Energy: The Secret To Sustaining High Performance
Here’s the bottomline – Energized people deliver better results. And, it’s likely that you and your people are engaged but exhausted. Dedicated, but depleted. This article explores key concepts based in brain science every day leaders like you can leverage to shift from managing employee engagement, to fostering an environment that will leave you and your team with more energy – energy to power the results you really want, and for your family, community and personal pursuits.
- Harness Your Team’s Untapped Potential
- Move Beyond Engagement
- Manage Energy, Not Engagement
- Energy is Finite, Not Renewable
- Asking for More – The Right More
- Practical Application: Burning “Fossil Fuel” in the Workplace
Harness Your Team’s Latent Energy
Visualize yourself at the end of a powerfully productive day. You were in the zone, so immersed in your work you lost all track of time. You completed in four hours what typically takes eight. Moving through the day’s priorities, you felt a buzz of vitality. Your sense of progress, purpose and contribution was palpable.
Imagine a career characterized by days like this.
Here’s our preposterous belief: You deserve to have energy left over at the end of your day. Energy for your partner. Energy for your kids. Energy for your personal pursuits. Energy to contribute to your community. We’ve discovered a surprising dynamic: The better you perform throughout your work day, the more energy you’ll have left over at the end of the day. Better work = better life.
And the reverse is true. If energy goes home with you at the end of the day, it comes back to work the next day in all the ways that matter. Your juices are flowing for collaboration, innovation, and unforgettable customer experiences.
Is your skepticism mounting? We have over two decades of client stories, research and case studies to back this up. We believe we can help you unlock this energy for yourself and your team. A few days ago, a bottom-line, numbers-driven CEO told us, “The work we did with your firm was the hardest and most important we have ever done in our history. We doubled our revenue last year and we expect to do so again this year.” Leaders love the results produced by this powerful cycle of energy going home and coming back to work. Why wouldn’t they?
Move Beyond Engagement
What creates these stunningly productive days? Because, let’s be real, these powerfully productive days don’t happen every day. They can be sandwiched between two dismally unproductive days. You and your team members might say you haven’t felt one of these energized days in a while. You know this because you recognize the signs of fatigue, exhaustion, and even burnout, in you and your team.
And yet your engagement scores are decent; they’re in the organization’s defined “healthy” range. Your people are committed to their work. They’re dedicated and believe in the mission, and the vision. The engagement is there, but your people are exhausted.
You may be asking yourself, ‘’How is it possible to have engagement scores like ours, and have people burning out?’’
We see this all the time. Talented people who are dedicated but depleted, committed but crashing, engaged but exhausted. Committed to organizational success, they burn through their energy reserves in an effort to deliver results. In the competition for top talent, how long will they stick around? As long as they are feeling depleted, exhausted, or burned out, your top performers will be susceptible to the lure of greener pastures. “It must be better” or “less exhausting” anywhere else. Or, “if I am going to be depleted, at least they’ll be paying me more”.
And if these employees are engaged but exhausted, they’ll lose access to the one thing that matters most to performance: their executive function. Which means the organization is missing out on their focus, agility, creativity, and innovation, putting your strategy and results at risk. What’s the cost of a workforce locked into purpose, but lacking the energy to perform?
The cost is this: without energy, your strategies are at risk. You may have hired the best people, crafted an inspiring vision statement, secured your employees’ commitment, and outfitted the organization with wonderful technology and tools but, without energy, your teams won’t deliver on their potential.
If this is resonating, you’re ready to move Beyond Engagement.
Manage Energy, Not Engagement
So, how do you access, maintain, and sustain these stunningly productive days? It isn’t through your raw talents, or those of your team members, because they do not change from one day to the next. Neither is it your education, your experience, or your skills. These do not spike from one day to the next either. And it’s unlikely that gritting your teeth and pushing through will leave you feeling an invigorating sense of progress, purpose, contribution and value.
The powerfully productive feeling that we describe–that sense of flow–is the result of an energized brain. We’re not talking about “ra-ra” enthusiasm here, but what we call intelligent energy–the ability to sustain focus in the midst of distractions, manage your emotions in high stakes situations, process oceans of information, pick out the vital bits of intel and connect the dots in surprising ways.
As a leader, if you can make this shift to managing and measuring energy (rather than over-indexing engagement), you’ll see a dramatic shift in results, and your team will feel a dramatic shift in their level of fulfillment.
The science of energy
When we make a positive connection with others, a powerful concoction of neuromodulators gets released: oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. These brain “juices” unlock our energy and enable its renewal. When these neuromodulators are flowing, we are socially intelligent, creative, confident, productive and purposeful.
Energy is Finite, but Renewable
We’re a bit like smartphones: brilliant pieces of technology that hold so much information, connect us to a myriad of apps, and provide us with real-time written, video and audio content in any way of our choosing. What happens to that technology once the battery has died? When that phone is out of juice, its brilliance is inaccessible and that incredible piece of technology is reduced to a paperweight.
When your battery is charged, you too, are a brilliant creature, capable of innovation, creativity, and fresh insights. But when your battery is depleted, when you are out of juice, you lose access to your executive function and are only able to access a fraction of your potential. Can you see what the implication of chronic depletion might be for a dedicated, but depleted, team of individuals? Untapped potential and lower performance.
The good news is that while energy is finite, it is also renewable. Think of a time when you were feeling drained in a meeting and then, all of sudden, someone said something and it sparked an idea in you. You offered up the idea, and others began speaking up. “Adds” and “builds” started bouncing back and forth and you thought to yourself, “Wow, the juices are really starting to flow.” You, and others, were filled with renewed energy for the conversation. One energizing moment had the power to change the rest of your day.
We’ve almost all had an experience like this one and it highlights the surprising secret to accessing intelligent energy: conversation. How you relate to others–how you show up in conversation with one another–directly impacts those juices flowing in your brain and, therefore, your intelligent energy.
Your workday is made up of a series of moments and, now, as we all adjust to hybrid work and more technology-based interactions, those real-time human moments of connection are becoming fewer and fewer. This makes every one of those interactions matter that much more. How you show up in those moments with your team can shift or renew their (and your) energy, and that can make all the difference.
Asking for More – the Right More
From Transactional to Relational Connection (or: From Extracting to Unlocking)
When managing engagement, you might consider attempting to re-invigorate your team through incentives or rewards for working hard or “going the extra mile”. If you think back to that stunningly productive day–when the feelings of progress, purpose, contribution and value were palpable, and you achieved in four hours what otherwise may take eight–more came out of you that day. And that “more” wasn’t the result of incentives, rewards, or longer hours.
To manage energy, go for more: Ask more of your employees, not less. To be clear, though, this more is not one of extraction. This isn’t about working more hours, or putting in more forced effort. Working harder, longer, and going the extra mile can drain your battery quickly. Longer hours and days equate to impaired executive function which, in turn, leads to expensive mistakes, lower quality decision-making, and less ability to generate novel connections between disparate thoughts and ideas.
Rather than extracting more from yourself or your team, shift to unlocking more. The more we’re talking about is unlocking more autonomy, collaboration, individual strengths and talent so that each individual can make a difference and a significant contribution. We can tell you from experience that there isn’t an ambitious, dedicated employee out there who isn’t willing to say yes to that kind of more. When you unlock more from your employees, you’ll hear them say things like: “I feel like I’m growing, I feel connected to my purpose, I made a difference to that customer, I’m a good kind of tired and going home with energy leftover!”
Shifting from extracting more to unlocking more not only recharges and renews energy, but also helps maintain an energy buffer: maintaining an energy reserve for inevitable unknowns. Extracting more keeps our batteries at “low power mode” at best, leaving us one inevitable unknown away from cognitive overload, overwhelm, and feelings of futility. Unlocking more keeps us in a state of perpetual battery renewal, better able to handle the knowns and inevitable unknowns.
To unlock more–and to manage energy you need to shift from transactional to relational conversation. When you are in relational dialogue with another, you are partnering with them, connecting on what matters most, holding out for the others’ success and their highest good. You can learn more about our Partnering O/S model in our article, Partnering: A Framework For Transformational Leadership.
When you truly connect with another person, rather than simply transact, you release those powerful brain juices we spoke about earlier in both your brain, and the other person’s brain. This serves to renew energy and unlock more for both of you.
Practical Application: Burning “Fossil Fuel” in the Workplace
The world is constantly thinking about energy, specifically, the consequences of burning fossil fuel on the ecosystem. Yet, you may not have considered the consequences of leaders who burn “fossil fuel” in the workplace. These are leaders who use toxic tactics and behaviours to manage people.
It’s clear to most of us know that the future of our planet depends on our ability to make the shift from fossil to renewable fuel. The same may be true for your workplace because when fossil fuel heats up the work environment, even the best employees can scarcely keep their noses above water. The resulting by-product is a workplace culture full of burned-out, bitter, disenfranchised and disengaged employees. Sounds like a recipe for results, right?
When fossil fuel permeates, people quickly lose their trust in their leaders. Here are some signs to determine if you, or other leaders, are burning fossil fuel at work:
- Too many “yeses” from employees (and not enough intelligent push-back)
- Mounting stress leaves and absenteeism
- Reports of bullying
- Signs of compliance (but not commitment)
- Low response rates on engagement surveys
- People saying, “That’s not my job!”
- Lack of follow-through
- Territorialism, protectionism and silos
- Team conflict and breakdowns
Instead of burning the fossil fuel of intimidation, consider burning the renewable fuel of connection. By connecting and partnering with your employees, you’re using renewable energy that sustainably fuels high performance, customer experiences, and the bottom line. As a leader, when you focus on burning this renewable, clean energy– encouraging autonomy, purpose, connection, growth and passion in others–you create an environment where employees are both engaged and energized, and the ecosystem flourishes.
The Intersection of Engagement and Energy
In the world of engagement, there is both rational engagement and emotional engagement. Which one do you think unlocks more discretionary energy from people?
Employees are said to have emotional engagement with their work when their needs are fulfilled, and they feel seen as a whole person in the workplace. When emotionally engaged, people will extend goodwill to others (even when they’re having an off day) because their emotional needs are met on an ongoing basis.They feel passion, joy, drive and the non-monetary reward of their job.
Employees who are able to maintain their commitment to practice, discipline and showing up (even on days they aren’t “feeling it”) are considered to be rationally engaged in their work. They can engage well with the task at hand because it
needs to get done. Leaders who provide coherence, structure, stability and clarity get an employee’s rational engagement: “This makes sense, so I’ll engage.”
Ideally, you want your employees energized and rationally and emotionally engaged with their work. The common thread between all? Needs. When an employee’s needs are met (for example, a need to feel seen and respected, a need for clarity, structure or stability), those powerful brain juices begin to flow, allowing for energy to renew and create a foundation for both rational and emotional engagement.
To learn more about employee needs in the workplace, check out Five Driving Needs: A Guide to Fueling Productivity in the Workplace
We challenge you to take the next step!
If this article has resonated with you, you can take action right away to begin managing the energy of your team. While employee survey data can be helpful, we encourage you to tap into an even more sensitive instrument for information: your conversations.
Pay attention to the energy levels of your team members. Have one-on-one conversations and ask them what is energizing them and what’s depleting them. It’s about partnering with them to understand what matters most, and working with them to co-create meaningful action.
And if you’re ready to move Beyond Engagement, and equip yourself, your leaders and/or your teams with practical tools and techniques, reach out to learn more about our leadership and team programs.