How to Harness Employees’ Emotional Energy

When we ask a client’s employees what it is that makes them proud to work there, we often marvel at how consistent the answers are throughout an organization, regardless of level, function, or team. These cultural anchors aren’t always immediately obvious to outsiders, but if you take a bit of time to speak with individuals within an organization, you will begin to uncover them.

Employees at a mission-based hospital network may be driven by the knowledge that their work enables patients to live longer, healthier lives. People working for a blue-chip company may take special pride in being associated with a premium, globally recognized brand. Individuals working at a startup may wear its related scrappiness as a badge of honor. Workers at a factory may relish their part in its paternalistic role as a provider — of jobs, economic growth, and tax revenue.

This pride fuels “emotional energy,” something critical to both our understanding of organizational culture and employee engagement.

High scores on employee engagement do not always mean that your culture is supporting your strategy; and conversely, that low engagement scores do not necessarily mean that your culture is “flawed” or “broken.” Essentially, cultural evolution is not synonymous with improving employee engagement. I did, however, mention one area of overlap — that is, when you identify critical behaviors that drive performance directly and harness sources of emotional energy, thereby also driving engagement. Let’s look more at what this means.

Emotions Drive Peopel, People Drive Performance.

Emotional energy drives employees to go above and beyond, regardless of external incentives such as compensation and benefits. Specific strengths that are sources of pride within a company feed this emotional energy, which in turn drives people to work harder toward bettering the organization. The sense of pride that comes from this achievement further fuels emotional energy, motivating people to strive for even further success. And so the cycle repeats.

Jon Katzenbach explains that pride is an emotional high that follows success. An anticipation of future successes serves as an intrinsic source of motivation, which is often more powerful than formal incentives and rewards.

The ability to harness these sources of pride becomes especially important during periods of change and disruption. According to the Katzenbach Center’s Culture and Change Survey, during large-scale change efforts, companies that use employee pride/emotional commitment or the existing culture as a source of strength are almost twice as likely to achieve sustainable change as compared to companies that do not use these resources.

This is because absent attention, transformation efforts can threaten sources of pride, and thus your organization’s emotional energy. Think about a company that has always stood for treating employees as family. A large, impersonal organizational restructuring program could easily lead to the perception that employees are now just head count to be moved around.

When these cultural touchstones are under attack, employees become demoralized and can resist change. Counterproductive behaviors arise, including paying lip service to efficiency targets and hiding information in order to protect individual teams. It is then little wonder when a couple years down the road, costs have crept back up, shadow organizations have formed, and the company finds itself having to undergo yet another restructuring.

It may be tempting to try to change these sources of pride. During a cost-reduction effort, for example, it would be much easier if employees suddenly took pride in being lean. Culture, however, is something that evolves over time and is difficult to change.

Credited to by Alice Zhou

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July 23, 2018

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