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The Competitive Advantage of Familiarity

When I talk with my best friend every two or three days, I may answer her call without a hello. I’ll launch right into dialogue - no niceties needed. She will sometimes laugh, and say “really?” but we both love to fast-track cadence. This same sort of shorthand happens every day in workplaces around the world. People who are familiar with each other’s peccadilloes, preferences and personalities can communicate more quickly. There is a connection and level of familiarity that streamlines and simplifies dialogue and decision-making. These “familiar people", when collaborating, work faster and smarter. Companies with employees and teams who can shorthand with each other are more efficient and therefore more profitable.

Many factors impact familiarity between employees. Consider tenure. Tenure almost sounds retro as long gone are the days of the diamond-studded lapel pin for 25-years of service. People rarely reach that benchmark these days. Since tenure can be, well, tenuous, we can’t rely on that for familiarity creation.

But there are other ways to create familiarity. Consider just a few examples of your many options:

· ‘No-business’ meetings. Set up live meetings or video calls with people for the sole purpose of getting to know them. No business topics. These meetings may reveal common ground, such as a shared love of pickleball or a mutual burden of caring for aging parents. It does not matter what it is - simply find that connection point with people you work with and build on it.

· Role modeling. Like nearly everything else, this starts at the top. Do senior leaders make an effort to reach out? Do they sometimes laugh at themselves? People want to connect with others – it is a biological fact. But that natural instinct can be squelched when senior leadership is distant, display no humility, or lack humor.

· Culture of acceptance. If you want people to feel familiar with each other, you need to create an environment where they can be authentic. When people are themselves, others trust them. Trust, in turn, promotes bonds and familiarity. Encourage laughter and a modicum of absurdity.

This is not “soft stuff” that is nice-to-have. While you won’t find familiarity quantified on the annual report or balance sheet, it is baked into the valuation of every company. Just like sugar helps to make a cookie sweet, familiarity will enhance a company’s profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace. Take a step back and consider how "familiar" your employees are, and initiate specific actions to increase it. Your bottom line will benefit.

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