Part Two: Unleashing Collective Energy
A leader’s first job is to mobilize the energy of their followers. No accomplishment of any significance can be done alone because there are typically too many variables to account for. We must begin with “future images of possibility” – envisioning what could be rather than lamenting what is or was. Studies have shown that when people see future events as if they had already happened, they develop energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and high commitment. This act of creating a shared vision allows people to become self-aware of their progress and “learn how to learn.”
It is not surprising that the necessity to mobilize energy from within an organization was one of the critical factors for any growth or culture-changing initiative. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) illustrates how all processes involve energy that is acted upon, both internally and externally, to produce equilibrium. For example, if you were to drop a rock that has been sitting near a fire into a pot of water, the liquid would instantly boil, as we introduce intense energy. However, as the air temperature enters the interaction, in short order the water will cool down as the rock, air, and water equalizes due to the energy moderating factor of air temperature. In this way, we waste potential energy as the externalities end up reducing the heat’s potential power.
Russell Ackoff’s 1981 book, Creating the Corporate Future, used the Entropy analogy to describe corporate energy, using the logic thatif a manager stimulates the power of his subordinates, he will have reduced disorder and increased potential energy. Problems, according to Ackoff, generally arise from system detachments. His approach to systemic problem solving is to dissolve complex societal or organizational problems by engaging stakeholders in designing permanent solutions.
“Problems that arise in organizations are almost always the products of interactions of parts (of a system), never the action of a single part. Complex problems do not have simple solutions.” Ackoff believed that managers who redirected energy away from worry, complaint, politics, and half-hearted reform initiatives into useful work, play, and learning, were the most useful. As in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, corporate energy is a finite resource that is neither created nor destroyed, so one’s ability to keep this limited flow in an active state towards the processes you wish to create is critical.
The 2010 Global Workforce Study by Tower Watson showed that mobilized employees financially outperform those that aren’t by almost 6% in operating profit margins. More alarmingly, by a four to one margin, employees that aren’t engaged believe that advancement in their company depends on who you know rather than what you know. It’s not surprising that 38% of the workforce is actively looking for greener pastures while still working at their current job.
Factors such as security and stability, an opportunity to earn more money, develop a wider range of skills and experience, along with an opportunity to innovate were all rated crucial, yet not achievable in their current situation. What is the cost of employing such disengaged members of an organization? Aon, a leading provider of global risk management, provided research that indicates each mentally detached employee creates a $10,000 loss in profits each year. These opportunity costs are staggering, yet the cure for what ails us is maddeningly simple.
The first step in assessing the potential for action is by analyzing where the energy should flow:
- Is there committed leadership?
- Business opportunities?
- Energized people?
Second, you must get the whole system in the room. The system has to be lived to be understood and assessed for its potential, and that includes all inflows and outflows, including customers. With the entire system present, it becomes evident where the leaks of energy exist so they can be plugged and reinforced, so no variable drains the potential power of the whole. Third, the organization has to figure out where to pinpoint their energy by focusing on the future. The more scattered focus is, the less potent a culmination of power can be. Coming to terms with shared values and visions is critical. In this way, everyone is pulling on “the same side of the rope,” reducing resistance from any energy draining influences.