One may very well ask: “What is the Connection Economy?” In short, it is the economy we find ourselves in today; it followed the Information Age. The Internet and connectivity led us into this economy. It is neither a ‘connected’ economy enabled by the web nor the era of social media. It is not the connectedness of people through technology, but it is the connection of people through relationships.
Our current economy is often referred to as the Knowledge Economy. Economies, or eras, are mostly named in hindsight. The current era may thus not be named the Connection Economy as such, but the core of this economy remains important no matter its ‘name’.
Although TomorrowToday.biz coined ‘Connection Economy’ in 2004, we believe we only recently moved into this economy. This belief is founded in our leadership development work over the past 10 years, in which we experienced that organisations increasingly adopt a collective body of leadership and organisational knowledge that strongly resonates with the idea of the Connection Economy.
The road to the new Connection Economy
How did we get to the Connection Economy? What preceded the Connection Economy and what impacted on it?
The first era was the Hunter-Gatherer era. This had a very short-term focus where survival was the primary drive. The next era was the Agricultural era. Divide and conquer lay at its core. Individual ownership developed which had pride and passion as a positive consequence The Industrialisation era followed. Command and control, efficiencies and basic business principles were established as well as most of the management principles by which businesses are run today. The Information era that followed was process-driven, valued MBA qualifications, had celebrity leaders and excelled at technology and innovation. Now we have entered the Connection Economy where emotional intelligence, engaging people, being collaborative, building relationships, and connections are important. This economy finds itself within an era of hyper competition, where knowledge has become a commodity and where new knowledge distinguishes for only a very short period.
The question now is not just, “Why should people want to buy from you?” but also “Why should people want to work for you?” Organisations and people now create competitive advantage through authentic relationships inside and outside of the organisation. Relationships are neither between organisations nor through contracts, but between people.
The final aspect that matters in either choosing to buy from you or work for you is the experience people have in their interaction with the people of your organisation.
In this environment, ‘who you are matters most’. Ethical behaviour, being authentic and being emotionally intelligent are important, define you and determine whether a relationship you have will continue and prosper or whether it will die over time. Being emotionally intelligent implies you have the ability to hover before judging or making a decision, that you not only understand your emotions in a particular situation but, more importantly, also how they impact others. It means you are prepared to work and stay motivated beyond the reward you will receive, that you have the skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions, and that you have an ability to find common ground; build rapport.
The world is no longer seen as a machine but as a connection of dynamic relationships where networks dominate. This economy is more conducive to female leaders, or a female style of leadership, as emphasis is placed on characteristics and skills such as intuition, empathy and the ability to work with paradox and uncertainty.
Asking the right questions is more important than having the answers. Mastering the skill of asking the right question is a leader differentiator. Leaders will need to be learners, listeners, adapters, storytellers, nurturers and synthesisers.
Relationships lead when it comes to attracting, retaining and rewarding business and outweighing transactions. Connection, and not competition, is the benchmark. One thus differentiates with sound, long-term relationships. People talk to people. Relationships outlive new knowledge.
The Connection Economy requires that leaders have flexibility, are good at co-operating, have a talent with words, are emotionally sensitive, have a talent to read non-verbal cues and have an interactive-collaborative leadership style. They furthermore need to be intuitive, patient, have empathy and be consensus-seeking.
The Connection Economy organisation
It is, however, not only the leader who looks and behaves differently and needs to do so, but also the ‘leadership culture’ of organisations needs to adapt to suit the requirements of the Connection Economy.
This requires a set of practices and designs to create the desired leadership culture. Organisations should move from being functional (based on functional areas in the organisation structure) to having a boundary-less orientation (limited structural limitations – vertically or horizontally). Decisions should happen throughout the organisation and not predominantly at the top. Independent decision-making, where leaders make most decisions in the interest of their own and for their area of responsibility, should move to interdependent decision-making where leaders make decisions with due consideration of the impact of decisions on other areas in the organisation.
The reward system where people are rewarded for being a star, thus where individual performance of leaders is mostly rewarded, should be replaced with rewards for the success of others as well. Thus teamwork, team leadership and team performance receive a larger reward focus.
Competition, where leaders who compete internally are successful and valued, gets replaced with collaboration; which implies that leaders who collaborate with others across organisational boundaries are successful and valued.
Leaders need to move from selling their own opinion i.e. where leaders engage people to persuade them of their own views and decisions, to enquiring for buy-in; where leaders engage people to get their opinions as part of making decisions to increase commitment.
Stay-the-course strategy, where the top structure decides on a firm strategy and others implement and follow, needs to be replaced with an emergent strategy – thus one developed and adopted according to external/internal requirements and influences as they emerge.
It is not only the leaders and organisations that need to behave differently in the Connection Economy; it is also the followers.
The Connection Economy requires the development of followership. It requires followers who manage themselves well, think for themselves and see themselves as of equal importance as their leader in realising the organisation’s purpose.
The follower who will excel in the Connection Economy is committed to a higher purpose, works toward the organisational purpose and principles and values. These followers build their strengths and have high standards of performance. They constantly learn and update their skill and ability. They take risks, they are credible, honest and speak up, they give credit where due, admit mistakes and they are insightful and candid. In short, it is a courageous follower who demonstrates self-leadership.
The Connection Economy requires organisations that are fit for people to work and flourish in; where people are prepared to share their gifts of creativity and passion. People who build relationships and behave in an emotionally intelligent way are essential in this new economy – people who understand that who they are matters most, and who are innovative and creative. The Connection Economy requires that leaders will listen, ask questions, tell stories, seek consensus and collaborate. Followers are candid, values-driven and work at high levels of quality and performance.
The Connection Economy could and should be the most rewarding and most humane era of the last century; it is also the most conducive to having more women in leadership roles. Fully realising it is in our hands. p
Dr René Uys is a director of thinking fusion. Thinking fusion has a seven-month leadership development programme, ‘Leadership in the Connection Economy’, which addresses the leadership challenges of this new economy.