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Visualize a stream of water running down the side of a mountain. It flows over felled trees, dashes around boulders and cascades over cliffs. This is what Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance asks of his listeners. Then he makes a key point: energy always follows the underlying structure.

But he puts a finer point on it. When a river meets a blockage it selects an easier route. Electrical current chooses the wiring with minimal impedance. Organizational change happens when it’s easier to make the right choices than the wrong ones. “Energy”, says Fritz, “always follows the path of least resistance.”

Example: An energized employee offers promising innovations and is blocked by a controlling micromanager. The employee switches - bringing his creativity to a cross-functional committee he’s working on where he sees his ideas valued and implemented. The micromanager wasted precious energy and that energy predictably sought out the path of least resistance.

Energy flows toward the unimpeded path. You can choose to work against nature but it’ll wear you down and make you look incompetent. Smart leaders work with nature - building structures that cause energy to flow towards desired outcomes and away from undesired outcomes.

Example: Let’s look at coaching. There are structures (like GROW or Coactive Coaching) that cause energy to flow towards an engaging coaching experience and away from a transactional, tick-box, robotic coaching experience.

Get people talking about their aspirations, then compare those to their current reality and creative tension emerges – the tension between the desired outcome and the current state. This tension naturally releases energy inside the coachee – energy that enables the brain to explore options and create a way forward.

Reversing this structure would create significant impedance. Trying to explore options and create a way forward without identifying desired outcomes and current barriers would impede the flow of energy in the coaching session.

Impedance Check-Up – are your structures rife with resistance?

Mission – If the structure of your mission is more than 10 words long you’ve produced impedance. It’s not remember-able, therefore it’s not transferable and therefore employee energy will not flow towards talking about your mission. To anyone. At any time. Take a page from these three great organizations and reduce impedance by shortening and clarifying your mission:

TED: Spread ideas.

Kickstarter: To help bring creative projects to life.

Tesla: To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.

Performance Appraisals – Abhorred by managers and employees alike, the structure of PA’s creates a path of maximum resistance. In many organizations, they just don’t get done. Many forward-thinking organizations have abolished this structure in favor of frequent progress check-ins. Making progress in meaningful work is inherently energizing. Being rated (or rating someone) to substantiate the annual bonus is inherently de-energizing.

Meetings – In his book, "Social", Dr. Matthew Lieberman reveals that when humans meet, we are wired to do three things sequentially:

  1. Connect
  2. Figure each other out
  3. Coordinate action

If the structure of your meetings pushes people to coordinate action without establishing human connection and understanding what matters most to each other, you’ve produced unnecessary impedance and their energy will divert to an easier path such as complaining, entitlement or victimitis (paths to connection and feeling understood).

Setting Expectations – Many managers miss half the equation. We zero in on what we expect of the employee but fail to ask what the employee might expect of us. This glaring inequity creates high-impedance. Change the structure so it’s about clear, 2-way expectations and energy naturally flows. Mutuality and reciprocity create a path of least resistance that energy seeks out.

Objectives – The same holds true here. Mutual, agreed-upon objectives provide a natural path for energy. One-way, dictated objectives create maximum resistance.

Roles – Have your leaders and managers shifted from parenting to partnering? If they take their identity in and see their role as problem-solvers, advice-givers, referees, social conveners, inspiration-dispensers or recognition-meisters they bottle up peoples’ energy. Change the manager/employee structure to one of partnering: two people holding out for each other’s highest good. The question, “How do we stand for each other’s success?” creates a self-fueling structure with minimal impedance.

Conclusion

With an eye to what makes energy flow (or what stops it) give serious thought to your structures. Remember, energy flows toward the unimpeded path. Be a cultural architect and design structures that liberate the flow of energy.

In addition to the seven above, you may want to think about the structure of your:

  • Team collaborations – with some back at the office and some still working from home
  • Customer journey
  • Coaching conversations
  • Workday
  • Weekends

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