Today’s employees—even those who may be engaged—are exhausted. Depleted of passion, resilience, verve and excitement, they are devoid of the personal energy that compels them to consistently go above and beyond the call of duty.
To create a sustainable, innovative and high-performing organizational culture, businesses need to focus on both engagement and energy—essentially, moving “beyond engagement” as we know it today.
This is the message in my new book, Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need (BPS Books, 2015). Brain science provides us with an understanding of how to get there.
Here are 10 ways leaders can change how they approach engagement—and put energy first:
1. Manage energy, not engagement.
When we are low on energy, we lose our ability to focus, regulate emotions, make decisions and take action. By managing energy instead of engagement, leaders protect employees’ executive function. This can unlock energy that fuels enthusiasm and innovation—generating sustainable engagement.
2. Deliver experiences, not promises.
When elaborate recognition and rewards programs and intricate performance management systems don’t deliver on leaders’ promises, this creates workplace cynicism—leading employees to see employee engagement as a con game. But by delivering on experiences, leaders can create a happy, productive, frequently energized workforce.
3. Target emotion, not logic.
We live and work in a “feelings economy,” where feelings, not intellect, drive employee behavior. In fact, research shows that emotional engagement trumps rational engagement by a multiple of four! Understanding what matters most to employees—and then acting upon that information—is an effective way to show compassion and support.
4. Trust conversations, not surveys.
Annual engagement survey results only provide a small glimpse of a very large picture. To really understand and energize employees, leaders must shift to frequent, face-to-face, meaningful conversations with employees. Why? Quality conversation releases all kinds of high-performance hormones in our brains.
5. Seek tension, not harmony.
The brain’s natural response to tension is to interpret it as a threat. However, we are actually energized by tension. Many opportunities for innovative breakthroughs exist between the current and desired way of doing things. The trick is for leaders to learn to stand amid that tension—not to avoid it—and effectively manage competing priorities.
6. Practice partnering, not parenting.
The brain perceives “shared responsibility” as a risk. Therefore, leaders may resort to parental-like behaviors—which, consequently, introduces negativity into the workplace. By shifting to a “partnering” managerial style, leaders and employees can work together to create powerful solutions that both parties are willing to adopt and implement.
7. Pull out the backstory, not the action plan.
Too often, organizations take engagement survey results at face value and create “one-size-only” action plans. This practically guarantees employee resistance to any engagement initiative. Leaders who converse frequently with their employees can draw out the backstory behind engagement scores—and co-create conditions that generate meaningful, sustainable energy.
8. Think sticks, not carrots.
Leaders often gravitate to offering “carrots” like recognition programs, cheerleading and inspiration. However, they should be “thinking sticks”—that is, identifying and addressing psychological forms of workplace interference like bullying and conflict. In doing so, managers can produce environments where employees can be their best selves—able to access their knowledge, experience, skills and strengths at a moment’s notice.
9. Meet needs, not scores.
When employees’ individual needs go unmet, they may act out in unskillful ways such as forming cliques and gossiping—permeating the organization with interference, which affects people’s ability to leverage their executive function. By focusing on individual needs instead of annual survey scores, leaders can inspire employees and sustain workplace energy.
10. Challenge beliefs, not emotions.
According to brain science, it is not our capability but our belief in our capability that affects how effective we are. Leaders who engage in meaningful conversation with employees to identify and address negative beliefs (such as self-doubt) can create a much greater sense of agency in their people.