had great visibility to decision-makers in the organization.
I’m not a complete extrovert but certainly not an introvert either. For me, even with autonomy, creative thinking capabilities, and projects that were meaningful, these two positions couldn’t have been more different in my mind.
For me, it was a matter of relationships.
Relationships matter. In a massive study by George Vaillant (that follows a cohort of Harvard graduates throughout their life), there is one factor that stands above all others in determining life satisfaction. That factor? Relationships and connection to others.
Along with my co-founders, we believe that isolation runs rampant in the corporate world. But this isn’t just our hunch. Recent Gallup research revealed that only 18% of people work for companies that provide enough opportunities to develop friendships on the job. What about existing solutions? Enterprise “social” (quotes are mine) networks have failed (for the majority of organizations) at alleviating this pain. It’s time for a new approach.
It’s time for people to feel like joining a company means they have joined a community. Guess what? You already have something in common with the folks at that company (you both work there). But I’ll bet you didn’t know that you probably have a lot more in common with many of the folks at your company than you thought.
Enjoy mountain biking? Did you know that guy in Finance one floor below you lives 5 blocks from you and is a huge fan of mountain biking as well? Are you a film buff? There is a woman sitting five cubes away that knows just as much about film as you do and you’ve never spoken to her. We need to change these scenarios. You spend the vast majority of your adult life working yet many of us hardly know anything about the human side of those around us in the workplace.
Here’s the kicker. There is an important business reason to focus on friendships. People with close friends at work are 7 times more likely to be engaged at their job (Gallup). Engaged employees are more productive and produce superior business results for their organizations.
If existing solutions fail at this approach, we need to change the way we approach the problem. We need to get people out of their shells. We need to make everyone (including leadership) vulnerable and sharing more about themselves to everyone inside their workplace community. We need to expose the human side of the people inside of an organization and get them to feel like they really belong to a community of like-minded people. Our approach at Cooleaf (with clients and for us internally as a team) is based in this philosophy and we believe it to the core.
We believe that if you can tackle relationships and friendships then you will be making a significant step in tackling the problem of disengagement. Of course, you must look at ways to increase autonomy, mastery, purpose. But without community (rooted in friendship and connection), you will only get part of the way to the goal of being (in the words of Josh Bersin): “An Irresistible Company”.