\ Beyond Engagement: Getting Over Our Effort Ethos
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Beyond Engagement: Getting Over Our Effort Ethos

By Brady Wilson

I have a special relationship with pain.

You have to if you're going to run marathons, do Ironman triathlons (or be an entrepreneur).
Every day I have one big muscle group and one big part of my brain saying, "Why did you shred me?"
So I will never disparage effort,  pushing through pain or fully engaging in tough work.

But after working with high-performing organizations for 22 years, I can tell you that it isn't effort that releases high performance in humans. It's energy.

      It's energy, not effort that deploys the talents of your workforce.
      It's energy, not effort that creates an unforgettable customer experience.

Let me ask you a few questions and I'll see if I can read your mind.
  • Where do you get your best ideas?
  • When your favorite athletes are in the zone, how do they make it look?
  • When you become so absorbed in a project that you totally lose track of time, does your work feel difficult or easy?
If you're anything like most leaders, you get your best ideas in the shower/lying in bed/out running. Your favourite athletes makes it look effortless. And when you're in flow, your work feels easy.

In short, wherever you see high performance, you'll see the efficient management of energy. So how did we get duped into believing that raw determination and effort would switch on high performance?

A Definition gone wrong
Somewhere along the employee engagement journey we adopted a definition for engagement that had lots to do with effort and little to do with energy.

"Discretionary effort!"
"Come in early. Stay late"
In the exhaustion era, our definition of engagement could use a boost - perhaps some elements associated with a definition of energy.
In my work as a human energy architect, I see a troubling trend: many employees andmanagers  who are engaged, but exhausted, dedicated, but depleted. Despite their commitment and willingness to soldier on, these employees are inadequately fuelled and at risk of burnout.

But there's life beyond the effort ethos if we can adopt a definition of engagement that's an amalgam of commitment and passion, focus and vitality, loyalty and enthusiasm.
There are 2 reasons this matters.

The Executive Function (E/F) runs off energy, not effort
When you're low on energy, the first thing you lose is your executive function, the front part of your brain that gives you the ability to predict outcomes, focus your attention, regulate your emotions, connect the dots and recognize patterns.

Let's face it, these are the power-tools of innovation. You spend a fortune hiring superstar talent,  but if they're depleted - working with a constricted E/F, their performance will suffer, no matter how much effort they apply. Exhausted employees with a stunted E/F resort to duct-tape fixes, workarounds, reactivity and firefighting - hard-wiring depletion into the ecosystem. 

A well-fueled E/F quickly gets to what matters most; discovering the root cause, fixing systemic issues, and bringing the execution required to transform good ideas into reality.

Energy fuels the customer experience

What do you want a customer saying when she goes back to work after interacting with one of your employees?
 She was:


No. Any of your competitors can pull that off. Those things are table stakes. You want your customers going back to work saying things like:

      "She is passionate about what she does"
      "She connected with me - really got what I'm about"
      "She was intuitive and innovative"
      "She brought some genuine personality"

This stuff is human magic. And it's what drives your Net Promoter scores, which in turn drives organic growth. And what unlocks human magic? The passion, vitality and enthusiasm of energy - not just engagement.

5 Ways to Get Beyond Engagement

When it comes to generating energy, we've ignored the one organ that matters most: the brain. Here are 10 brain-based strategies you can use to unlock an engagement that's infused with energy.
1. Target Emotion, Not Logic
It's our brain's limbic system (the emotional center) that tells us what is true. It defines our lived experience at work, and gives us an uncanny knack for recognizing support, and respect. It also recognizes when support, and respect are not present but are simply being declared by the other person.

Employee engagement gets mired down when managers fail to grasp that emotional engagement, not rational engagement, is what defines the employee experience and unlocks their discretionary effort. Targeting emotion closes the gap between what you intend as a leader and what your employees actually feel.

2. Trust Conversations, Not Surveys
Energy in the workplace is generated primarily through quality conversations. They release high performance hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin) that make people creative, connected and focused. Through frequent face-to-face energy conversations you not only draw out the best intel about the lived experience of your employees, you unlock the energy that enables them to offer their best stuff.

3.  Practice Partnering, Not Parenting
Our emotional brain perceives shared responsibility as a threat and triggers us to become under- or over-responsible. Managers usually try to resolve the tension with a parenting approach, overpowering employee concerns or accommodating them. Shift to partnering and you co-author powerful solutions that employees are willing to adopt and implement.

4. Pull Out the Backstory,  Not the Action Plan
Conversation is the operating system (O/S) of your brain. It is also the O/S that drives all the apps (customer service, sales, coaching, innovation) in your organization. Great managers acknowledge this native wiring of the brain and go to their teams to discover the backstory behind the engagement scores.

5. Meet Needs, Not Scores
Our brains make decisions for emotional reasons and then justify them with rational ones. Employees have emotional needs that drive their decisions. As you inspire and sustain energy in your organization by meeting employees' needs, you will buoy their efforts - and save everybody a bit of pain.

Brady Wilson is co-founder of Juice Inc., a corporate training company that services organizations from Toronto to Los Angeles. This article is based on principles from Brady's latest book, Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need.

Follow Brady on Twitter (@BradyJuiceInc) or visit www.bradywilson.com.

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  • Beyond Engagement: Getting Over Our Effort Ethos by DMN Editorial at Oct. 18, 2015 2:52 pm gmt

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