Relational Energy: Is your Organization fully charged? 

SONY DSCAre you fully charged right now? Do you feel energized? Full of zest? Or do you feel de-energized? Depleted? Run-down? Or maybe something in-between?

No matter what it is that you´re currently experiencing – it´s clear that humans tend to describe their condition in terms of energetic states. What is this energy? It is clear that we’re not talking about energy in a (strictly) physical sense. Yes, we may feel drained energetically because of a lack of food (especially carbohydrates), and definitely a lack of sleep – and we do feel recharged after eating or taking a nap. But with the kind of energy we´re talking about here, there´s more to it.

By way of example, taking a brisk walk after lunch can restore our energy and help us being more productive in the afternoon, even though a lot of physical energy is actually spent while moving.

Moreover, human energy feeds on interesting ideas, on passion, on having a goals, especially shared goals. Research shows the same activity can be energizing or de-energizing, depending on the question if that activity plays to our strengths – or if it autonomously regulated (by and large: intrinsically motivated) or externally regulated (forced upon us). A great of overview of different frameworks of human energy is given in: Quinn, R. W., Spreitzer, G. M., & Lam, C. F. (2012). Building a sustainable model of human energy in organizations: Exploring the critical role of resources. Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 337-396.

But most importantly, our energy feeds on interaction with other human beings – yet, it can be drained during that process as well.

Relational Energy

For a moment, think about a typical interaction with a colleague at work. Depending on the quality of that interaction, afterwards you might feel:

  • (a little) elevated/uplifted (= energized);
  • (a little) depleted/exhausted (= de-energized);
  • just as before (= unchanged).

In reality, depending on the quality of past experiences, this process might start well before the actual interaction, precisely when a person starts to think about having to meet with another person. I mean, honestly, how often do we say something along the lines of: “Oh gosh, I have a meeting with X tomorrow – I wish I could send someone else…”

This is the reason why a lot of companies start to adopt a “no-asshole-policy”: They adjust their hiring/firing processes in order to minimize the occurrence of “emotional black holes” among their employees, those people that suck up the energy of their colleagues, even when they are high-performers within their respective domain of work. The damage they cause to the organizational network by far outweighs their productivity in the long run (please check out: Cross, R., Baker, W., & Parker, A. (2003). What creates energy in organizations? MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 51-57).

Now, imagine how many encounters you have on an average day at work, be they short and fleeting (e.g., small talk at the water cooler) or extended and intensive (e.g., a day-long workshop). And now go on to imagine all the people in your company, and their encounters over a day, or a week, or a year.

With a large company, e.g., the one I work for (120.000 employees), we’re easily talking about more than a billion of those interactions per year. That’s more than one billion occasions to either charge or discharge the energy of that organization. Each energetic transaction may be minuscule, but together they form the most important asset of that organization (besides such aspects as the properties, machines, trademarks). Because here’s the thing (and you know this very well from your own life): The energetic state of each employee is connected to a lot of outcomes, such as work engagement, creativity, and satisfaction – and taken together, alles those interactions form a larger part of the organizational culture.

When we´re talking about “change”, usually we´re referring to big fluffy concepts: “change the culture”, or “change leadership”. But can we really work with those entities in real life? Isn’t it more advantageous to start with the little things, the day-to-day behavior? In order to do that, we´d have to be able to measure the nature of those interactions with regard to their “energetic quality”.

Such an attempt has now been made by a team of US-based researchers (Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49). They define (positive) relational energy as

a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work.

The researchers propose a new scale for the measurement of this kind of energy from the vantage point of the recipient; these are two of the items they propose:

  • I feel invigorated when I interact with this person.
  • After interacting with this person I feel more energy to do my work.

Large companies usually go to great lengths in order to measure employee engagement, satisfaction, and related psychological states. Now imagine having each employee in an organization fill out a short questionnaire on the relational energy they’re getting out of interacting with their closest co-workers, managers, and subordinates. This, in turn, could be used to create a detailed “energetic map” of that organization, thereby identifying the energizers and the “black holes” along the way.

I imagine this could lead to a complete new, data-based paradigms in leadership development.

I’m still Up-Lifted…

I’m still so much “in love” with Lift, a leadership book by Ryan & Robert Quinn that I’ve already written about a couple of days ago. It’s just brilliant. Actually, I want to take a marker and then just underline the whole book – but I guess that would be kind of stupid. So, for today, I’d just like to share with you passage on being other-focused:

“[M]ost people find that when they become other-focused they do not lose themselves; instead, they become their best selves. They like who they become when they care about others. This makes sense when we realize that our identities are inseparable from our relationships with others. We are social creatures, biologically wired to empathize with each other. Becoming other-focused does not eliminate our unique characteristics, it draws on our unique characteristics to help us make more or our relationships.”

Lift - Mappalicious 

Lift! On Leading with Purpose

Most managers behave as if they were still in high school. The primary goal is not being laughed at.

This sentence resonates with/in me ever since I’ve heard it three days ago. Professor Robert Quinn, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business (Michigan) coined it during a workshop on building positive cultures which was part of the Positive Business Conference 2016.

This is, of course, not the first time someone explained to me that most organizations create an atmosphere of (more or less) constant fear. But I have learned over the years that, in order to really grasp a “thing”, somebody has to present it to you at the right time in just the right words.

LiftI was so impressed after the workshop that I instantly bought his book Lift: The Fundamental State of Leadership (co-authored with his son Ryan) at the book table and devoured it on the plane back home from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany. And what can I say? It´s one of the best books on leadership I´ve ever read.

Truth be told: I read a lot of management and psychology books (broadly speaking) and most authors on interpersonal leadership leave me rather unimpressed. I´m a senior human resources manager working in the headquarter of a multinational organization of 120,000 people, leading a team across two continents, additionally being responsible for groups of people that are part of our international trainee programs, and coordinating the efforts of multiple agencies that support us in recruiting and employer branding.

Against this backdrop, I can honestly say: Leadership is not easy. It doesn´t come down to checklists and simple recipes. Instead, it can be immensely taxing and challenging: It´s hard work. That´s why I enjoy leadership books that acknowledge and appreciate this basic condition.

Lift - Psychological States - QuinnRobert Quinn´s “Lift” is such a book. It draws on a useful metaphor from aerodynamics (the dynamic that makes objects fly even though they are heavier than air) but more importantly, is grounded in decades of top-tier research. The framework that serves as the outline of the book is based on an influential article in the journal Management Science from 1983, A Spatial Model of Effectiveness Criteria: Towards a Competing Values Approach to Organizational Analysis that aims at describing the basic dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

Quinn takes this framework and uses it to outline four corresponding psychological states of leadership: Purpose-centered, internally directed, other-focused, and externally open. This is the crucial point that differentiates “Lift” from most other leaderships books: It doesn´t tell (aspiring) leaders what to do on a concrete level. Instead, it serves to cultivate a certain mindset, a stance, a leadership conduct – what the author terms the fundamental state of leadership.

The author proposes we can enter this special mindset when we (implicitly or explicitly) apply a set of questions to given leadership situations, especially those that bear potential for resistance and conflict. These questions correspond to the four quadrants of the effectiveness/psychological states model.

  1. What results do I want to create? (objective: becoming less comfort-centered and more purpose-centered).
  2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others? (objective: becoming less externally directed and more internally directed).
  3. How do others feel about this situation? (objective: becoming less self-focused and more other-focused).
  4. What are three or more strategies I could try in learning how to accomplish my purpose? (objective: becoming less internally closed and more externally open).

If you want to hear a short summary in Quinn´s own word, here you go:

For me, an added value of the book is that it provides a very clear definition of an individual purpose. I´ve been struggling with that concept for quite a while now. I know I will have to sharpen mine in order to live up to my full potential – but most of what I´ve read so far has left me irresolute. Here´s what Quinn proposes:

When people are purposed-centered,

  1. they envision and pursue extraordinarily results that are not constrained by previous expectations or by expectations that they receive from others;
  2. the results they pursue are energizing because they are self-chosen, challenging, and constructive;
  3. they provide a clear definition of the situation, focusing people´s attention.

Most management books I read – whether I enjoyed them or not – don’t nudge me to do anything differently afterwards. I put them in a shelf and hope, at best, to remember one or two good ideas.

With “Lift”, it´s a different story. I have already printed out the four questions and I will stick them to the computer screen in my office next Monday. And I will use the aforementioned definition to further mold my individual purpose.

Share and enjoy!

P.S.
To learn more, you might want to watch Quinn´s 2013 TEDX talk.

Passion. Purpose. Performance. Positive Business Conference (Day 1)

I’m absolutely thrilled to be at the University of Michigan, attending this year’s Positive Business Conference at Ross School of Business.This post is my personal summary of the conference’s first day, brought to you via some of the tweets I’ve put out there…

Prof. Vic Strecher shared some really intriguing upsides of having a strong purpose in life. More importantly, you should check out his fabulous app JOOL.

Prof. Jane Dutton had me change my mind on using the term rockstar only in contexts that involve electric guitars. She shared with us her Flourishing Triangle framework of organizational effectiveness.

I was equally thrilled to be able to learn directly from Prof. Alex Edmans, whose work on the financial impact of treating employees exceptionally well has been covered extensively on Mappalicious.

Prof. Joe Arvai shared some incredible research on how to help consumers make more ethical buying decisions. E.g., why is that we can consciously choose from what part of the world our coffee comes from (and how it was cultivated) – but not with regard to our gasoline? And what if we could

After lunch, I was thrilled to have the opportunity of attending a workshop led by Prof. Robert Quinn whose blog posts I share frequently via my Positive Psychology News Digests.

Once more it became clear to me that we do not really understand “a thing” (even if we’ve heard about it a lot of times) until somebody explains it to us in the exactly right words at the right time.

When you’re in the right space, the smartest “person” in the room is the room itself.

Jim Miller, VP at Google, shared insights on the special culture that drives the incredible success of the company.

Of course, there were more sessions, and more speakers, and an abundance of inspiring conversations while having delicious food – but I cannot cover it all here.

Yet, one last thing I found out is this:

Share and enjoy!

Positive Business Conference

Your first and foremost Job as a Leader is… Peter Drucker​ on Positive Organizations

I guess it must be really hard to be a management guru these days. No matter what you say, no matter how brilliant you are – there’s a very high probability that somebody will already have laid out what your core message is. And with “somebody”, I don’t refer to a lot of people, I’m just talking about one person: Peter Drucker.

If you visit, e.g., his notable quotes on GoodReads, you’ll find that he was an incredibly smart thinker – and the he basically laid out all the principles of modern (and in some instances: post-modern) management (in the best sense of the word…). And he did all of that mostly during the 1950s and 60s!

Last week, I stumbled upon a quote that gives rise to the assumption Peter Drucker was also able to foresee some of the developments in Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), e.g.,  Jane Dutton’s concept of High-Quality Connections, or Kim Cameron’s idea of leading by managing Organizational Energy.

Here are some additional quotes alluding to the rise of Positive Organizations:

Peter Drucker on Positive Deviance and High-Quality Connections

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.

—–

The work relationship has to be based on mutual respect. Psychological despotism is basically contemptuous—far more contemptuous than the traditional Theory X. It does not assume that people are lazy and resist work, but it assumes that the manager is healthy while everybody else is sick. It assumes that the manager is strong while everybody else is weak. It assumes that the manager knows while everybody else is ignorant. It assumes that the manager is right, whereas everybody else is stupid. These are the assumptions of foolish arrogance.

—–

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

Peter Drucker on Strength Orientation

A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.

—–

We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.

—–

A man should never be appointed to a managerial position if his vision focuses on people’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths. The man who always knows exactly what people cannot do, but never sees anything they can do, will undermine the spirit of his organization.

Peter Drucker on Purpose

An organization is not, like an animal, an end in itself, and successful by the mere act of perpetuating the species. An organization is an organ of society and fulfills itself by the contribution it makes to the outside environment.

—–

Only a clear, focused, and common mission can hold the organization together and enable it to produce results.

Peter Drucker on Self-Knowledge and the Growth Mindset

Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.

—–

People in general, and knowledge workers in particular, grow according to the demands they make on themselves. They grow according to what they consider to be achievement and attainment. If they demand little of themselves, they will remain stunted. If they demand a good deal of themselves, they will grow to giant stature—without any more effort than is expended by the nonachievers.

Invitation: Study on Leadership Behavior

For my German-speaking readers:

I´ve initiated a study that seeks to better understand the perception of certain leadership behaviors. If you currently work somewhere and report to someone (= have a boss) you are eligible to participate.

Participation takes just 7-8 minutes. Please click here:

https://de.surveymonkey.com/r/fuehrungsstudie

You can also forward this link via e-mail or share it on social media etc.

Thank you very much!

Nico

Mann_lachend_weinend.jpg

Picture via gratisography.com

Why that Swiss Friend of yours is probably Happier than You are

Frau_BartSome nations are happier than others, that’s a fact. In most year’s rankings, Switzerland or one of the Scandivian countries (quite frequently: Denmark) take the No. 1 spot in the carefully researched list. Quite obviously, this does not mean each and every person over there is happier than your fellow countrymen – but on average, they are. Why is that the case? The solution can be found in the answers to these high-level questions:

  • Do people earn enough money – and how well does the economy do in general? Additionally: Is the distribution of wealth (perceived as) fair?
  • Do people form strong social bonds in your society? Do they value highly their family and friends?
  • Do people have access to (enough) healthy food, clean water, and decent doctors/hospitals?
  • Do people live in a (stable) democracy granting a high amount of individual freedom and safety?
  • Can people afford to be generous and compassionate vis-a-vis your countrymen (and generally, those in need)?
  • Can your citizens trust their political and economic leaders?

Or, in the words of University of British Columbia economics professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the World Happiness Report (as quoted on ThinkAdvisor.com):

Six factors explain about three-quarters of the difference in country rankings […]: GDP per capita, social support (based on the question, “Do you have a friend or relative to call on in times of trouble?”), life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity (having donated to charity within the past month) and trust (perceptions of business or governmental corruption). 

In order to make make the top ranks of the “happiest nations list”, a country needs to do pretty well on each of those factors. But they also explain why some countries that don’t do so well economically might be far ahead of some richer counterparts:

(Some of) the best things in life are free – e.g., your family and friends.