Can you feel the force?

Competitive advantage used to be all about ‘product’ differentiation, but in today’s highly competitive business world, the accent is increasingly on innovation and service. Businesses stand or fall on the quality of their people – their skills and, crucially, their energy.

Words such as ‘motivation’ and ‘commitment’ are now fundamental to boardroom agendas. Companies have been investing in a wide range of upbeat empowerment schemes and enhanced performance management systems for some time. They are all designed to enthuse workers so that they can convert business strategy into tangible business benefits.

There is no doubt personal motivation or energy has an important role to play. A recent survey on employee engagement by the Corporate Leadership Council confirmed that giving people the tools and processes to do their job only accounted for 60% of their performance. Forty per cent comes from ‘discretionary effort’ – effort that can’t be forced on individuals.

And a 2002 study1 by academics Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghosal – based on real company observations over a 10-year period – found that only 10% of managers work purposefully to get important work done.

Yet we know from studies on culture and performance that companies which engage their people by creating strong, supportive cultures benefit from revenue increases four times faster, and profit performance 12 times higher, over a 10-year period.

Why, then, do so many organisations still struggle to release the innate energy of their employees – their enthusiasm, commitment and discretionary effort? How can that energy be directed to achieve maximum returns?

A new approach is based on the idea of directed energy with employees using their energy in a directed way. To assess the level of directed energy in your organisation, examine the five ‘energy levers’ below.

Strategic clarity and unity

People will only commit their best energy to a clear and straightforward strategy. They need to understand the bigger picture, and why it matters. They need to buy into a compelling vision of the future and to see themselves as part of it. This requires the leadership team to provide a strong sense of strategic clarity and unity.

Customer dialogue

The core purpose of any business is to serve its customers – external or internal. Many people, particularly those in large organisations, can become distant from customers. Reconnecting with what customers care about – where their energy lies – helps to cause rapid change and improvement in performance. Findings from our Customer Connection survey2 confirm that customer connection is fundamental in directing employee energy.

Connected leadership

A certain kind of leadership releases energy; it is honest, forward looking and inspiring. Connected leaders have a clear sense of direction, and can help others to convert energy into purposeful action. You don’t have to be a leader to take the lead.

Team energy

The energy powerhouse behind any organisation is its team. But to be sustained over time, team energy needs renewal; it requires regular reviews of the team’s goals; its relationship with its various customers; recognition of lessons learned and, most importantly, celebration of success. If a team is confident about what it is doing and why, its energy will be self-generating.

Personal connection

Individuals need to understand their personal connection to where the company is going to fuel their energy and keep focused. They need to understand the nature of their energy, and how they can use it to best effect. Given the opportunity to use their strengths and meet personal goals simultaneously with their organisation, individuals will pour their energies into work.

Even a small increase in the number of people who take what Bruch and Ghosal call ‘purposeful action’ brings significant returns1.
Releasing and directing energy effectively is the key to purposeful action. Ultimately, it is about being crystal clear about where you are going, and engaging people in those goals and that journey.

David Robertson is managing director at Attiva


1 A Bias for Action – Heike Bruch/Sumantra Ghosal (Harvard Business School Press 2004); Beware the Busy Manager (Harvard Business Review 2002)

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