The Next Leadership Buzz…Positively Energized People
But please, let’s not make it just a buzzword.
While many have known for a long time that human energy is the key to a world of benefits, recent research in the Harvard Business Review has brought a fresh wave of interest in the topic. Through their work looking at successful leadership, researchers found that energy was the number one thing that superseded all other factors. Even Jerry Seinfeld has said, “I love energy, I pursue it, I want it, I want more of it. Energy is so much better than money.” And studies from 2016 found that positive energy not only increased individual productivity but also mitigated the effects of stress, increased employee engagement and increased the speed in which people carry out tasks.
Not to mention that the pandemic shone a huge spotlight on energy, its impact, and just how important it is. According to research from KornFerry, 81% of American professionals feel more burned out now than at the start of the pandemic. Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer and EVP, Human Resources, even referred to it as a Human Energy Crisis.
I remember, years ago, when we would have meetings and use words like energizers and de-energizers and talk about the positively energized leader. People would look at us with a thoughtful face and ask us what we meant by that. So, you can imagine my delight, like I’m sure many others in the field, to see more and more people talk about the impact and value of supporting people to optimize their human energy.
Five years ago, we started a quest to discover the ultimate model for what was needed to perform and feel your best throughout the day. The journey included over a thousand sources of data, from research studies to expert articles, hundreds of interviews, and years of applying the model to individuals, leaders, and teams. Lo and behold, at the crux of it all, is human energy. Our journey resulted in MEvolution, a system to accurately measure how energized someone is, identify their unique combination of needs and then map this to their own individual roadmap of personal development modules to systematically increase and optimize their energy.
However, given how close we are to the topic, we can also see that it has the potential to simply become a buzzword. Now, being a buzzword is not inherently bad at all. It means people are talking about it and needing it — so no complaints there. However, it goes awry when companies end up only paying lip service to the importance. We see it so many times. Organizations not seeing the increase they desire in engagement, wellbeing, or any of the other big outcomes they strive for year on year, as the actions taken do not actually equate to sustained change.
For example, take a global company that wanted to work on their culture in an attempt to improve engagement. They spent a lot of time and money defining their purpose, telling employees what it was, writing it into documents and presentations. However, their engagement scores barely moved over the last few years.
And another recent example was when a company had given employees an extra week off to rejuvenate and had done a series of sessions around mental wellbeing, yet wondered why people were still stressed out and wanting more focus on wellbeing in their survey results this year.
And last example, I promise. One of my favorites. “We are focused on getting employees back to the office.” Cue the buzzer sound from the wrong answer on a game show. That’s the wrong question. A more meaningful question would be, “how do we create an environment that enables employees to feel good and do their best work?” Being open to what that answer may be, and how it may differ for the diverse needs of today’s employee population, will empower more innovative and intentional ideas and plans.
What’s the commonality? Well, these things are not checkboxes. If you do not have a deeper understanding of what is driving your scores and an understanding of what contributes to outcomes like engagement or wellbeing, you can’t take the best actions to move the needle.
And…we really need to move the needle. According to Gallup, we have a double whammy. Not only have they seen upticks in stress levels, worry levels, and sadness almost every single year since 2011, but they saw something they hadn’t seen in a long time, a decrease in people’s positive experiences.
Could elevating, enhancing, and optimizing people’s energy hold the key? Of course, we think so. We have seen first-hand and measured the benefits of an energized person and team. But research would also suggest so, with the benefits of being energized spanning all facets of life — professional and personal. While there are a plethora of solutions orbiting the space, having spoken with numerous organizations in the last few months looking to address employee wellbeing, engagement, and development in 2023, the challenges are clear.
Firstly, the problem is not that we do not know what to do. If you want to know what to do for burnout, stress, engagement, you name it…you can Google it and find plenty of tips, expert answers, and information. Try it, Google, “how to stop burnout” and see how many results you get. The problem is that we need to guide people through the how, step-by-step, at scale.
Secondly, to do this well, it requires a deep understanding of what is depleting one’s energy, and then systematically working on increasing it by improving people’s decision-making process, internalization, and response systems. And this can look different for each person. Why? Because it’s like an iceberg. On the top is what you see and feel. Perhaps you feel tired. You may simply say, “I’m tired because I am not sleeping well.” Ok, but why? What are the underlying reasons? Perhaps there is a lot going on at work. But why is that? Perhaps it is a temporary crunch time, perhaps there is an underlying issue of boundary setting or people pleasing, or perhaps you feel you cannot speak up as it makes you look like you cannot handle it. What we have found is that for many solutions, while they serve a purpose and can help mitigate some of the symptoms, they simply do not go deep enough to create a clear picture of how someone thinks and behaves and provide the solutions to alter how people respond to life’s challenges for sustained change.
Alternatively you have solutions, such as personal coaching, that provides the personalized and guided journey of growth needed. However, it can suffer from cost, scalability, scheduling, and consistency issues, which means not everyone can have access to it or access when they need it. As one leader put it in a conversation with me, “we tend to have to sacrifice personalization and depth for scale, due to cost.”
Thirdly, we heard time and time again about the lack of ability to measure impact, with stakeholders getting superficial reports that tend to show usage, very general trends, or some level of satisfaction with a tool.
And finally, to change how you think and respond, it takes some work. Not all will want to do the work or be ready for it. And that’s actually ok. If 10% of your organization shift their energy, the knock-on effects are limitless.
That’s what is exciting to me. It’s the reason I enjoy each and every day. You could say it energizes me :) As we understand more and more about human energy, and now have a way to measure it and systematically increase it that is truly scalable, we have the chance to enable everyone to live life at greater capacity and in an energy rich state. We have the chance to use the research and tools to create meaningful impact, foster energizers, and raise people’s awareness of where their energy sinkholes are. My Stanford Continuing Studies course, virtually taught this fall, will leverage all these years of research and application to teach how to unlock the power of personal energy across all facets of life.
So, as you think about 2023 and how you want to support and empower your people, think about human energy:
- Where are the energy sinkholes and what are the underlying causes?
- What shifts can be made to enable people to better direct energy to what matters?
- What actions can you take to generate more energy?
- How can you support people to harmonize across all the demands on their energy?
And of course, ask yourself, are you asking the right questions to begin with.