We have all experienced how collective energy affects the way things run, positively or negatively. In a recent white paper Henley Business school professor Bernd Vogel considers how leaders can assess that energy, and if necessary positively energize their team, or in some cases deal with destructive energy.
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Central to his analysis is an ‘energy matrix’ which helps define the current state of energy in an organization and suggest ways in which leaders can recharge and sustain it for the long term. The matrix highlights four different energy states that can exist in an organization:
Productive energy occurs when an organization has channelled emotions, attentions, and effort toward reaching common goals. This is the ‘buzzing’ scenario referred to earlier, when people collectively are enthusiastic, alert, and focused on their work.
Comfortable energy is also positive, characterised by high satisfaction, a feeling of ease, and identifying with the status quo. The downside of this state is that it can lead to complacency, especially with companies that have enjoyed long-term success.
Resigned inertia results in people mentally withdrawing and being indifferent to the company’s goals. The collective energy in this state is low, resulting in a weakened ability for change, innovation, and performance.
Corrosive energy can happen at any level in the organization, and whether it is to do with a change project or the overall strategy, it can be quite damaging. High levels of anger, distrust, and internal conflicts can easily filter through the organization.
It is important to understand that all four of these states might be present within an organization, to varying extents. While there may be a power struggle at the top, the sales team could still be working hard to push out products, for example.
Leaders need to know how to direct these various energy states. It might be a case of activating the organization out of its resigned inertia or its comfortable energy, by identifying a major threat or challenge, or seeking out a promising opportunity. Focusing the company’s shared emotion and effort on an external threat could generate productive energy. Likewise, developing a new market or innovation, or devising a new strategy could help release the positive forces required for a productive energy state.
Corrosive energy will be a harder nut to crack, as it can be so destructive, quickly eating away at all the human potential of the company. But leaders must be open to it, first accepting its existence and then taking steps to phase down the negative energy it brings with it. That may mean giving employees a chance to ‘let off steam’ about their gripes with the organization, or identifying and supporting those who have to absorb the negative forces from people across the company. The objective is to calm down the corrosive energy, and recharge disgruntled teams with a strong organizational identity and purpose.
Finally, sustaining positive energy is a significant leadership challenge for successful companies. The key is to maintain high levels of activity, alertness and emotional involvement by all within the organization, and that cannot be achieved by one leader alone. Use a network of managers within the company to boost energy, making sure they are leading with one voice. You need the courage to lead others to lead. Allowing managers and employees to grow, win and lead the next organizational success will sustain your organization’s productive energy and peak performance.
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