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How to establish and then sustain an energy-efficient, productive, and enjoyable workplace
on 6 August 2010
Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book in which he asserts "What got you here won't get you there." In this book, written with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy, Tony Schwartz takes that insight a step further, asserting "What got you here won't keep you here, much less get you there." He insists, and I wholeheartedly agree, that with very few exceptions - such as the companies that are annually ranked the most admired, the best to work for, etc. - most companies have a workplace that is dysfunctional and perhaps even toxic. He cites the results of a recent global workforce study by Towers Perrin (90,000 employees in 18 countries in 2007-2008) that are comparable with the results of recent research by the Gallup Organization: on average, less than 20% of a workforce are actively and productively engaged, about 40% are capable but not fully committed, and a similar percentage are disenchanted or actively disengaged.
In his earlier book, The Power of Full Engagement co-authored with Jim Loehr, Schwartz offers a number of sensible recommendations that will help to increase the number of actively and productively engaged workers in a given organization. Perhaps his most important insight is that energy must be managed effectively. As have Malcolm Gladwell, Geoff Colvin, Daniel Coyle, and Matthew Syed in their books, Schwartz cites research conducted by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University to explain the relationship between natural talent and superior performance. "Great performers, Ericsson's study suggests, work more intensely than most of us do but also recover more deeply. Solo practice undertaken with high concentration is especially exhausting, The best violinists figured out, intuitively, that they generated the highest value by working intensely, without interruption, for no more than ninety minutes and no more than 4 hours a day."
This revelation has profound implications for increasing productivity wherever people are involved (e.g. workplace, schools, colleges, universities). Schwartz suggests that there are four categories of energy needs that must be accommodated for people to work at their best: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Only by fulfilling these generic needs can we fulfill corresponding needs: sustainability, security, self-expression, and significance. The illustration of all this on Page 9 bears at least some resemblance to Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs."
The challenge for work supervisors as well as for those for whom they are responsible to (1) recognize and understand various multidimensional needs; (2) respond effectively to those needs with prudent but sufficient expenditure of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy; (3) remain acutely aware of the impact and consequences of what they say and do; (4) think inclusively while respecting differences; (5) avoid or overcome what James O'Toole characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom"; (6) rest to re-energize ("sleep or die"); (7) sustain commitment to regular exercise and proper nutrition; (8) create a environment that is "energy efficient" is terms of its workers' physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health; (9) provide leadership to ensure the energy efficiency of that environment; and (10) define a set of shared values and a purpose beyond profitability that unites everyone involved.
Re this last point, that is precisely what Dave and Wendy Ulrich so eloquently recommend in The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win as does Simon Sinek in Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Those who are thinking about reading this book need to keep in mind that most people prefer a "known devil" to an "unknown devil": Their fear is not really of change but of what is unfamiliar. Most change initiatives fail because initial expectations are unrealistic (with all due respect to what Jim Collins calls "BHAGs" or Big Hairy Audacious Goals), ultimate benefits are over-sold, and those who will be most affected by the changes have little (if anything) to say about what will be changed and by what process.
Of course, Tony Schwartz is well aware of all this and wrote a book, this one, in which he offers a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective/energy-efficient program in which almost everyone within a given enterprise will become and then remain actively and productively engaged. They will demonstrate what Lao-Tzu suggests in my favorite passage from his Tao Te Ching:
"Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves."