Every company aims to have an environment where people are energised and motivated to give their best. But when the leadership teams notice a dip in employee engagement they often turn to HR department to come up with a solution. And the usual approach includes, reward schemes, incentive programs, allocating small budgets to project teams and departments to do “spot awards”, performance bonus and family paid holidays, just to name a few.
These initiatives create some excitement in the organisation. Individuals who get recognised or who get rewarded feel good and happy. All of us know, these are short-term measures and they do not ignite a fire inside people that can continue to burn for a long time and spread across the company. They also can create a sense of competition among the employees. Competition creates winners and losers. It does not infect the organisation with a positive virus of renewed energy.
How can then organisations get the people energised and create a deeper sense of engagement? There is a fundamental need to look at what motivates individuals, as they collectively define the organisation. What works at an organisation level is not very different from what truly energises an individual. I want to share three ways leadership can energise the organisation and unleash the spirit at workplace:
Permission to dream big and act bold
Spirit is unleashed when people envision a future that is bold and powerful. This has to do with leadership painting a vision that is aspirational and not just some goals for incremental growth. A vision that is clear, compelling and bold. Everyone aspires to do something challenging and be part of a company that has the courage to dream big. Last year we facilitated an offsite where the senior leaders of a company sat together and painted their shared vision. They surprised themselves with their audacity. It was like a sleeping giant suddenly waking up with an exciting dream. The team was charged up to move forward. When they communicated that vision with passion and determination, it created a whole new sense of energy and vitality in the organisation. When the organisation dreams big, it gives permission to all to dream big and act bold. The leadership challenge is to stay on course with courage and pursue the dream. When that happens, there is never a shortage of people who want to sign up or resources to find. People will “pay” to be part of the dream. Magic happens.
Continuously push the boundaries
Spirit is unleashed when people experience their true potential and discover what they are capable of. Recently we worked with a group of 30 young women from a technology company. It was a six months long programme, designed to help the participants push their boundaries of the possible. The programme equipped them with leadership concepts, frameworks and tools so that they can lead and not just manage. They defined their leadership purpose and the vision of where they want to be. The focus of the programme was on applying the new learning to become more effective in everyday professional and personal life situations. It might be about having a performance conversation with a team member, giving development feedback to their manager, planning and conducting a meeting with a board member, negotiating for a salary hike, seeking a higher role, facilitating a virtual planning session, dealing with a difficult customer complain -situations they have avoided in the past and shied away from. Six months later, there is a team that stands out because of their light and confidence. They have transformed internally and show their leadership prowess externally. Suddenly people around them want to be like them. Their energy is infectious. They have become like the yeast that is enlivening their teams and departments. Leadership challenge is to believe in people’s abilities, create true opportunities for growth and development and continuously push their boundaries.
Stay out of the way
Spirit is unleashed when people see what they do makes a dramatic, positive and long term impact to the stakeholders and are given the freedom to make it happen. One of the most effective ways to create waves in the organisation is to establish a set of cross functional semi-formal groups that are focused on dealing with areas which can positively impact the customers, employees or the society. Once in my former organisation we launched eight cross-functional teams cutting across many geographies to deal with eight different issues that needed breakthrough solutions. No money or time was centrally budgeted or allocated. They were given the scope and a business case showing the importance of the issue. Each project had the freedom to enlist anyone in the organisation and go about its task. Senior leadership, by design could not intrude in the functioning of the projects or micro-manage them. When teams of people are charged with coming up with breakthrough solutions for complex situations and given the space to function, amazing things happen. Busiest people find time. They devise creative methods to communicate across the time zones, share data and work together virtually. They find ways to work around the bureaucracies, “can’t be done” mind sets and hindering procedures. They enlist a whole lot of additional people to help them. I have never seen anyone say no, when they understand the larger purpose of the “intrusion” in their life. No one asks for incentives, over time, comp offs or a reward. The leadership challenge is to trust a group of people to come up with a good solution and stay out of their way. When the teams begin to function with a sense of freedom and responsibility, they light up many parts of the organisation. It is like seeing a city from the air in the dark…hundreds of light bulbs shining across the landscape.
Spirit and energy are hard to describe. They are experienced. We know when we experience energy at work place and we also know when there is no energy or life force. Often we find it easier to diagnose why there is no energy. We need to shift our attention to what indeed creates spirit to bubble forth in the organisation. People respond to audacious challenges, bigger than life missions, and shine when they taste what they are truly capable of. It is the essence of human nature
Unleashing human spirit does not require much money. It requires imagination.