When I became the president of Bates Communications in 2010, I embarked on a series of conversations with executives from great organizations across the country. Frequently, I heard of companies at which individuals had risen in the ranks due to their technical brilliance and impressive individual accomplishments. Now, though, they had reached a point in their careers where their technical skills had taken them as far as they could go. At this crossroad, they needed to be transformed into powerful leaders who could inspire people, energize their culture and get results.
Many organizations now face what I would describe as a 21st-century “energy crisis.” The one I’m referring to has nothing to do with the price of oil though. While the economy has bounced back to some degree, many leadership challenges have become magnified and elevated in importance, particularly as workforces have been trimmed to the bone, and leaders taxed to their limits. A major one is in the area of employee engagement.
Employee engagement is not the same as job satisfaction. According to Scarlett Surveys, “Employee engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization, which profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work.” Engaged employees truly care about the company and feel a connection to it. As a result, they are willing to invest the energy to be great instead of having the attitude that it’s “good enough to be good enough.”
Gallup conducts research on employee engagement, asking 12 questions revolving around employee perceptions. Here are the themes that the questions cover:
- Having clear expectations and everything needed to do the best job every day.
- Feeling that leadership cares about employees as people and is interested in their professional development.
- Getting recognized for good performance.
- Having a voice.
- Feeling a sense of purpose.
- Working among people who want to do quality work.
So how are we doing, as a nation, with employee engagement? Consider this startling data from a September 2010 Gallup poll.
- At world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to disengaged employees was roughly 10-to-1.
- At average organizations, that ratio was just about 2-to-1.
- Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies roughly $800 billion in productivity annually.
- Engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings-per-share growth rate compared with that of organizations with lower engagement in their same industry.
The accompanying report noted that “the best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace.” So creating a high-energy culture is not just a feel-good enterprise. It’s a crucial differentiator between the best companies and those that are average … or worse.
Creating a high-energy culture
One of the challenges in leading the high-energy culture is that an organization’s energy is not always easy to assess. Sometimes energy is like a mirage in the desert: From a distance, it seems to be there, only to dissolve upon closer inspection. At other times, an organization is more like a beehive: From the outside, it seems like not much is happening, but look inside and you’ll see a stunning display of interdependent roles and purpose-driven behavior.
According to the laws of physics, energy can never be created or destroyed. It can build up in one place and dissipate in another. It can be a productive or destructive force. High-energy cultures are those in which the leaders reinforce the natural vibration frequency of the people in the organization.
As a leader, you must understand the power of your resonating energy if you are to create a high-energy culture and fend off an organizational “energy crisis.” Leaders who possess this energizing quality are rare because few people understand how to tap the power of the energy that already exists within them and how to use it to inspire and invigorate those they lead: their teams, their department, and their entire organization.
Fortunately, I’ve found that this quality can definitely be taught. Developing a highly energized workforce is a bit like climbing a mountain. It’s a major undertaking, but if you break down the big goal into a series of small steps and work with a trusted guide, you can reach the summit.
About the author: David Casullo is president at Bates Communications, a national consulting firm specializing in leadership communication skills and strategy. His passion is developing leaders who have the courage and capability to change the world. Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book, “Leading the High-Energy Culture,” published this year.