Why are you struggling with your biggest organizational people focused objectives?

Sarah Deane: Founder MEvolution
7 min readNov 15, 2022

Hint: Because you are asking the wrong questions to begin with.

I am blessed to work with a lot of great organizations, speak at all kinds of events, and give my two pennies on various platforms as an expert in optimizing human energy and capacity. Over the last few months, something has become even more apparent. Each year leaders have big objectives that they want to achieve. Things like customer experience objectives, employee engagement or wellbeing goals. They measure, they take some actions, and then are disappointed when the needle is not moved as much as they had hoped. I covered this topic in my Huffington Post article back in 2017, “why your employee engagement metrics are not working” and, sadly, it seems not much has changed.

As we dug deeper into this phenomena, we realized that a large majority of leaders were asking the wrong question at the very start. The question you ask yourself to solve a problem may seem a small component of the journey, but it serves as the foundation for the thinking, actions and commitments that follow, steering the options and solutions that materialize. Asking a question that allows a broader perspective to be taken into account from the start will allow you to see many more possibilities. Simply put, if you ask a limiting question to start, your solutions and ideas will be limited too, and may very well not have that big and broader ROI that you seek.

I’ll give you four of the most common we have heard in recent months to keep in mind as you plan for 2023 and beyond so that you can strategize more holistically, and have a better chance of moving the needle towards your goals.

Limiting Question #1: How do we get employees back to the office?

I have lost count of how many times we have heard this one. Yes, you may want to have your employees back in the office for a variety of reasons. However, you cannot ignore the fact that humans have changed. You are not designing experiences for the same humans anymore. Recent years have shaped how people see the world, what they value, and what they prioritize. If you want to “get employees back to the office”, it needs to start with an understanding of who your employees are and what they need to be their best selves. Knowing this model for success will require gathering the right data and input from employees. Yet, according to Slack’s future forum report, 66% of executives reported that they’re designing their post pandemic workforce policies with little to no input from their employees!

Consider reframing it as: How do we create a workplace that enables employees to do their best work and be their best selves?

This will open up thinking to explore what that model looks like, gather the insights needed, and, based on this, determine how the office plays a role in the best way within the broader goal.

Limiting Question #2: What % of diverse talent do we need to hire for our diversity and inclusion initiatives?

While having objectives around diverse hiring is an attempt to make progress, a question like this can have an unexpected result. It can turn into the perception of “hiring someone because they are [fill in the blank]”. This can have unintended consequences. The person being hired may worry if they were hired on their merit and unique gifts, or because they “checked a box”, which can fuel all kinds of fears and concerns, and other people in the organization may also have this limiting belief.

Yes, goals and objectives are good to drive behavior. But you need to have the right ones to drive the right behavior.

Consider reframing it as: How do we give diverse talent a fair chance of being hired?

Framing the problem this way allows you to look at all facets of the landscape, while keeping the goal as hiring the best person for the job. You can see a few more of my thoughts on inclusion in tech from a recent event at Future Worlds, a start-up accelerator at Southampton University. By focusing on a fair chance of being hired, it opens the mind to explore questions such as, how do we make sure we have diverse and minority candidates on the slate? How do we encourage and support them once they are hired, so that they progress in the company and experience growth journeys?

Limiting Question #3: How do we stop burnout?

Of course, being in the business I am now, I hear this one a lot. Starting with this question tends to move people into the direction of days off or meditation apps, which are all useful and play a role in short-term capacity gain or mitigating the feeling of stress. However, the reality is that to really stamp out burn-out, it requires an understanding of the underlying sources of the burnout, which can be personal to different individuals as well as rife at a cultural level. It also requires a longer-term plan in place, based on the behavior and mindset change needed. It requires a true understanding of what is depleting a person’s capacity and what behaviors, processes, or ways of working within the organization are fueling that.

Consider reframing it as: How do we create a positively energized culture?

This question allows you to focus on human energy and the role the organization’s culture plays in draining or creating it, as how well a person can manage and direct their energy has a direct relation to burnout. In fact, by focusing on personal energy management, within just 12-weeks, 80% of our customers feel less anxiety or stress, 45% experience less burnout, and 85% feel less negatively. The same goes for engagement. Engagement requires an emotional investment in the company. When a person lacks capacity, they do not have the space for that emotional investment. That’s why we see a direct correlation to working on an individual’s energy and capacity and sustained employee engagement increase, by as much as 50% within the first 8 weeks, as well as hope and excitement for the future increasing by 50% in the first month.

Limiting Question #4: Where are we compared to benchmark?

We have been conditioned to believe in the importance of benchmarks. While they have their place, too much focus here can limit thinking and the potential of what you can achieve. You can suddenly say things like, “we are ok as we are the same as others.” But is that average even good? My dad once told me, “if you run a race, keep your eye on the end-line, don’t waste energy turning your head to see where everyone else is, focus your energy on your own running and that end-line.” His words have stayed with me, translated in my world as — sure, learn from others and use them as inspiration, but keep a clear focus on your mission, values, and how you are achieving it.

Consider reframing it as: What do we define as success and how well are we achieving it?

By staying focused on what you are trying to achieve, you can focus your energy on the actions that align to your version of success, and keep benchmarks as insight and motivation.

The Limiting Approach

You can see a pattern in general. There tends to be a focus on the outcome and not what actually is enabling or detracting from it. For example, an organization asks, “how do we increase engagement by x%?” Rather than understanding what the elemental metrics are — the metrics that are actually actionable. Here’s the thing. The best way to achieve a goal, in the fastest and most sustained way, is to create the environment in which the goal will most naturally occur. Imagine growing a plant successfully. You would create the environment in which that specific plant will best grow e.g., amount of water, position for sunlight, combination of soil nutrients…and when these things are present, it grows well.

It’s the same with these big goals. You need to start with an understanding of what the best environment looks like, which includes the physical environment as well as the mindsets and behaviors that will be needed for change. For example, with digital transformation, so many times organizations are focused on automating a process or having an app, but fail to focus on the needed thinking styles and behaviors that enable people to have the capacity for change. So yes, trend away, but also remember to focus on what is needed to create the environment for the goal to most naturally occur.

As someone who has well over a decade of experience in creating highly accurate measurement systems (for typically very nebulous goals), that return the roadmap of actionable steps needed for improvement, here is how you can start to shift:

  1. What do we mean by [X]? For example, X=engagement, wellbeing, resilience, productivity etc. Here you want to create a definition that everyone understands and is aligned on. It’s your version of success, based on the right data and insights.
  2. What is needed to create an environment where this will occur? Here, you want to think across physical aspects, mindset, and behavior. What is needed for the definition you created to materialize most naturally. Again, based on data and insights.
  3. Where are we now? Take what you found in part two, and measure that. What do you have present and what is missing?
  4. What do we need to include? Here you are looking at your delta. What needs to be present or done more consistently. Once you know this, you can make smarter choices about where to place resources and investment, with a better understanding of likely ROI.

When we looked at the biggest people focused goals organizations had, and data modeled the drivers for them, including engagement, productivity, inclusion, resilience, wellbeing, collaboration, and innovation, we found that actually, the behaviors for optimized human energy sat at the very crux of it all. So, maybe, you can start with just one question — how do we support employees to live an energy rich life?

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Sarah Deane: Founder MEvolution

Energizing souls by relinquishing blockers, reclaiming mental capacity, restoring energy, and redefining human potential. www.JoinTheMEvolution.com