HUMAN ENERGY IS THE GREATEST RENEWABLE RESOURCE

The dictionary defines renewable energy as “any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, such as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric powerthat is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.”

I was in India last year running some management development programmes at SAP Labs in Bangalore. One group of young managers were incredibly enthusiastic and threw themselves into the programme with passion and high energy, and were thrilled that we were going to have a follow-up session the next morning. When I told them that the only way we could get through the agenda of the next day’s session would be to start at 6.00am, the drop in enthusiasm and energy in the room was immediately visible, as many of them would have to get up at 4.00am to be able to be in the office on time, which meant that they would only get about 4 hours sleep that night. The relief in the room was immediate and visible when I told them that I was just kidding and that we would actually be starting at 9.00am.

Author: Amol.Gaitonde (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


I pointed out to them that if instead of saying that they would have to get up at 4.00am to attend some management training, I had invited them to have breakfast at my hotel with me at 6.00am, and that my special guests would be Aishwarya Rai (Miss World 1994) or Shilpa Shetty (stunning Bollywood star), or even more importantly Sourav Ganguly, India’s most successful cricket captain ever, they would have reacted totally differently.

Author: Aishwarya_rai_1.jpg: lifi crystal; via Wikimedia Commons


Instead of the immediate drop in energy there would have actually been a palpable surge of energy and excitement, and that instead of worrying about only getting 4 hours sleep most of them would have spent the night sitting wide awake in my hotel lobby to make sure that they were at the breakfast on time.

Human energy is a wonderful, renewable and almost limitless resource.

We live in a world beset with energy issues, struggling with our dependence on fossil fuels and our nervousness about nuclear power, yet not moving quickly enough to replace these with sustainable energy sources, resulting in ever climbing energy costs. As a result most companies have implemented major programmes to cut their energy usage based on their commitment to being good citizens and their contribution to “save the planet”, and the simple truth that it makes really good business sense to save money on energy use. For example, I am aware that SAP has a programme to cut their energy costs by 50% by 2015. As a shareholder I heartily approve of this initiative.

Author: Kwerdenker (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As a frequent traveller, I do however find it a source of amusement that hotels ask you to reuse your towels to help the environment, rather than the fact that they have worked out what it actually costs to wash a towel every day, and it makes seriously good business sense to save money wherever you can. The latter reasoning would actually convince me more to not drop my towels on the floor after use.

I find all these moves to save money on energy use highly laudable, and it’s one of the reasons that I serve on the boards of both Carbon Guerrilla and PE International, both being companies that are focussed on helping their customers to achieve this.

What I don’t understand is that so few companies have programmes to try at the same time to increase the energy outputs of their people, as the returns to the business could be even greater if management understood how to harness this limitless source of energy.

Whilst I do not question its importance I am not talking specifically just about passion in this instance, as I have seen people who can show awe inspiring passion for 2 hours every week while lounging on their sofa in front of their TV to watch their sports team play, but who show very little real energy in their lives.

I am also sure that there are many people who can show passion when talking about their employer, particularly when things are going well and the share price is strong, and that there are a lot of people who work more than the required weekly hours as defined by unions and/or government, but energy is more than about working long hours and having pride in one’s company.

The challenge is … How can a manager build the sort of energetic commitment that most people can exhibit which results in them having no problem getting up at 5.00am for something like a round of golf, but then struggle to get out of bed on a workday ?

How do we create, sustain and build up the same high level of excitement, fun, pleasure, commitmentand feeling of achievement at work that people can find with little effort outside of it ?

I have always believed that the only role of management is to create an environment where people can be unbelievably successful, in whichever way that individuals variably define “success”. However this means that we have to be able to create a work environment that people find as attractive as their leisure alternatives, which means they need to be able to get up on a wet Monday morning in the depths of winter and think “thank goodness the weekend is over and I can now spend 5 days at work”.

I have only 3 criteria that serve as a starting point for this state of nirvana.
– Only do a job you love
– Only work for a boss you can respect
– Only work for a company you can be proud of

The role of management is to ensure that people are able to achieve these, as only then can you have the springboard to develop the passion, engagement and commitment in your people which will then give you a chance to harness the unlimited energy source that exists in humans.

ENGAGEMENT HAS A NICE RING TO IT

I have long found it worrying that all of the numerous studies of employee engagement point to the fact that at any one point in time, in most companies, only about one-third of employees are fully engaged, with about one-third partially engaged, and one-third actively disengaged, some of these last ones being “terrorists” who actively work to recruit others to actually undermine those who are engaged.

I define engagement as being actively involved physically, mentally and emotionally with passion and energy, and with a profound connection to the company.

I have no question that employee engagement is directly related to the quality of management in an organisation, and that in tough economic times when people are being asked to do more with less, it can become harder to keep people fully engaged, as people become emotionally disconnected driven by pressures like fatigue, lack of direction, belt-tightening and downsizing of work-mates.

Author: Jonnie Nord (User:Zaphod); via Wikimedia Commons


But employee engagement needs to be a key critical focus of all managers and should be a major measurement of management performance, as it is one the most important elements of business success, significantly more than having a sexy product or marketing message, both which can be very short lived.

Gallup’s analysis of about 200 separate employee engagement surveys in 2009 found that

“business units scoring in the top half on employee engagement double their odds of delivering high performance compared to those in the bottom half, and that those in the 99th percentile are five times more likely to deliver high performance than those in the 1st percentile.” (See Gallup´s Employee Engagement Analysis).

Furthermore their survey of 42,000 randomly selected working adults showed that disengaged workers cost the US economy an estimated $ 350 billion annually.

George Gallup; via Wikimedia Commons


In France, whilst I have no numbers for the loss to the economy, a recent article in the Economist highlights the fact that French workers are not lazy, as most of Europe cares to believe, but that they just actively hate their bosses. (See http://www.economist.com/node/21538733).
The report states

“In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.”

A 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm showed that over 40% of French employees actively dislike their firm’s top management, ranking France last out of 10 countries for worker’s opinion of company management. Whereas in US, UK and Germany about 70% are satisfied with their management, in France it is less than 30%.

French management styles are still generally very hierarchical seeing management concepts like “empowerment” as being an Anglo-Saxon maladie. Furthermore the majority of French CEOs come from one of the handful of “grandes ecoles”, and through what is known as “parachutage” suddenly appear in CEO roles direct from the civil service. Alexandre de Juniac was unexpectedy appointed CEO of Air France in 2011, coming directly from his position as Chief of Staff to Christine Lagarde when she was Minister of Finance. No need to fight your way through the ranks in the business or even the industry, no need to develop some management skills along the way, you just need to get high marks in the school exams and keep your nose clean in the public sector long enough to end up in the top slot of a multi-billion euro enterprise.
No wonder Air France is such a moribund, infuriating airline with rude, arrogant, condescending and uncaring staff (See “I hate Air France” posted July 11, 2011), and no wonder French workers are generally disengaged from their companies and their jobs, even more than the global average.

Alexandre de Juniac (CEO Air France)

Author: priceminister; via Wikimedia Commons


Despite all this information about the impact of employee engagement on a company’s performance, very few organisations use employee engagement as a measurement of management performance.
I have seen it regularly measured in employee surveys, usually through responses to 5 or 6 questions like “I am proud to work for the company”, “I am seriously considering leaving in the next 12 months” and “I actively promote the company to external candidates”, but generally many just seem to accept the 1/3 ratios as being an acceptable metric of business reality.
I consider this to be short-sighted and believe that most companies should focus less on recruiting more people and more on increasing employee engagement as a way of driving improvements to business results.

I have managed to convince one company that I work with to use employee engagement as a key measurement in management performance and its inclusion in calculating management bonus payments. Furthermore they will not allow incremental recruitment if the business area has less than 60% of employees that are fully engaged and more than 20% disengaged. These are not world shattering metrics even though they are a great improvement on current results, as they still allow for 20% sitting on the fence, but at least they are a starting point in making employee engagement seen as a serious business metric in this particular company.

I am actually surprised that employee engagement and other metrics such as employee turnover are not seen as major decision points when people make financial decisions about in which companies to place their investments. I would always rather bet on the people as a starting point before I would even start to look at products, services and past financial performance.

I have long believed that people are the only true sustainable competitive edge, and how passionate and committed they are to the company is the only true measure of whether great performance can be achieved.

As Peter Drucker, business guru, said

“But I like to think that a lot of managers and executives trying to solve problems miss the forest for the trees by forgetting to look at their people — not at how much more they can get from their people or how they can more effectively manage their people. I think they need to look a little more closely at what it’s like for their people to come to work there every day.”

Author: Jeff McNeill; via Wikimedia Commons