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9 ways to lead energy management in your organisation

In a previous article, we discussed the idea of managing energy as a valuable business asset and in particular how supporting people to manage their physical and psychological resources more effectively, can be one strategy for sustaining high levels of performance over the long term. In this second article, we focus on how leaders can make the case for energy management in their organisations and illustrate 9 ways to help achieve that objective.

1. Use a model to make energy management tangible

In some respects it doesn’t matter which model you choose because this is a developing area of organisational and personal development and new ideas are emerging all the time. The key point is to have a common language to talk about a relatively intangible subject within your organisation, and to enable people to make choices that will support their performance and wellbeing in the long term.

In the previous article, we illustrated the model below. You could start with this or create your own.

2. Include the topic of energy management in regular coaching conversations

As part of your regular weekly or monthly catch-ups with your teams, take the opportunity to include the topic of energy and personal resources. Using a model that provides a common language around the subject will make it easier for individuals and teams to contribute to the discussion.

3. Make it OK for people to talk about potentially taboo subjects

There has been a concerted campaign recently to break down barriers around mental health in a bid to reduce the number of suicides in young people, particularly young men and former service personnel. Sadly suicides also happen in the business world, with a number of high profile cases highlighted recently. Whilst words like “stress” are common parlance inside and outside of work, in many organisations people would feel hesitant to own up sleeplessness or feelings of fatigue, anxiety or depression for fear of appearing weak or “not up to the job”. As leaders, one aspect of our role is to make it safe for people to share these concerns, be it in one to one discussions with a line manager or over a coffee with a colleague.

Two factors in making this happen are:

Firstly, to accept that we are all different, with varying levels of physical, mental and emotional resources. Levels of resilience vary from person to person, as does the ability to adopt new and more effective habits when required.

Secondly, the ability to talk about some of these sensitive issues with another individual requires a healthy dose of trust in the relationship and a level of presence and empathy from the listener. If you feel that there could be more trust between managers and their teams or that emotional intelligence skills could be improved as a management skill set, then these are two areas you might look at.

4. Share the concept of actively balancing stress and recovery

One of the criticisms occasionally leveled at wellbeing initiatives is that aiming to reduce workloads or feelings of stress is unrealistic. There will always be more to do than we have hours in the day and it’s impossible to eradicate stress. Both are truisms, and so rather than seek a utopian world where the inbox is empty at end of each day and every item on our to-do list is ticked off, we can instead accept the fact that work life is frequently beyond our control and it is likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future. We can however dilute the effect of work related stress by including activities that promote our recovery from it.

Two examples include:

Taking measures to ensure high quality sleep. While this is one of the most obvious ways of achieving recovery, it is easily impaired through seemingly minor or harmless pre-sleep habits, which add up to a detrimental effect, e.g.;

  • Drinking as little as 2 units of alcohol in the evening before bed

  • Excitatory activity 1 hour before bed, such as vigorous exercise, watching an exciting movie or other content, use of text based messaging apps, reading and responding to email

  • Bedroom is too hot/cold/noisy/light

  • Use of back-lit screens to read in bed

During the day we can achieve a better balance between stress and recovery by interspersing our daily work with activities that give us a sense of meaning or personal purpose. Interestingly, the recovery effect derived from purpose driven work can be visualised through the use of heart rate analytics, which measure the relative dominance of two branches of our autonomic nervous system and the degree to which people are “on” – demonstrating a stress response or “off” where they are experiencing recovery.

In today’s business environment, it’s not uncommon for people to express the feeling that they are “always on”. From a physiological and an energy management perspective, this is not sustainable. As leaders we have the opportunity to guide people to find ways to redress the balance.

Fig 2 compares the two branches of the autonomic nervous system and their role in stress and recovery

Fig 3 is an excerpt from a client’s heart variance rate data, (Firstbeat Heart Rate Analytics)

The Red and Green colours shown indicate the relative activation of both branches of a client’s autonomic nervous system (red indicates stress response and green indicates recovery). The areas of green during the working day (highlighted at 10am-12pm and 4.30-6pm approx.) were found to correlate with periods where the client had been engaged in work that held a sense of purpose for them.

5. Reap the rewards from marginal gains and tiny steps

Whilst the goal to build a more highly energised business might seem lofty, we can borrow tactics used in sport and car manufacturing to close the gap.

We have just witnessed the extraordinary performance of the GB Track Cycling Team at the Rio Olympics; they came home with 11 medals, 6 of which were gold. Much of their success is attributed to the pursuit of marginal gains – tiny incremental improvements in every area that could enhance their performance, which compounded to deliver an outstanding result. The same principle is followed in Japan, named Kaizen; it is the process of breaking a huge goal in to small but positive steps which synergistically combine to achieve it. The reliability record of Toyota Cars is built upon this principle.

If as a first step we chose just one aspect of the energy model in figure 1, consider what it might look like if everyone on your team just experienced better quality sleep?

6. Signs of burnout – know what to look for

Prevention is better than cure. How readily would you recognise the signs if a member of your team or a colleague were approaching burnout? Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Someone becoming cynical or highly critical at work

  • Signs of irritability around people

  • Lack of energy and productivity

  • Using food, drugs or alcohol as a prop

  • Physical symptoms associated with stress, e.g. palpitations, migraines

  • Signs of ill health, e.g. unexplained infections, head ache, back ache

Consider someone you know who has experienced some form of burnout, were there any signs in retrospect? How might you intervene next time if you were to spot them in someone else?

7. Energise the connections between people

We can probably all think of meetings that leave us feeling drained, or conversations that we dread having. As an alternative, is there an opportunity to strengthen, deepen and energise more of the connections we have at work?

How we lead, manage and communicate with people can raise energy levels, e.g.

  • Managers who provide personalised leadership to individuals

  • Managers who are equipped to address sensitive or emotive topics.

  • Leaders who communicate a clear sense of purpose. This is illustrated by KPMG’s Higher Purpose Initiative, which resulted in a more engaged, committed and energised global workforce.

  • People who enjoy a high quality relationship with their line manager. This might sound basic, but “conflict with their manager” is an often-cited reason why people leave businesses.

8. Manage and share knowledge on energy management for everyone to discover

To help people to discover ways that they can support themselves, your organisation could create a central repository for information on the subject. This could be as formal as an e-learning system or as simple as a location by the coffee machine to share relevant books and articles.

A few ways to collect and share knowledge include:

  • Articles, TED Talks and “energy hacks” hosted on the company intranet site

  • Books that people can read at work or borrow

  • Workshops focused on specific aspects around energy

  • Sessions designed to inspire and energise people, held at team away days

  • Lunchtime speakers who can talk knowledgably about specific topics, e.g. nutrition, sleep, fitness, resilience.

9. Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others

As leaders, we cannot hope to perform at a high level, sustainably nor inspire the same of others if we fail to look after ourselves. And as we’re well aware, inconsistency between what leaders say and what they do tends to breed cynicism.

As a starting point, consider the following sentence:

I would feel more energised if I could just,

  • Sleep better

  • Feel less stressed

  • Find more time for exercise

  • Clarify what I really want

  • Find more meaning in my work

  • Be less reliant on alcohol to relax

  • Enjoy a better diet

  • Focus and get more done

  • Improve my relationships at work / at home

  • Enjoy a sense of feeling well

If you could improve just one of the factors named above, which would give you the greatest benefit?

In summary, there are multiple ways in which energy levels can be improved in organisations, and we believe that this is best achieved through a culture that supports people to help themselves. This article sets out 8 ways in which leadership can contribute to that process. In future articles we will examine some of the more detailed ways in which individuals, including leaders and people on their teams can manage their energy from physical and psychological sources and the use of technology to support this.

If the content of this or the preceding article provokes any curiosity, please get in touch with us to explore your interest in more depth.

This article was first published in The future of work hub, August 31, 2016.