And nevertheless, the requirements for maintaining a relationship seem to be straightforward.  Partners expect from each other some positive communication (a compliment every now and then), some depth in the relationship(we improve each other), a pleasant atmosphere when we come home (security) and the existence of meaningfulness (including mutual contribution to the family budget). Now what appears to be straightforward, seldom ever is.

First of all, few couples succeed in communicating their expectations satisfactorily with each other, and where there is an absence of this skill we can predict divorce with 93% certainty, thereby also jeopardising the resilience of their children. As far as depth in the relationship is concerned, we look today more often at the screen of our smartphone than into each other’s eyes and therefore invest more time in creating an imaginary relationship and checking it through virtual connections.

Now we can compensate for this by creating a pleasant atmosphere.  At difficult moments many of us show less initiative and therefore the relationship also becomes boring and annoying. At that moment, some hair-splitting often occurs over who does the most, or contributes the most, so that once more achieving a result together doesn’t happen. To find a solution to this it is better to ask a relationship therapist than StreetwiZe, but one thing is very clear to us, the solution is not to be found in a performance management cycle.

Just imagine that you are having an evaluation talk with your loved one on 14 February and it begins with “In general I love you, but …” The chance that you are heading for a romantic evening is rather small. Certainly, if you then conclude the conversation with a personal development plan for your partner.  The reasons for this are fairly simple. This is not the way to fulfil the expectation of positive communication and the establishment of such a process does not make the creation of a pleasant atmosphere easier.

And this brings us to organisations. However useful the classical performance systems may be for certain elements of cooperation, they do not always contribute to the need to retain or attract talent.  After all employees in organisations do not differ very much from people at home.  Also at work we expect some positive communication from each other (positive feedback), some depth in the relationship (supportive network), a pleasant atmosphere (clarity and predictability) and the existence of meaningfulness (impact and challenge). Therefore it is also a challenge to meet these needs and lower the turnover rate in order to maintain, or to achieve, agile and resilient organisations.

Because creating a positive climate is under pressure, as it seems we are less and less successful in feeling or showing empathy.  Certainly since the year 2000 it appears that we have more and more difficulty in looking at something from someone else’s perspective and in paying attention to this.  Positive communication…here we don’t score much better.  In management literature there are 4 times as many negative words (crushing the competition) than positive words.

In about 30% of cases staff with IT profiles, sought after and important for the agility of many organisations, only start a conversation with their supervisor when they want to leave the company. Even more serious is the fact that this figure concerns employees who have been working for an organisation for at least five years, which raises questions regarding entering into deep relationships.  And finally it is indeed the case that 25% of employees leave for a better financial offer.  However, those who stay want more challenges, to achieve results and to feel more proud of their company.  Therefore the recommendation would certainly be to begin with the need for positive communication, relationships, atmosphere and results and in this way to increase the agility and resilience of employees.

As far as the encouragement of a positive climate is concerned, we would do well to break already with the Flemish paradox.  Briefly summarised this is our tendency to set implicit expectations for cooperation, because we are afraid to spoil the atmosphere but it is precisely because of this vagueness that the positive atmosphere comes under pressure.  Vagueness has long been a pitfall for effective leadership.  Organising a ‘role negotiation session’, a meeting where we explain how we interact with each other, so that we can work in a positive climate is already a good start, and this is also true for virtual teams.

In the area of meaningful relationships research shows that agile organisations have three times as many energetic employees (employees who get energy from working with others) than organisations that perform less well.  A first task to be undertaken already is to draw up a social map on which networks are mapped based on energy flows, positive or negative.

Making communication more positive is not so complex, but is seldom done. Avery concrete tip is to introduce “Reflected Best Self” exercises. The technique was developed at the University of Michigan and starts with the question “When am I at my best?”. This question is often put to about twenty people in a network and using the answers an employee can look at how he or she can excel and can start a (positive) conversation about it.

Finally we can address meaningfulness at work. Here the best research is by AdamGrant. One of the practical pieces of advice he gives, is the organisation of ‘beneficiary contacts’.  These are meetings between clients who make use of products or services, and their by- products.  To see the effect on your client, and to discuss what you do, has a far greater impact than yet another pep talk.  

Briefly, if we want to increase the agility and resilience of our organisation, the best way is to look for new, or other, means to communicate and connect with our employees. And if you would excuse me now, I must go and get a bouquet of flowers…. after all, it is Valentine’s Day.