The Energy Equation
As the world slows and hopefully puts an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses will be left to deal with the fallout. Yes, there has been a great deal of disruption and, frankly, many things will never be the same. But that’s not all bad. As is often said, there is opportunity in crisis. Perhaps many of the things that will never be the same, should never be the same. Perhaps the way they were was never the best solution. If we can gracefully let the outdated and inadequate fall away and focus more on the way things could be, we just might uncover a golden opportunity. In these times I’m inspired by the lyrics from the song Beautiful City.
“Out of the ruins and rubble
Out of the smoke
Out of our night of struggle
Can we see a ray of hope?
One pale thin ray reaching for the day
We can build a beautiful city
Yes, we can, yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But we can build a city of men…”
— From the musical Godspell
We can build a beautiful business too, and uncover rich opportunities. It’s not too early to start looking at that. But how do we know what to let go of and how to position for opportunity?
Let Energy Be Your Compass
Everything we do in business involves energy. Some energy is positive, and some is negative. In accordance with The Energy Equation, the net of the positive and negative energy generally determines the level of business success or failure. It’s a simple, yet powerful, concept. It means that, whatever your position in a company, energy can serve as your compass. If you want to know what to let go of, identify the things within your business (and yourself) that produce negative energy. If you want direction on how to position for opportunity, move toward things that produce positive energy. These migrations will improve your business performance, your business environment, and your relationship with the business.
This article outlines five universally applicable transitions that will help any company, government agency or school build a beautiful business and move toward the opportunity that is uniquely theirs. You can find more detail on each of these topics in my book.
1) From Wasteful Conflict to Productive Shared Space
Conflict abounds in our organizations, and much of it is avoidable. While conflict typically shows itself in the ways that people interact with each other, people are often not the origin. Poorly designed structures, overlapping roles and responsibilities, inappropriate resource distribution, and undefined decision making authorities are just a few of the things that breed unintentional conflict. All of this produces negative energy.
The antidote for unintentional conflict is shared space. In shared space we can work collaboratively and creatively. Shared space improves business outcomes and promotes innovation. Work in a shared space creates positive energy. In our experience, the single largest opportunity to improve the bottom line in most organizations is to reduce wasteful and destructive conflict.
2) From Antagonistic Organizations to Business Health and Agility
I’ve seen many organizations that are literally antagonistic toward the work they do. In fact, the existence of this antagonism in any business is not an “if”; it’s a “how much.” To give you an example, we have taught consulting skills to people in companies all over the world. Some of our participants tell us that the most valuable use of those consulting skills is in getting work done in their dysfunctional companies. In their environments, the systemic antagonism pushes back on virtually everything they do. Work requires a tremendous effort. But at least the consulting skills give them a way through it.
Getting rid of this antagonism is a path toward business health and agility. How can a company have business agility when virtually any significant work effort is plagued by this antagonism? The opportunity is to eliminate antagonism and transform mechanisms that create negative energy into healthy mechanisms that create positive energy. The ratio of positive vs. negative energy in an organization determines its level of business health and agility. With energy as your compass, you will know where and how to move toward this opportunity.
3) From Fear and Blame to Supported Responsibility
Living within a culture of fear is a daily challenge in many organizations. What are people afraid of? Blame, reprisal, punishment, unavoidable poor performance, political traps, and tarnished reputations, just to name a few. Chronic fear happens when people look around and see more threats than opportunities, more enemies than allies, more restrictions than passages. This is a horrible way to live and work.
The lens of energy shows us that the key to minimizing chronic fear and blame is to create a culture of supported responsibility. This is done by aligning control and responsibility in every department, every team, every process, and every position. Generally speaking, when people have adequate control, (e.g., over resources, decisions, etc.), needed to do a job well, they freely take on that responsibility. Conversely, when people don’t have adequate control, they doubt their ability to do a good job and begin to fear everything listed above – and more. The opportunity here is to align control and responsibility to create an environment of supported responsibility where people enjoy coming to work and generally perform at peak levels.
4) From Surface-Level Management to Wisdom Management
One revelation that comes from managing energy is that there is much more going on in an organization than can be seen on the surface. Although most would acknowledge that, managers have struggled with grossly inadequate visibility for years. This has been especially true since the rise of knowledge work, when work, and the workings of organizations, became largely obscured. Unfortunately, this lack of visibility pushed managers into a mode that I call surface-level management. In that mode, we operate only from what can be seen, and ignore, perhaps even invalidate, what can’t be seen. We treat symptoms, and often miss the real problems entirely. We make poor decisions based on poor information and poor visibility. And we follow a host of management norms that seem to make sense on the surface but turn out to be wrong and damaging upon closer examination.
The answer to surface-level management is to teach our managers how to see more deeply into the workings of their organizations, their people, and even themselves. They can learn to do this by following the indicators of energy within the context of the larger organizational system. You can read more about how to do this in my last article. There is a much deeper understanding in this new “wisdom management” approach. This isn’t just a feel good opportunity. It’s an opportunity to perform better in virtually all aspects of management which, in turn, will lead to greater business success.
5) From Negative Behaviors to Collaboration and Innovation
Negative behaviors such as resisting change, bullying, playing the victim, and chronic gossiping can generate tremendous amounts of negative energy in organizations. Collectively, these and other unfortunate behaviors can create a major energetic drain. They can also create a hostile workplace and take a toll on the health of the people who work there. Negative behaviors tend to go hand in hand with dysfunctional organizations, but they’re also present in relatively healthy groups. Left unchecked, these behaviors can become a cancer in a company, eating away at its ability to perform work.
Energy has a way of exposing negative behaviors for what they are, in spite of the fact that they are often hidden or disguised. For example, when we get to the bottom of how people play the victim role, we find they aren’t victims at all. Instead, they’re bullies in disguise. Without the benefit of energy, that’s just not apparent to most people. Hence, the victim role is powerful and it usually works – in a very ugly way.
The most powerful way to address a negative behavior is to lift the veil on it, and turn it into an open and frank discussion. Beyond that, we can develop our people so they embrace positive behaviors – most notably collaboration. The “mechanics” of collaboration run much deeper than what we see on the surface. Through the use of energy we can give people this more informed and inspired ability to work with others to produce superior outcomes.
Putting The Pieces Back Together
As we put the pieces of our businesses back together in the wake of COVID-19, we need to remember these tremendous opportunities. As we rebuild, “brick by brick”, consider putting the pieces back together in new ways. We can build a beautiful business.
For more help on this subject, please see The Energy Equation: Unlocking the Hidden Power of Energy in Business.