Leadership and the law of conservation of energy

Whenever people engage in an activity - be it work, new hobbies, a relationship - they bring a certain amount of energy to this activity. The absolute amount of energy available is never increased or decreased, that’s the law of the universe. However, how and where that energy is channeled varies radically from situation to situation.

When someone starts in a new activity, one that was desired the person, he/she channels a lot of energy to this new activity. Just think about someone coming out of a long recruitment process as the preferred candidate, full of energy and joy. Then, over time, more and more of this energy will become channeled elsewhere. If the person has a bad manager, this decrease in utilizable energy is more drastic vs. when the manager is a really good leader of people. This means that leaders of people are also energy managers. People naturally want to bring a lot of their energy to work. They want to do a good job and be appreciated for it. The role of the leader is about meeting the needs of her/his team member so that they can put as much as possible of their energy to good use.

We sometimes forget that leadership is about meeting the needs of others, and we then speak about leadership in very authoritarian terms; “I must motivate them... I must tell them a compelling story... I must develop them...”. This narrative is not reflective of a truly servant mindset, one where leadership is about something “I do together with you”, vs. something “I do to you”. But if the leader merely views the members of the team as resources to be managed, it will be difficult for a leader to truly understand the varied needs of different individuals. Objects don’t have feelings or needs, they just need to be told what to do. But objects don’t have energy either.

Do you feel your leader is working hard everyday to ensure your energy is being put to good use? Or are you just a resource to be allocated?

//Blalab_member_200219

8.jpg

Story to follow

Let me tell you something. I never wrote a blogpost before. So if you’re reading this I’ve already written my best story so far. And this is a story about a story.

Sometimes I get unmotivated at work, it just happens. And it makes me feel bad, I should be enthusiastic, contributing, performing but I just don’t feel like it. I push through the day, my mind wandering off to all sorts of things except work and I feel like a fraud. Why would people pay me for being like this? Others tell me I’m still doing great but I don’t think so. I get very little done, at least I think so. I’m completely and utterly exhausted. My energy levels are gone. I’m like a dried cucumber (a cucumber is mostly water, so not much left).

But then something happens. I come up with a new idea, a new project comes along and all of a sudden I’m a new me. Things start happening, I get up earlier, I get stuff done, I connect with people and even inspire others. I use more energy but still have more to give. It feels like I have a purpose again.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how this can happen. Are we just so vulnerable to the world that anything can put us down or get us going again? Do we not have a choice to be energetic or not? And what is the reason for suddenly losing energy? In many cases it’s about the story.

We all need a story to follow. Inherently people are driven by progress, that’s how humankind has come to be what we are today. We all seek a better future, a hope of something new, different and better. We want to make the world a better place, for ourselves and for others. This is called the progress principle (there is a good Harvard book about it). Progress is highly motivational for us. Why, I don’t know. I guess we are just wired that way. We need purpose, life has to be meaningful in some way. We crave a story to follow. That’s what I learned. When I get low for no apparent reason, I’ve lost my story. Or the story I’m following doesn’t make sense to me. It may be just me, perhaps I lack self-discipline or then I’m just lazy. But I don’t think so. When I have a story to follow, and feel like I make a positive impact on the world I achieve amazing things. When I believe that what I do makes something important better the sky's the limit for what I can do. This is something we underestimate in most organizations. The importance of a purposeful story. At the end of the day everything we do in organizations carries a story. People want to know WHY we do things and WHERE doing it will take us. It’s natural, it’s human. And it doesn’t only apply to young people. And the youngsters are not arrogant for actually saying they want purpose in their work. We all want that. We all need a story to follow.

So what kind of stories do we have in organizations? The short answer is that any project, change effort, development action or strategy is a story. It is a story that explains WHERE we want to go, WHY we want to go there and HOW we can start moving. It invites people to embark on a journey, to shape the path and build the future. In essence, organizational initiatives are only plans that carry a story of progress. So why do we fail in telling these stories, why do people get disengaged or unmotivated like me sometimes. It’s a difficult question with many possible answers. But I believe there are a few root causes:

#1 The story is bad

Sometimes the story is just bad. Many stories are bad. Like a bad book, you just quit reading it. Perhaps the title sounded good but it just doesn’t feel right. These are stories that lack people and their experiences. Stories that don’t include the employees, the customers, the suppliers, the main characters of the story. There are many of these stories out there. Some say we want to make this and that much more profit, become so and so much bigger and sell more stuff. While these are fundamentals of a company, they do not convey human progress to people and as such are likely to fail. We need to hear about the greater journey, how we make customers happy, how employees can make a difference and experience joy. Sounds a bit corny perhaps, but that’s the way it is. If you forget the people perspective, fail to engage people in the story, your goal of more profit is likely to fail.

#2 The story is cascaded

Telling a story to everyone in the same way never works. That’s why a cascading strategy approach rarely works. The story has to be translated to the realities of people so that it makes sense in the exact environment where they work, with their colleagues, team-members and bosses. The immediate reality that we work in matters to us most. That’s self-evident of course, but often overlooked. We can only contribute to the story with our own actions and behaviors, and those actions take place in our immediate surroundings with the people that we work with, customers and co-workers. If the story does not make sense in that reality, we are unlikely to be motivated and take any action to make it real. Instead we feel lost and unmotivated. Stories need to be translated to make sense in the everyday life of people. So even if the overall story is important it has to be adapted, adjusted, translated and kept a live in every part of the organization to be effective. That is perhaps the core challenge of leadership today.

#3 The story is misaligned

The most common problem is that the story clashes with reality. This happens over and over again in most organizations. When short-term pressure on revenue or cost comes along, we forget abóut the story and pay attention to fighting fires instead of walking the path. It’s natural, we pay attention to the things that hurt. When somebody puts pressure on us, it hurts and we respond by trying to get out of the pain and forget the story. There is nothing wrong with paying attention to short-term problems, but if we forget our story we lose it quickly. People pay attention to all messages in the organization, people validate what is being said with what is being done. If people are to make the journey happen, the story true, they must believe. In order to believe we need to see progress. Our experiences of what is being said and done have to be consistent. If people stop talking about the story, if people’s behaviors don’t reflect the story we stop believing. And when we stop believing we become dry cucumbers.

Stories are perhaps what motivates people most in any organization, actually acting on the story and making it happen even more so. That is at the center of employee engagement. Build a story that connects people to a meaningful journey and make it happen. Let people experience the journey so that it becomes reality. Welcome new people on the journey and let them pave the path.

BlaLab is dedicated to helping teams figure out how they are doing, discuss what to do about it and take action. The platform is free for individual teams and is a great place to start building purpose for your team. Start creating the story together. It’s not always easy. Organizations and teams (and people) are complex. If somebody actually read this story, the next one may shed some light on that, perhaps.

//Blalab_member_080219

4.jpg

—————

We are all coloured by our past

Every second your brain processes some eleven million signals. Out of this eleven million, 40 permeate you conscious awareness. In other words, that’s how much you can consciously process. We like to perceive ourselves as intelligent, rational beings, and yet our subconscious manages most of who we are.

Many of these non-conscious processes concern our physiology, like digestion. However, many are such you would traditionally connect with being a smart human being, such as language. But when you think about it, languages are learned, and yet the words flow to our consciousness, to our mouth, and out into the world, effortlessly. Without thinking about it much. Or let’s say you are hungry (physiological need) and you want to have a pizza (rational need?). Where did the mental image of a pizza come from? Did you just consciously form the idea of a pizza? Where did the idea come from?

When it comes to our social lives - which is what our everyday mostly is about - much of how we related to, interact, and lead, comes from our childhood. Babies are born social, something which is at a core of being human. However, it is also the key survival mechanism for the human infant. Being focused on the mother allows the symbiotic baby-mother being to develop a relationship whereby the baby’s needs are fulfilled. Gradually, as the baby grows, it starts to explore the world, always returning to the caring mother for a ‘re-fuel’ of care and confidence. Eventually the baby becomes a socially networked human being with many other relationship and a realization of the entire world to be explored. We grow up.

Now imagine what happens if the mother (or another primary caretaker) doesn’t care for the baby nor react to baby’s needs. One experience of neglect is followed by another. Gradually the baby forms non-conscious expectations about how the world works for him/her. When the baby grows up, these non-conscious patterns give rise to worrying thoughts and behaviors. At the very extreme, neglect and even abuse of own children, at the less extreme end other, more subtle dysfunctions.

It is an interesting thought that the leadership ‘fingerprint’ of a leader is by and large related to non-conscious thinking patterns about early childhood experiences, however it is true. We are all coloured by our past, but the degree to which that is true can be surprising. And it’s hard to get to the core of the patterns, let alone root causes, and psychotherapy is often times the vehicle for it. If one wants to get started lightly, we recommend reading such books Secure Base by John Bowlby or The family and Individual Development by D.W. Winnicott. The second thing to do is to ask for feedback, e.g. with the help of a well-designed survey tool. It turns out that we are not that good at self-assessment however other people are fairly accurate in their assessment of us.

Organizational analytics made simple

We often engage in discussions about people analytics which is somewhat of a hip term to use nowadays, and already for some years, in the field of HR. It makes a lot of sense to analyse your workforce of course, as strategy execution is where the big money sits - differentiating one’s business with an out-of-the-world strategy is risky, often times too much so.

So we’ve noticed that there’s a lot of talk about but quite little concrete action. People feel they don’t have the system (like software) for it, or they lack a scientist, or just don’t know where to start. Service providers make it sound huge and complex, and as a verification slam a massive price tag on it.

So let’s boil it down to its essence. What you really need is some data and the right perspective. Let’s start with the perspective. In essence your company - at least if it considers people analytics - is a system of people. People deliver the stuff you’re supposed to deliver as a firm. It’s also a very complex system, as these people have tons of interaction with each other, on a daily basis - in fact they tend to have a higher number of other people to interact with at work than outside work! Now, at macro level this system takes something in (the input), then spits something out (output). These are both separate and helpful sets of data. Input is things like people’s leadership and leaders’ ability to lead etc. These are things that move the system. Then there’s output. That’s things like customer satisfaction, sales, whatever the organization delivers for its environment.

People analytics is the set of actions that help you understand how the input’s affect the outputs. Some of the inputs will be more relevant than others, and you want to understand which, so that you can focus your efforts on those - that’s effective HR.

Then let’s get to the core issue - how to get started to avoid the land of excuses we started this blog with. First, output data you have, almost certainly at least on save level, be it sales by month or customer satisfaction or whatever. At least you should! The input is more tricky. A good source of data is an engagement survey. The problem is that firms typically run these on annual/biannual basis. The problem is that people analytics is also pattern recognition - if you only have a set of input data once a year how will you ever get to establish patterns! Organizations and people should be measured far more frequently. If you haven’t got a system in place, try our free Healthy Team survey, it doesn’t cost you anything. Once you’ve got both input and output data for a few months, mix it together and see what emerges. If you want to spice it up a bit, add things like team size, job family and other interesting variables.

Key here is just do it. Get started with data gathering and real facts emerge over time. As some of the data will always be redundant, the sooner you start and the more data you have, the quicker you’ll be successful.

//Blalab_member_010219

10.jpg



—————

AI will make HR redundant

There’s been so much hype, for so long a time, around AI, that we’ve avoided writing anything about it as it would simply get lost in the noise. But now feels like a right time as there seems to be a genuine urgency to understand what it means for HR.

HR as we know it will become redundant. But in a good way. Let’s approach this from two angles, first from evolution of work perspective, then from the complexity of organizations view.

Think back in time a bit, not too much, just a bit. Not long ago was all physical labour carried out by people and domestic animals. The invent of a machine transformed it all. Productivity jumped overnight as machines were able to be quicker, stronger and have a superior stamina. This also meant that work changed. Some people lost their jobs, but new emerged. See any correlations to the headlines present day? Overall, the society as we know it become possible. Most people would still opt to have all this, given the choice, despite the massive, arising problems like climate change.

Evolution of work gave rise to the knowledge worker. Working with the brain instead of the hands. Companies that succeed today are quite different from the well-oiled machine of the Taylorian times where symmetric, manual labour prevailed. Organizationally, they are not stable anymore. For people to produce more intangible assets, traditional organizational boundaries must be crossed. Innovation won’t come about unless people can freely collaborate across levels and functions. The functionality of system relies more on maximizing discretionary effort and energy in the system than on minimizing downtimes. Interestingly, the sum of interactions of people in the workplace is far greater than the sum of interactions at home. As human interaction in general is complex to model, how about dozends, hundreds, thousands of those interactions a day, each of which bears value and should be optimal for a knowledge worker to make a difference?

The artificial mind will be the curator of the thousands of organizational variables that exist, in order for the human mind to make the right decisions. This is simply because of the processing power of the AI that is required to model the complex organism of the modern organization. For the AI to be able to do this, it needs to be true AI, a learning machine that studies the organizational data, such as the metadata around electronic communication which in essence is the nervous system of an organization. No human made algorithm (fake AI) will be sufficient for such an effort simply because we wouldn’t know where to start. To teach the AI and increase the validity of its predictions, cutting edge employee sentiment mechanisms should be employed, and on continuous basis - rather short and sweet surveys, often, than marathon surveys once every two years.

I believe the future is bright for HR professionals. With our AI colleague we can add unprecedented value in business, and it has never been a better time to work in our field.

//150119_Blalab_member

1.jpg

—————

Organizational analytics made simple

We often engage in discussions about people analytics which is somewhat of a hip term to use nowadays, and already for some years, in the field of HR. It makes a lot of sense to analyse your workforce of course, as strategy execution is where the big money sits - differentiating one’s business with an out-of-the-world strategy is risky, often times too much so.

So we’ve noticed that there’s a lot of talk about but quite little concrete action. People feel they don’t have the system (like software) for it, or they lack a scientist, or just don’t know where to start. Service providers make it sound huge and complex, and as a verification slam a massive price tag on it.

So let’s boil it down to its essence. What you really need is some data and the right perspective. Let’s start with the perspective. In essence your company - at least if it considers people analytics - is a system of people. People deliver the stuff you’re supposed to deliver as a firm. It’s also a very complex system, as these people have tons of interaction with each other, on a daily basis - in fact they tend to have a higher number of other people to interact with at work than outside work! Now, at macro level this system takes something in (the input), then spits something out (output). These are both separate and helpful sets of data. Input is things like people’s leadership and leaders’ ability to lead etc. These are things that move the system. Then there’s output. That’s things like customer satisfaction, sales, whatever the organization delivers for its environment.

People analytics is the set of actions that help you understand how the input’s affect the outputs. Some of the inputs will be more relevant than others, and you want to understand which, so that you can focus your efforts on those - that’s effective HR.

Then let’s get to the core issue - how to get started to avoid the land of excuses we started this blog with. First, output data you have, almost certainly at least on save level, be it sales by month or customer satisfaction or whatever. At least you should! The input is more tricky. A good source of data is an engagement survey. The problem is that firms typically run these on annual/biannual basis. The problem is that people analytics is also pattern recognition - if you only have a set of input data once a year how will you ever get to establish patterns! Organizations and people should be measured far more frequently. If you haven’t got a system in place, try our free Healthy Team survey, it doesn’t cost you anything. Once you’ve got both input and output data for a few months, mix it together and see what emerges. If you want to spice it up a bit, add things like team size, job family and other interesting variables.

Key here is just do it. Get started with data gathering and real facts emerge over time. As some of the data will always be redundant, the sooner you start and the more data you have, the quicker you’ll be successful.

//Blalab_member_060119

Näyttökuva 2019-2-5 kello 10.43.24.png

—————

It’s go time

The time for some new year's resolutions. Usually people resolve to change - smile more, drink less, do more sports, read more and so on. Something positive.

The challenge is just turning those positive intentions into actual behaviors. You know, real change. And then keeping on the momentum, not stopping! These problems come from the inability to really spot the change, when it actually happens. Lack of proper measurement tools. Trying to change is less fun if you lack a way to see the all important small, even micro changes. It is a bit like trying to lose weight without a mirror or a weighing scale. Or trying to get into shape without fitness tracker - less fun.

At Blalab we focus on helping you see the change in your work environment. Yes, we are a gang of measurement geeks. So our new year's resolution is simple: We help people to feel better. How? We make tracking and improving work related improvements accessible to everyone.

Our tools help people help each other. Be it measuring the effectiveness of a team or an entire organization. Or just yourself! We provide you with the data to spot leaks and the holy boom-thadah key things. It's a fitness tracker for organizations. It makes invisible stuff visible. So that you can make real, visible changes.

So when your resolution is to change something in the working lives of people around you, try out our data frameworks. Give it a shot, it is free for individual leaders. So that people would matter more, feel awesome and be the best they can be in what they do. Let's make sure that in 2018 our people and work communities are in better shape than ever.

Happy New Year! 

//Blalab Team

jakob-owens-696095-unsplash.jpg