On Energy – The Survey Says…

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Friends,

Last week — in the midst of these uncertain times — I surveyed you, inquiring: What kinds of things generate energy for you in these challenging times? Well over 800 of you clicked onto the survey and chose among the 11 answers, selecting the first, second and third most important things that create energy for you. The results are the focus for this Reading for Leading (RFL).

Before I get to the top three let me mention what came in last of the 11 choices. The very smallest percentage of you said you gain considerable energy when “management provides encouragement to the group” (barely 1% named it most important; less than 5% thought it was second or third most important). Why do you suspect it’s so low? My suspicion is two-fold: That encouragement is aimed at the “group,” and that it is rather generic “encouragement.” It suggests to me that most people want specificity, not generality, and personalization not broad-brush, organizational strokes. The data seems to suggest that leaders of large-scale organizations are almost wasting their time by offering generic, organization-wide encouragement, and must instead generate much more specific and individualized positive feedback.

So what were the things that came out on top, as generating the most energy in difficult times? There are two answers that ran neck and neck, well ahead of the rest of the field of answers. 452 out of 859 respondents (53%) said they felt energized when “I am asked to contribute in meaningful ways.” 224 (26%) respondents named this as the most important thing for generating energy (26%). In a statistical tie, 454 out of 859 (53%) respondents said they felt energized when “I am accomplishing things at work.” Meanwhile, 188 (22%) named this as the most important thing that generates energy. (The fourth most important contributor to energy was “management thanks me personally for good work,” (29%) which reinforces the point made in the first paragraph: get personal! The third and fifth most important factors were, respectively, “I see that the organization is looking at opportunities to get better, stronger,” (38%) and “The organization is making progress on its goals.” (23%))

Perhaps these answers reflect the self-selected group who receive Reading for Leading every Monday. Perhaps you all are just a great take charge, first person, proactive, get ‘er done group. But likely you’re hitting on deeply important truths that pertain to a group broader than yourselves. People create a sense of optimism and energy when they’re accomplishing things, and people like to, want to, feel energized by being asked to do great work. The moral of the story could hardly be clearer: Give people opportunities to do great things and this will generate energy.

The data teaches a good lesson for managers. Yet it reaches well beyond the business world. For example, offering meaningful work and the opportunity to accomplish something is the key to hanging on to volunteers. And I would suggest it may be the most important thing we can do in raising children, even, or especially, adolescents. They will feel most energized about their place in the organization (or family) if given opportunities to accomplish things in it.

Now is the time to focus on how we create opportunities for everyone to make meaningful contributions. Not only does it benefit the group, but it’s the best to way to energize those individuals to

Lead with their best self!

Dan

Audio File:  On Energy – The Survey Says…

12 responses to “On Energy – The Survey Says…

  1. Dan,

    I am not at all surprised by your outcome on the survey. I remember being in the group rolling their eyes when an inexperienced manager would come in with donuts and tell everyone what a great job they were doing. We didn’t really feel special and we wondered about his or her motives. That kind of generic and unspecific feedback did little to tell us if we were really having an impact or simply not rocking the boat. The donuts were good though.

    I found the most rewarding and energizing work was directly with clients who responded with unrefined and immediate feedback, especially when they would smile and explain how my efforts helped them reach their goals or solve their problems. Less enjoyable, although likely more educational, were the negative responses. Still the bitter taste of those lessons made the positive response when the problem was resolved all the sweeter. Pain is not pleasant, but it reminds you that you are alive.

    Mick

  2. Viewing the “encouragement of a group” from the flip side, if a group is critisized as a whole, told as a group that their work is poor, unacceptable and substandard, I can assure you that each individual in that group will take that statement to heart. What is the result of management calling a meeting of a whole group, department or agency and making these broad statements? Whether the individual employee’s performance exceeds, meets or requires improvement, each will believe that to some degree, their performance is poor, unacceptable and substandard, resulting in a loss of confidence and for some, committment. Efficiency and accuracy of the group’s work is at greater risk when all are broadly indicated in a group’s problems rather than dealing with the individual, the mananagement, the process or other systems that affect the group’s performance.

  3. To add to your reasons why “management provides encouragement to the group” did not register with the individuals responding to your survey, I offer a couple of additional thoughts. First, when management provides encouragement to the group, they are really saying “work hard to make the ‘Company’ more successful.” This is a legitimate goal. However, too often the direct and substantial beneficiary of Company success is the senior management team. This is so often dramatized by the BIG compensation packages that many senior managers take in comparison to their Asian and European counterparts.

    Simple conclusion, if you are not going to reward the individuals that are really making the Company successful, at least be smart enough to know that they know the difference. Senior (or middle) management asking the workers make the company more successful can be viewed as “make me more successful” by the individual sending the message.

    1. Paul,

      Good point. This morning I interviewed Al Schulze the CEO of Valassis today. Valassis has long been a habitual awardee on the Fortune magazine “100 best companies to work for.” During the interview Al shared how he had gone to their executive leaders who had contractual rights to bonuses and asked them if they would be willing to give that right back to the board of directors this year. He was hoping they would allow the board to decide if (and how much) bonuses were appropriate at this tough economic moment. Sound like a kind-of-familiar situation?

      All of the executives gave back their bonuses. “About half” he said actually wrote or called him to say that they thought he was making a wise decision. No one expressed disagreement with his request.

      Now, there is a place where the administration has credibility!

      Dan

  4. Hi Mark,

    I’m sorry, contributors on this site do not deviate from blog topics. Feel free to be part of the solution, though, by contributing a meaningful response to today’s topic. I personally found a lot of value in it, and plan to act accordingly in my interactions with my co-workers.

    Tony Ettwein

    1. Aha…..so I might surmise….you consider me the antithesis, as in ‘detractor’?
      Be that as it may….I consider myself to be one voice of countless millions echoing the same sentiment as my own. Look around, you won’t need binoculars or the Hubble telescope.

  5. “I am asked to contribute in meaningful ways.”

    How many K-12 students are asked to contribute in meaningful ways?

    Therein lies a root cause for the difficulty education encounters attempting to educate. And it is an answer that most educators do not want to hear since this truth will require that the education establishment make some profound changes to their paradigm.

    And adults will have to stop assuming that children are not old enough to understand. Just watch the sparkle in the eye slowly diminsh after the third grade.

    And the adult workforce is more cynical than optimistic, the outcome of a system of education that does not allow children to contribute to their own education in meaningful ways.

  6. “I am asked to contribute in meaningful ways.”

    How many K-12 students are asked to contribute in meaningful ways?

    Therein lies a root cause for the difficulty education encounters attempting to educate. And it is an answer that most educators do not want to hear since this truth will require that the education establishment make some profound changes to their paradigm.

    And adults will have to stop assuming that children are not old enough to understand. Just watch the sparkle in the eye slowly diminish after the third grade.

    And the adult workforce is more cynical than optimistic, the outcome of a system of education that does not allow children to contribute to their own education in meaningful ways.

    1. Chuck,
      Your comment reflects why the Gates Foundation is supporting schools that are rigorous, but also have relevance and relationships. The latter two points allow people – including little people – contribute in useful ways!
      Dan

  7. Trust is an underlying issue in what people find motivating. All the successful comments have as their corollary that the person making the comment or asking for assistance to help to organization in a meaningful way – that person making the comment is trusting the person to whom they are speaking. The managers who insult, find fault, or never compliment, or seldom ask for assistance do not exhibit trust. The person in charge who insults or intimidates, or demeans is afraid that the person below them on the management chart could get some attention and jump ahead of, or displace the manager.

    I have been astounded at the ability of some managers to make employees feel inadequate or powerless. One phrase I have heard is “Under my direction, you made progress with our project, Thank-you.” The mind games are endless.
    Mark John Hunter – Alpena.

  8. Apparently the truth hurts. I’ll be voting for fiscal conservative politicians next go ’round…..most likely Republicans.

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