The Great Reconnection

IRI Podcast Episode on The Great Reconnection

Last year, Human Resource professionals spent a lot of time discussing The Great Resignation – the phenomenon where, in light of the pandemic and all that came after, many employees re-examined their jobs and many decided that what they wanted was something different – and even if they didn’t leave these jobs, many simply began to… disconnect. Today, we’re joined by Kevin Mulcahy, a future of work evangelist, speaker, educator and author, and he believes that forward-thinking companies are now beginning the process of what he calls The Great Reconnection. Here, he explains:

  • What it means for employees to disconnect;
  • How Corporate Purpose can be used as an antidote for disconnection; 
  • How to employ the Thorns, Roses and Buds conversation tactic; and
  • Why simple appreciation and acknowledgement of effort can go a long way! 

If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


The Great Workplace Disconnection

  • Kevin Mulcahy co-wrote a book in 2016 called The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees.
    • In this book, he states that companies pay the most attention to employee working conditions, not emotional well-being. 
    • This has left employees feeling disconnected from each other and the companies they work for – which only became more heightened because of the pandemic. 
  • Disconnect is defined as a discrepancy between the expectations of leadership and the expectations of employees. These disconnects drive unhappiness. 
  • Post-pandemic disconnects include:
    • Employees wanting to work and work-from-home flexibility; 
    • Employers being slow to pick up on Black Lives Matter and social justice and environmental movements;
    • Differences between employer and employee values, what the business claimed were their values, and how the business operated;
    • Underestimations of the number of people hired by firms during the pandemic; and
    • Return-to-office confusion.
  • This is the opportunity for HR leaders to intentionally connect all employees to the same values and create a sense of belonging.
    • The approach to making these concepts more concrete and actionable involves selecting a month and a specific value to emphasize.
      • When employees demonstrate value, they are called out and celebrated; when they fall short, appropriate corrective action is taken.
  • During and after the pandemic lockdown, there is also a disconnect on the following three fronts: more employee autonomy, a greater connection to meaningful work, and more creative outlets for employees.


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The Great Reconnection As Co-Creation

  • Reconnecting employees back to work being done is the goal of The Great Reconnection. A lack of emotional connection drives the disconnect felt in modern workplaces. 
  • To decrease that disconnect, the Great Reconnection should be a co-creation where all policies suit all employees. 
    • This can look like working with employees to determine how they are rewarded or compensated – instead of assuming what an employee wants. 
  • Two elements to developing this type of collaborative approach is through the implementation of employee attitude surveys: 
    • Step 1: Ask for their input
    • Step 2: Believe what they say
  • During the pandemic, employers stopped distributing employee attitude surveys because employers were under “emergency conditions.”
    • This was a crucial mistake because no matter the circumstances that drive situations surrounding work, an employee can still have thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about their situation. 

Company-Wide Strategies For Improving Connection

  • There are companies out there that are succeeding when it comes to The Great Reconnection. What are they doing differently? What these companies do differently can provide a frame or guideline for how other companies should act.
    • An example is in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations. Companies with the best DEI know they serve to nurture a sense of belonging.
    • Belonging, equity, and inclusion are all related to the idea that people feel welcome and can participate in the company. 
  • Corporate Purpose can be used as an antidote for the Great Disconnection and as a force for growth. 
    • Larry Fink, the chairman of BlackRock, is a big advocate of corporate purpose. This is because when an employee can understand and connect with the company’s purpose, the employee will be a staunch advocate of the corporation.
    • EY’s Corporate Purpose “Building A Better Working World”
    • Neiman Marcus’ Corporate Purpose “Making Life Extraordinary”
    • The first step to utilizing corporate purpose is to ask why the company exists.
    • The second step is to help employees determine and articulate their personal purpose and how that fits into the corporate purpose. Then an employee can use that in their work.
    • Companies can train managers to utilize a subordinate employee’s personal purpose for the result of helping the employee make more intentional decisions about their long-term career path. 
    • Additionally, employees can utilize a company’s corporate purpose to understand more clearly if they are a good fit for the organization. 
    • If the corporate purpose would help manifest and support their personal purpose, then that employee is more likely to stay.
  • Recruiters must clearly show potential talent what the company stands for and its values. If a recruiter or the hiring manager does not discuss the company’s values, the likely takeaway from the candidate is that the values aren’t important to the company.
    • Values conversation should be in every interview. 
  • Companies should also examine their macro-listening. Organizations can do this through tools like
    • Employee attitude surveys.
    • Automated sentiment analysis, which can analyze communication patterns. 
      • Mr. Mulcahy suggests Microsoft Viva is a great platform to start with.
    • Executive coach feedback sessions.

Strategies for The Great Reconnection At The Manager Level

  • Managers don’t need company-wide buy-in and approval to utilize the tactics of The Great Reconnection. 
    • Part of this is through the usage of a softer management style. Listening is key a key part of this style. 
      • First, managers should ask their employees, “How are you?” and listen sincerely to how they’re doing professionally and personally.
      • Secondly, managers should share how they’re doing without verging on being unprofessional. 
      • Thirdly, managers should ask, “How are we?” This opens a thoughtful, human-centric dialogue about increasing productivity.
  • A conversation tactic to improve employee connection is using the thorns, roses, and buds method. 
    • Thorns: what is not going well for you? 
      • Over the pandemic, companies became hyper-fixated on thorns and what was wrong without discussing what was going right. 
      • It’s not all about fixing what isn’t working. It’s about celebrating successes and helping positivity become contagious.
    • Roses: what is going well for you? 
    • Buds: what are you working on that’s promising? 
  • An additional strategy to help companies connect more is to utilize clear appreciation for employees and consistently acknowledge employee efforts.  
    • Even the growth of the phrase “thank you” and other small acts of appreciation and acknowledgment in the workplace can go a long way with employees. 
    • Listeners can do a quick test of their gratitude: 
      • Think of the last time you explicitly thanked a colleague or employee.
      • Try to calculate how often you express gratitude to others to establish a baseline. 
      • Set a gratitude goal and track acts of appreciation and explicit thank yous. 
    • Handwritten thank-you notes can be useful gratitude tools in digital-first communication.
  • Another strategy is to use the following questions, modeled after the British Army, to help individuals understand how they complement a team, especially in remote work situations. Use of these questions can give a sense of alignment and a shared mission to improve accountability and understanding among the team:
    • Does everyone understand the macro mission? 
    • Do I (the employee) understand everyone’s role? 
    • Does everyone on my team understand each other’s role? 

“I love just getting people to treat each other better.” - Kevin Mulcahy

Kevin Mulcahy Background

  • MBA in Operations and Busines Strategy from Boston College Carroll School of Management
  • BA in Management Science, Statistics & Industrial Systems from Trinity College Dublin
  • Began his career as Senior Director - Corporate and International Strategy with Sprint
  • Mr. Mulcahy served as the Director of International Operations for GlobalFon, Inc.
  • He was the Director of Competitive Intelligence, Technology Practice for Fuld & Company
  • He has worked as an Executive Coach for Harvard Business School Executive Education, as a Lecturer with Babson College and serves as the Director of Professional Education for Assumptions Matter
  • He co-authored The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees with Jeanne Meister
  • Mr. Mulcahy currently serves as the VP, Future of Working and Learning for Future Workplace



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