When it comes to dealing with the complexity and uncertainty that are the new normal of business, how do people respond in your workplace? Do the opportunities of a dynamic environment fill them with hope and energy? Or are the challenges it also creates filling them with anxiety and leaving them exhausted?
Increasingly researchers are finding that people’s energy – physical, emotional, intellectual and social – may be the most precious resource we have in workplaces. After all your energy levels have a direct impact on your ability to mindfully navigate the way you think, feel and act. And yet, how many leadership teams have you seen measuring, reviewing or enacting strategies to improve the energy levels of their workplace?
“As critical as it is for humans to change the way we ‘fuel’ and renew energy in our physical world, it is also critical that we change the way we ‘fuel’ our human interactions,” explained Maureen McKenna a partner at Innovation Works where she helps create healthy climates within organizations, teams and communities when I interviewed her recently. “Leaders need to understand that human energy is quickly depleted through anxiety, cynicism, and fear so if they truly want engaged employees they need to be able to build workplace cultures where people can consistently flourish.”
Of course if creating cultures where people are able to maintain high levels of energy was easy, then most leaders would already have this mastered. Unfortunately global employee engagement figures suggest many leaders are still falling short.
So how can we help leaders create more positive cultures?
“The challenge is that even when people want to change, we often find that there’s a resistance,” said Maureen. In fact, Harvard Graduate School of Education professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, suggest that this resistance arises from an emotional immune system that is covertly at work to defend us from perceived threats like feelings of disappointment or shame at failing at the goals we’ve set. It’s seems biological our bodies believe that it is better to risk nothing, than to fail at something that matters to us.
“Leaders often need help to see where their internal beliefs are unconsciously holding them back,” explained Maureen. “It’s also important to help leaders understand that they don’t have to change the whole organization, but that doing small things well can start to create a significant impact.”
Here are three appreciative micro-practices (AMPs) Maureen recommends leaders try to create a more positive workplace climate:
- Give Yourself Some AIR – Studies have found that leaders are highly contagious, so start by improving your own energy levels by becoming more self-aware. One way to do this is using Maureen’s AIR Framework by reflecting or journaling each morning about what you can: Appreciate and learn from the day ahead; Imagining what success looks like if everything went as well as it possibly could today; Reflecting on one action you can take to start making this a reality.
- Practice An Appreciative Mindset – Look for the true, the good and the possible in each situation and interaction you have with others. Ask questions about: What’s working well? What are people looking forward to right now? What might be possible if we built upon this? What difference might this make?
Your brain’s negativity bias makes it much easier for you to spot what’s going wrong at work and feel an evolutionary pull to fix it. As a result researchers estimate that in most workplaces we spend eighty per cent of our time fixing our weaknesses and only twenty per cent of our time building on our strengths. Their recommendation is that we try to flip this equation as studies continue to find that it is the strengths in your people and your workplace that are most likely to deliver your best returns on investment and energy because they represent the way people and systems are wired to perform at their best.
For example, Maureen shared that a CEO at a large pharmaceutical company she was coaching upon discovering her sales director had fallen short on his revenue numbers turned to him and said: “I know that you have not made plans, but before you get started, I want you to tell me about what it is that you and your team have learned about your clients.” After hearing their learnings, she asked: “So tell me what your plans are to be able to move forward in this next quarter to meet your targets?” And when a solid plan had been co-created she inquired: “What are the first steps you’re going to take now?”
Maureen explained that filling the sales director with fear wasn’t going to improve his results in a sustainable way. It may have got him moving for the next quarter or two, but eventually, the stress and anxiety of his meeting his sales numbers was likely to burn him out. So unexpected was the CEO’s appreciative approach in this company that story of their interaction spread like wildfire, helping to improve the climate so people felt safer to learn and grow together.
- Take Your Foot Off The Brakes – In the bell curve of change, researchers often observe that five to ten percent of the people are resistant to the change (the left side) and five to ten percent of people are energized and motivated towards the change (the right side). And while it’s tempting to spend a lot of time and energy trying to move the resisters, imagine for a moment that the bell curve magically turned into a VW Beetle and the left side (those resistant to the change) represented the brakes on the car and the right side (those energized by the change) represented the accelerator.
You wouldn’t disregard the brakes, after all, they’re there for safety and you want to treat them with respect and draw on them when required. But if you keep your foot on the brake the whole time, you’ll never move forward. Look for the champions of change in your organization and engage, empower and reward them at the right speed for your organization.
What are the appreciative micro-moments you can use to improve your workplace climate?
This interview was produced in partnership with the Canadian Positive Psychology Association and the 3rd Canadian Conference on Positive Psychology. For more information please visit www.cppa.ca.