About five years ago, I was on a stage presenting a speech on culture, leadership and the importance of interpersonal relationships. I told the story of the early days of Atrion in which we had five employees and I knew everyone's name, passions, previous work experiencesanything they wanted me to know. As the company grew, I prided myself on being able to walk the halls and still greet everybody by name, ask how their kids were and inquire about their band's jam session the following weekend.
I celebrated the fact that as a leader I could create a culture characterized by deep relationships. In fact, I ridiculed my counterparts who didn't know the names of their staffers and criticized shows like Undercover Boss that exist solely for executives to gain insight into how their organizations run.
Today, though- and I am not sure if it's because I am getting older or we're growing faster than my memory can register- the halls are filled with fresh faces, many of whom I do not know by name. And it bothers me! I want to know if someone is on the service team or in marketing. I am curious about how long they have been with our company. I want to establish a stronger interpersonal relationship with each member of our team but it has seemed to be an impossible goal.
But it turns out this mental lapse is not just a result of my getting older (phew!). Would you believe me if I told you that the human brain can only manage 150 relationships at any given time? Such is a theory first promoted by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar about the capacity of the primate brain and its ability to manage relationships.
So what happens when your company grows to exceed 150 professionals? How do you create a healthy culture of intimacy and connectedness when it is perhaps scientifically impossible to have relationships with everyone?
Here at Atrion, we are currently at more than 260 employees, well on our way to 300. Simply put, it's impossible for me to know a great deal about 300 employees. So what do I do as a leader? I have to become more aware, more present. When I have a moment with an employee, I need to create an environment in which the only thing that is important to me is this person. I need to make this Atrionite feel like he or she is the most significant person to me in the moment.
But as a business leader, it's hard to be that present in today's fast paced world- to be willing to hit the pause button, if you will. I have come to the realization that I can't have deep personal relationships with all 300 employees. So what can I do? And what can you do?
Over the last few years, I have made it my personal mission to meet and greet each new employee within his or her first few weeks of starting at Atrion. I spend time getting to know them and share valuable insight about our company. Today, this is made easier because all new employees start on the first Monday of the month and they spend a complete week in on-boarding sessions, of which I lead a four-hour session with them.
In addition, I try to spend meaningful time with an employee each and every day. Sometimes it's a simple conversation at the water cooler; sometimes it's spending a few minutes at the end of a meeting just chatting; and sometimes it's grabbing a diet coke, coffee or quick bite to eat to get to know that person a little better. As a leader, we must always find the time to spend with our team because they want to spend time with us. They want to build a personal relationship with us in return. But I can't foster these kinds of relationships that are essential to building a strong, healthy culture alone.
So here's another idea to try: Create a culture that encourages every employee to connect with at least one other person. That way, each individual will always be in someone's 150-relationship circle. If you can build a culture in which everyone is optimally managing his or her 150 connections, all your employees will feel included, connected and passionate about your company's overall purpose.
So start looking at your 150 relationships. Who are they? Do you feel they are the best quality people who can help you grow personally and professionally? Who do you want to put in the top of your circle?
This post was reprinted with permission from the author: Oscar "Tim" Hebert, Chief Executive Officer. Thought Leader. Music Aficionado.
You have never met anyone like him. Highly-energized, compassionate, ingenious, and just plain "awesome;" Oscar T. Hebert is a visionary and a national speaker on thought leadership. With a personal mission to light a fire in the hearts and minds of those around him, Tim truly impacts lives. As Atrion's CEO, President, Captain, and Superhero, Tim has driven himself and Atrion over the last twenty years to remain on the cutting edge of the IT services industry, propelling Atrion to become a top 1% organization. But Tim's passion for people, leadership, and relationships extends beyond leading just Atrion's family into success and growth.
Tim believes that there is more to business than simply "turning a profit" and that every business should be driven by purpose and core values. He has infused Atrion with its core purpose of "having a positive impact on the lives of others," which has created a dynamic culture and one of the best places to work. Also an influential role model, he has taken leadership roles within the community as a Year-Up mentor, a Trustee for the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a Director of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, and is the President and Chairman of the non-profit organization Tech Collective.