Companies That Thrive on Disruption Have Strong Employee Relationships

Charlene Li is renowned as a strategic thinker. She helps leaders and organizations thrive with disruption as an author, speaker, advisor, and board member. She has worked with dozens of companies such as IBM, Oracle, 3M, Adobe, Cisco, Dell, Intel, and Microsoft, to name a few. She has authored six books, the most recent titled: The Disruption Mindset – Why Some Organizations Transform, While Others FailShe is prolific at sharing content through her LinkedIn live streams and on Twitter and Clubhouse, sharing her thought leadership on the disruption mindset.

In this episode, Charlene discusses disruption in business, starting with what it is, why it is important for leaders to embrace it, and her recommendations to create stronger employee relationships within the disruption model. 

What is Disruption and Why it Matters

Charlene grew up in Detroit, where she was the only person of color in her early school years. Her presence alone was a disruption that prepared her mindset to look at mainstream principles through a different lens.

Now, she looks at the rapid evolution of technology as an opportunity for companies to thrive. In other words, she helps business leaders look at change and disruption as excellent opportunities for growth.

Charlene’s first book is the critically acclaimed Groundswell, which was published in 2008 when social media was in its early days. In this book, Charlene and her co-author Josh Bernoff encouraged business leaders to embrace the disruption of social media as an opportunity to engage and communicate with their audience. Leaders frequently asked her why do some companies thrive in disruption and others fail? So, she set out to research what’s different about those companies that thrive in disruption over and over again.

The Disruption Mindset

For a company to thrive in disruption, there must be a vision for what the future looks like. It begins with leadership, but the employees must catch the vision and trust leadership’s commitment and ability to embrace the disruption to thrive. Disruption will take people out of their comfort zone. Employees must trust their leaders to succeed in the midst of disruption. Leaders must have a plan to bring employees with them willingly on the disruption journey to a new future.

What it Takes to Create Stronger Employee Relationships

Charlene identifies three strategies for creating strong employee relationships to enable the disruption mindset to thrive across the organization. They are:

  • Integrity
  • Agency
  • Openness


Leaders who do what they say they’re going to do with consistency between action and messaging operate with integrity. Employees know the difference between empty promises and actions that live out the company’s values. Leaders should communicate the reason for a different future, how the company needs to get there, how each employee is integral to getting there, and why it’s valuable to the employee. Beyond communication, leaders must live it every day to be recognized for integrity. Building long-term, sustained employee relationships start with integrity, which leads to long-term trust.


Agency means that employees believe in the mission and work hard to achieve the strategies defined by leadership. When agency is present, employees behave like owners in the business with accountability for their actions because they genuinely care. In other words, they are bought into the vision and they want to help achieve it.   


This is the simple concept that nothing is hidden. That everything not considered company confidential is out in the open and available for discussion. No question is off the table.

Charlene points out that these three strategies are intermixed to define the relationship between leaders and employees in the disruption mindset.

How to Implement Integrity, Agency, Openness

Charlene points out that leaders must be committed to building relationships with employees by defining what the relationship looks like. Leaders should document the attributes of their desired relationship with their teams as the starting point in this process.

At iQor, we deploy a weekly Mood-o-Meter survey to our contact center agents to measure their current mood. Anyone who scores low for more than one week in a row gets contacted by a skip-level manager to set up a meeting. These meetings allow the employee to discuss what’s on their mind. The relationship and trust built in these skip-level meetings exemplify our attempt at integrity, agency, and openness.   

Borrow Best Practices from the Marketing Department

Your marketing team is adept at listening and communicating with customers. Employers should adopt some of these marketing practices to listen and engage with employees in relationship building, treating them with the same care as customers are treated.

A Long-Term View of the Employee Relationship

The lines are blurred between an employee’s life outside of work and at work in the digital age. Employers should embrace the employee’s whole self, including their passion and dreams. By providing a supportive work environment that allows employees to thrive as an individual working toward their long-term dreams the relationship between employer and employee is strengthened. 

Infusing Integrity, Agency, and Openness into Employee Relationships

Imagine speaking with an employee about their last day at your company on their first day. Strong relationships are built if we talk openly with employees about their aspirations and offer support to help them achieve their dreams. In return, the employee is more likely to have a strong relationship with their employer while they work there. Additionally, we can ask cooperation to receive more than two weeks’ notice of resignation and the employee’s commitment to help hire and train a replacement. This level of relationship lives beyond current employment and breeds agency among employees.

What Charlene Does for Fun

Charlene is a serious business leader who enjoys playing with her cat named Cosmo. She has trained him to do tricks, which he is motivated to do for treats. She says he performs about a dozen tricks, such as jumping through hoops and playing with cups and balls. Charlene loves dogs, but with her busy travel schedule, a cat is purrfect for her lifestyle. 

Learn more about Charlene’s books and other valuable resources at her website.

Learn more about iQor digital customer experience capabilities.

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