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Energy Matters: Thriving in an uncertain world

We live in turbulent times. Just as organisations emerged from the impact of Covid-19 they entered a new period of uncertainty driven by world events and the consequent inflationary pressures. After two years of lockdown, organisation energy levels were already depleted. The need to digitise, create new ways of working and manage disrupted supply chains to survive has resulted in huge project workloads on top of business as usual responsibilities. This combination of uncertainty and long working hours has led to initiative fatigue and going forward we will have to ‘do more with even less’. Organisations are grappling with new ways of (hybrid) working. All this adds up to a ‘perfect storm’.

This combination of uncertainty and long working hours has led to initiative fatigue and going forward we will have to ‘do more with even less’.

Business impact of organisational energy

Dame Carol Black, distinguished clinician and author of “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”, once said to me “You do realise that as a CEO you can do more for the health and wellbeing of people than I can as a clinician!” Organisations with high levels of positive energy are resilient and consistently deliver great results. Highly energised employees are happier and more fulfilled.

There is a clear win/win for business and society if we can create business environments that foster energy. In this article we share key insights into organisation energy from research and practice and suggest practical ways to translate insight into action.

Insight No.1 - Organisation energy drives performance

Intuitively we know that energy matters. The evidence supports this intuition. Leadership energy levels correlate with financial performance. Energy fuels organisations’ success. Data from working with a major financial institution showed that high energy leaders were approximately 3 times more profitable than low energy leaders. Thus, the well-known formula “Strategy + Execution = Results” might better be cast as:

A drawn image of a car

Insight No. 2 - Energy decreases over time

Every system in the universe loses energy. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time and organisations, their teams and their people are no exception. Rather like a hot air balloon, organisations need to be constantly re-energised to maintain their altitude and if they are to go higher the energy levels must be substantially increased.

Insight No. 3 - Leaders are the primary catalysts

The level of energy in the system is driven by the level of leadership energy. Systems naturally tend towards equilibrium and organisations are no exception. To maintain the system requires energy. If the energy inputs fall below the levels required for maintenance, the performance

levels fall and potentially lead to failure.

To increase results, you need to increase the level of leadership energy, which in turn shifts the organisation energy leading to higher levels of customer service and profitability. See diagram below:

Insight No. 4 - The difference energy makes

Levels of energy correlate with performance levels and systems consistently display symptoms associated with differing levels of energy. Low energy environments typically manifest a strongly hierarchical approach to leadership in which the leaders seek to control people and outcomes. High energy environments manifest an approach based on trusting people to perform in a collaborative environment. This is illustrated opposite: As leaders we need to take a good hard look at our own organisations and ask ourselves whether we are manifesting the “symptom” in the top right of the chart.

Insight No. 5 – There is an energy gap

We want our leaders to energise us. Zenger Folkman has researched the key attributes of

leaders that deliver exceptional business results. As part of their research, they sought to understand which leadership traits are most valued by employees. In two hundred and fifty thousand 360-degree surveys Zenger Folkman asked 1.6 million raters to state what is most important for their boss to have, to be successful in their role. The standout Number 1 ranked competency was “Inspires and Motivates to high levels of effort and performance”.

Two of the three items used to measure this relate to the leader’s capacity to energise others. When we look at the results in the global database of 130,000 leaders, it would be reasonable to anticipate that scores for “Inspires and Motivates” should benchmark somewhere in the middle of the 19, on the basis that some leaders will score highly and some not. The sad reality is that it comes out at the bottom of the rankings. Leaders are generally least capable in inspiring, motivating and so energising their people This speaks to an energy gap across our organisations.

Where we fall short is in creating the fuel that drives the vehicle: organisation energy.

Organisation as a "vehicle"

Using the metaphor of organisations as a vehicle, the results from the Zenger Folkman research show that we are great at building the vehicle and demonstrate the associated leadership traits.

Vehicle building activities include setting the strategy, building the product, hiring people, setting and driving KPIs. This capacity is reflected in high scores across the global database for technical and professional expertise, effort and driving for results. Where we fall short is in creating the fuel that drives the vehicle: organisation energy.

Bridging the energy gap

Leaders are the catalysts. As a mentor once taught me, as the leader it is “always all my fault”. This reflects the power that we have as leaders to influence the environments we create for our people. The starting point is to recognise that leadership is about our followers and that we need to create the conditions in which they will do great work. Recognition leads us to focus on how we create roles and delegate tasks in such a way that our people are energised.

Leadership ‘levers’ for success.

The Zenger Folkman research has identified the two most powerful leadership competencies (levers) as “Drives for Results” and “Inspires and Motivates Others to High Levels of Effort and Performance”. These are displayed by exceptional leaders, defined as those who deliver results

in the top 10% of results in their industry. To understand what this means in practice it is helpful to look at the measures for each of the levers:

The measures for Drives for Results are:

• Does everything possible to achieve goals

• Achieves the agreed goals within the time allotted

• Follows through on objectives to ensure successful completion

The measures for Inspires and Motivates are:

• Energises people to achieve exceptional results

• Inspires others to high levels of effort and performance

• Brings to the group a high level of energy and enthusiasm

Organisations value leaders by the results they deliver. We promote leaders who give their all and follow through on the “vehicle building” traits, but we rarely ask ourselves what the leader’s impact on energy levels might be.

The power of “and”

When we look at the data the strongest results are created when both “Drives for results” and “Inspires and motivates” are deployed. Statistically, if a leader has only one part and not the other at a top quartile level, the chances of delivering top decile results are approximately 12%. However, when the two are combined the chance is not 24%, but 74%! Given the tendency for most organisations to focus on the vehicle building levers such as driving for results, it is likely that our organisation’s results, however good, are sub-optimal. Focusing on creating more energy to fuel the vehicle we can create a positive shift not only in the results of the business but the employee experience at work, which in turn positively impacts the health and well-being of our people.

Generating system energy – in practice

To be effective in maintaining and increasing the organisation energy, leaders need to pay attention to three areas: personal energy, interpersonal energy and systemic energy.

The pressures of work and demands of home life often mean that personal care suffers.

1. Personal – energise self

Leaders need to take care of their own energy, mental, physical, spiritual, emotional. In turbulent times this can be difficult to do. The pressures of work and demands of home life often mean that personal care suffers. Whilst it is possible to survive in the short- and medium-term, extended periods of stress lead to a long-term decline in performance.

Post-Covid, organisations have become much better at paying attention to the wellbeing of their people. There is a wide range of help available…the secret is to take action to avail yourself of the help. Energy is also about capacity and capability. Focusing on playing to strengths and continuing to invest in learning to develop new skills, disciplines and habits creates new energy to input into the system. Creating clear and compelling personal goals and ensuring these are aligned with their role in the organisation underpins the capacity to energise the organisation.

2. Interpersonal – energise others

Since leaders are the primary catalysts in determining the level of organisation energy, they need to be able to inspire and motivate and energise the people they lead in an authentic way. This means the leader needs to invest in understanding and being able to articulate what makes them special, their “superpowers”. Psychometric instruments are helpful in both revealing what these are and giving a language for expressing them in words that are both accurate and accessible to others.

When deployed across a team, it is possible to create a shared language that supports effective collaboration. In our experience it is rare that leaders and teams take the time to deeply understand each other’s motivations and sources of energy. If we imagine members of a team as

cogs that mesh with one another, a lack of understanding means the cogs rattle against each other, losing energy in the process. By investing in creating genuine understanding and mutual appreciation, team interactions become more efficient and effective leading to better decisions

made more quickly.

Our solution is to use data to pinpoint the strengths of a leader. We start by calibrating the leader’s current capability. The Strengths Unleashed Triangulation® approach uses three different lenses to bring the leader into clear focus:

We assess:

• What drives them

• What they are thinking

• Where they fit

What drives you?

Energy and drive come from the use of our natural talents in pursuit of our goals. Leaders who know what drives them remain energised no matter what the challenge. Mapping the leader’s natural talent set and finding out what motivates them to come to work helps them identify the top 10 strengths they should play to and pinpoint the source of their energy and drive.

What's your thinking?

The leader’s mindset is mission critical. Everyone has embedded, unconscious patterns of

thinking that show up in their behaviours. When seeking to make things happen, these patterns are at play. If aligned with the leader’s energetic strengths – and with the needs of the business – great things happen. Misalignment frequently leads to underperformance and a failure to create the desired impact. We use the GC Index, a powerful organimetric instrument, to surface the leader’s unconscious thinking and assess their ability to drive the right kind of organisational

impact, whether through innovation, transformation, or execution.

Where do you fit?

There is a persistent myth that strong leadership means being good at everything. The data shows that great leaders are exceptional in a few areas and know how to leverage these strengths to deliver results. This translates into a strong preference for a particular role in the organisation or a certain part of the business lifecycle. By mapping leaders’ preferences across possible roles in different stages of the business cycle we identify where they perform at their best and then help them to maximise their contribution within their preferred role.

Developing others

Leaders who energise others also recognise the importance of developing capability in individuals, teams, and the wider organisation. Leaders who focus on making their people more successful command loyalty and foster high levels of discretionary effort.

Finding the sweet spot

Research from Zenger Folkman shows that there is a sweet spot for individuals, teams, and organisations where competence, energy and a compelling goal intersect. It is therefore vital that others also have individual and collective goals that align with their role in the organisation.

Whilst it is common to assess individual leaders’ impact through assessment, 360 etc. organisations do not often look at the whole system impact of the leadership.

3. Systemic – energise the organisation

The desired result of leaders as catalysts is an energised and capable organisation, aligned behind a shared ambition, delivering results today, whilst transforming for the future. Leaders therefore need to measure the impact they are having on the organisation. Whilst it is common to assess individual leaders’ impact through assessment, 360 etc. organisations do not often look at the whole system impact of the leadership.

At the system level, leaders need to ensure that the vision, purpose, and mission of the organisation is both compelling (energising) and fit for purpose in volatile and rapidly changing circumstances. They also need to ensure that resources and effort are directed at both delivering results today and simultaneously re-inventing the organisation to remain competitive and meet their customers’ evolving needs.

A powerful way to effect systemic change

Our partner Quanta Consulting has developed a distinctive and highly effective approach to change called ‘Energy Fractals.’ A fractal is an infinitely complex pattern that is self-similar across different scales consisting of simple building blocks which, with repetition, evolve into complex systems.

An energy fractal is a new behaviour that, when consistently repeated, has a powerful impact on the system. To take an example from daily life, if you want to get fit the fractal might be exercise 3x per week. The first order impact is improved fitness. The second order impact goes far beyond this. See illustration below:

Experience shows that simple behavioural shifts specifically designed to address issues diagnosed in the organisation energy survey have powerful positive effects. If we take, for example, communication (an area that frequently requires attention) an energy fractal to address this might look like this:

A simple habit (have a conversation with each team member once a week) has the capacity to deliver multiple benefits at the personal, interpersonal, and the systemic level.

Closing Reflections

Organisations that focus on energy as well as driving for results are more likely to thrive in turbulent times. Leaders who inspire and motivate their teams re-energise them. Employees who are energised in pursuit of a compelling goal rarely look outside the organisation and bring elevated levels of discretionary effort to their work, which leads to higher levels of profitability. The focus on energy as the fuel that propels the organisation is a powerful unifying idea that focuses on the “so what” of leadership, in delivering exceptional performance. As we continue to face new challenges understanding and acting on the insight that leaders have the capacity to catalyse new levels of energy increases the chance that we will not only survive, but thrive in the emerging new world.

If you would like to understand more about energising your people. Get in touch here


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