According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47.4 million people voluntarily left their jobs last year. That’s nearly a quarter of the entire U.S. working age population. The reasons behind the trend, now known as the Great Resignation, have been explored at length: isolation and lack of work-life balance while operating remotely, increased workloads and employee burnout, labor market supply and demand. So how can businesses avert a talent mass exodus? Or better yet, how can we go beyond retention to improve employee engagement and culture? The answer lies in connection.
Like many other businesses, we lost a few talented folks over the last two years. But we also added new talent and grew into a stable, yet nimble collective of diverse skill sets and a shared vision of success. That strength and cohesion comes from prioritizing connection with each other as people and professionals.
Today, as we continue our Quarter of Connection series, we offer some ideas from our experience creating connection across our Montage team. The threads we explore were contributed by our team and for our team as part of an all-staff exercise. Each one serves an essential function in our Connectivity Machine (right) as illustrated by our talented colleague, Mel Lopez.
SOCIAL TIME OUT
We are time trackers. Every 15-minute increment of our days is documented. We do this because our clients deserve cost-effectiveness and an accurate accounting of our effort. But life at Montage isn’t all billable hours. All work and no play not only inhibits connection, it actually makes people less productive. That’s why we make time for play.
As illustrated by the Spontaneous Timeout button on our Connectivity Machine, we embrace regular moments of social interaction. We also carve out and schedule time simply to connect. From starting our week with a Question of the Day like “What’s your favorite vacation destination?” to epic monthly birthday celebrations, our team makes taking time out a priority. We find that being intentional about connecting in a social context pays dividends when we return to our professional responsibilities.
(EMOTIONALLY) AVAILABLE LEADERS
It’s okay not to be okay. But having leaders who acknowledge that—and your individual needs during stressful times—changes everything.
Montage’s leadership demonstrate that you can be both uncompromising about producing outstanding work and committed to prioritizing employee wellbeing. They make themselves available to listen and offer counsel, share learnings stemming from challenges, and celebrate wins big and small. In leading by example, their approach to looking after one another and sharing the load has become embedded in how our team operates. Turns out that treating employees with empathy and compassion creates connection, cultivates loyalty, and fosters unity!
The SOS lever on our Connectivity Machine captures this spirit. “If your thoughts are not positive, you need advice, or you’re looking for feedback—no problem. Type in your need and connect immediately to the right person with resources,” explained our colleague Mae. Lucky for us, the SOS lever looks a lot like a real-life chat in Microsoft Teams.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION, ACCESSIBILITY
The Connectivity Machine’s Cultural Redirector “works like Grammarly. As you speak [or write], you receive guidance on how to be more culturally sensitive.” We can’t help but think we should devote resources to developing this as an app! For now, however, we’ll continue learning and working to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA).
DEIA has always been a core part of Montage’s identity. We are woman- and minority-owned. A substantial percentage of our staff were born outside of the U.S. and are bilingual. Each team member brings diverse personal and professional experiences that add to our core capabilities. Much of our work aims to help clients recognize the power of diversity within their own organizations and address issues of equity, inclusion, and accessibility in society. Our focus on DEIA has been cited as a draw among our employees. It’s also an essential part of ensuring everyone feels seen, heard, and connected.
Key to all diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts is openness—being willing to take on and process divergent views. We do this by inviting our teammates to share resources that have helped shape their thinking (books that illuminate the lived experiences of Black Americans) as well as their own experiences (what it was like living in Venezuela during the Chavez era). We celebrate our employees’ identities during recognition months like Black History Month, PRIDE Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month. More importantly, we work to elevate diverse voices all year long.
Montage recently appointed Nichelle Hunter Nichols to the role Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. We are fortunate to have Nichelle’s leadership, our very own cultural redirector, who will further embed DEIA in all aspects of our business.
“No longer are [employees] willing to compartmentalize their work as separate from the rest of their lives,” writes Ranjay Gulati, Professor of Business Administration and former Head of the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. In his latest book, Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies, he urges leaders to “find ways to create a positive work context in which employees not only feel inspired but also feel there is a way for them to live their life purpose through their work.”
As a deeply purpose-driven business, creating the environment Gulati describes has always been a top priority. Yet, until recently, we hadn’t formally articulated the core values that underpin who we are and what we do. Earlier this year, we named them. Can you guess what was number one? That’s right—Connection followed by Ever-Evolving, Openness, and Accountability.
Gulati makes clear: “Aiming for a higher ideal elevates our thinking and expands our ambition that in turn allows us to imagine the possibility of doing things that might otherwise have felt overwhelming.” Together, Montage’s four core values encapsulate our shared purpose and connect us as a singular force for good. It’s depicted as Montage MOJO Juice in our Connectivity Machine, and it is what moves us to achieve things together that we never could alone.
TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGY
Communication is key. That’s why, when the COVID pandemic put an end to in-person conversations, we knew we needed to double down on maintaining open dialogue between our employees. Montage expanded our use of Microsoft Teams, starting each day with daily messages from our CEO. We hosted quarterly all-staff meetings in which representatives from each team shared updates on their specific lines of work. We rolled out the project management tool, Wrike, to help us understand workloads and prevent project-specific updates from getting buried in inboxes.
Even as business carried on as usual, we, like this team of researchers, observed that “a shift from in-person to online—can actually change who communicates with whom.” Our new reality demanded digital-first solutions, pairing our more tech-savvy marketers with front-line Tour Managers to develop virtual alternatives to in-person events. Our team also reached out and collaborated with new, external partners, pushing us into innovative spaces that have since become core service offerings.
Having tools and technology that enable employees to come together and exchange ideas is essential to supporting connection – be it online, in-person, or through our much-desired hologram (see the Connectivity Machine).
Want to dive deeper into the topic of connection? Read the other blog posts in our ongoing Quarter of Connection series or contact us to learn how we can help facilitate connection within your organization.