In organisations human energy is the power that sustains the system. Human energy is a function of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical energy. Releasing human energy is the first priority of all managers. Yet in mechanical models they suck energy out of the system. Human-energy can be encouraged, nurtured and lead, but trying to limit it, control it, or box it, subtracts energy.
Energy is highly important but most managers don’t see their role as “Managers of Energy”. Actually ‘managers of energy’ is probably the wrong way to think about it. Human energy can not be bought or controlled, it can’t be managed. It can only be given, encouraged and set free.
Energy is created by managers who believe in their people, more than the people believe in themselves. Most people are like unlocked treasure chests, all they need is someone with the key. It comes from valuing people above all else, even when the going gets tough. It’s about nourishing people: soul (more meaning), heart (more belonging), head (more learning), and body (more income).
Energy comes from constantly discussing the meaning of the work and tying it to a higher purpose. Nearly everybody wants to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want to make the world a better place. They want to leave a legacy. Talk in these terms and things start to buzz.
I spend much of my time arguing for far more open organisations than we traditionally have. I call it “unbounded human energy.” And there is no doubt that when people are free to get on with a worthwhile task, unbounded from unnecessary rules, procedures, delays and petty politics almost anything is possible.
However, like most things in life this can be carried too far. The latest physics theory shows that the continued accumulation of information and energy can only occur to the extent that the system is open but not too open.
If the system is too open energy will dissipate. Energy flow is of no consequence unless the energy is trapped within the system where it circulates to do the work before it is dissipated. Perhaps it would help to think of the organisation like a river. If the river is too straight and fast the water will empty out of the river very quickly. However if the water has to move around corners, get into eddies and swirl round then the water stays within the river for a far longer period of time. The average residence time of energy is a measure of the organised complexity of the system.
If energy is bound up it will not flow. If energy is completely free it loses its complexity. If energy is allowed to linger it achieves maximum power.
The challenge of management therefore is to encourage eddies and swirls within the organisation, build structures for storing energy where people come together and talk, where they can argue and discuss things. Things shouldn’t be too easy. People should come with different views and expand on what was already there to start with. Tearooms, water-coolers, lunch rooms, meeting rooms, social clubs and Christmas functions may be out of fashion but they are critical eddies and swirls for expanding energy within organisations. This is the way to increase energy and information.
How to create eddies and swirls
Some of the other cross-organisation eddies and swirls discussed in my book: Cracking Great Leaders” include:
- Peer-to-peer Action Learning Groups - designed to bring people together to solve common work related problems by a process of questioning.
- Decision-making Project teams - designed to examine each major decision and recommend at what level in the organisation it should be made (Tops, Middle or Bottoms).
- Process Improvement Teams - designed to bring together representatives from each part of the business through which a process flows, to recommend ways to simplify, standardise and streamline the process.
- Rule Busting Project Teams - designed to examine each rule and recommend the elimination of all unnecessary rules.
- Eliminating Unnecessary Work Project Teams - designed to examine all workflows and recommend the elimination of any unnecessary work.
- Customer Improvement Teams - designed to understand each major customers business better than the customer understands it and recommend ways to serve them better.
Call to action
I'd love to get your feedback on this idea:
- What structures unnecessarily bind human energy?
- What eddies and swirls have worked for you?