Why employee engagement is no longer enough

Brady Wilson
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Today’s businesses are facing a troubling trend: employees who are engaged, but not energized.

These people may be loyal, committed to the cause, and take pains to get things done—but they are also exhausted.

According to brain science, when we are low on energy, the “executive function” of the brain suffers. This affects our ability to connect the dots, focus attention amidst massive multiple distractions, regulate emotions in tension-filled situations, predict outcomes, and make smart decisions.

In the corporate world, traditional engagement initiatives do little if nothing to fuel the executive function; rather, business leaders continue to focus on ways to get even more discretionary effort from their already-exhausted workforce.

In return, all these managers are getting—at best—are dedicated under-performers.

Yes, engagement is still essential. But it is energy—not engagement—that fuels people’s ability to be high performers, deploying their strengths and driving execution, and translating ideas into action.

On its own in today’s competitive marketplace, engagement is not enough to keep your business alive. It is energy that makes all the difference in the world: because energized employees fuel great customer experiences and better business results.


Engaged vs. energized employees

Think about it: what would you want your customers to say after they interact with one of your employees? Do you want them to say your employee was intelligent, competent, helpful, knowledgeable and professional?

Of course you don’t! Any one of your competitors can evoke these kinds of responses. These characteristics are the bare minimum required to be in the game.

What you want is customers walking away, talking about the “human magic” they’ve experienced:

  • “She was intuitive.”
  • “He connected with me—she really got me.”
  • “He cared deeply—and found the perfect solution for me.”
  • “She was empathetic.”
  • “He brought some personality, some sparkle.”

That human magic, which creates unforgettable customer experiences, cannot happen unless your employees are able to access the executive function of their brain.

In other words, there is a marked difference between an engaged employee, and an employee who is both engaged and energized.


Fuelling sustainable results

For a business to be sustainable, you need a blend of people’s discretionary effort and innovative thought.

To further demonstrate the difference, consider two employees who deal with a customer complaint:

  • “Engaged Elaine” uncovers the root cause of the customer’s concern, identifies the inadequacies of a business process, and discusses it with her manager.
  • “Energized Eduardo” does everything that Engaged Elaine does—but also uses his frontline experience to come up with an innovation that elegantly addresses the issue. He then uses his influence skills to get the innovation implemented.

Let’s face it: Elaine’s effort is not sufficient on its own to produce sustainable results.

Without access to their executive function, your employees are not thinking innovatively about how to get to root causes and fix systemic issues. This results in an organizational culture full of firefighting, duct-tape fixes, quick work-arounds and reactivity: the perfect eco-system for energy depletion.


Make the shift to energy

The challenge for business leaders today is in creating energizing environments where employees can access their knowledge, experience, skills and strengths at a moment’s notice.

But it is possible: by factoring in the importance of the human brain to employee engagement initiative—essentially, moving beyond engagement as we know it today.

One way to make the shift from managing engagement to managing energy is through conversation.

Science shows meaningful, face-to-face conversation that demonstrates value, respect and care is a much more effective way to boost employee performance than surveys, town halls, newsletters and departmental action plans. Here’s why:

  • Conversation releases high-performance hormones, boosting the brain’s processing power by forming a feel-good energy cocktail of connection, calm, concentration, creativity and curiosity. Conversation also promotes trust and deepens the leader-employee relationship.
  • Conversation addresses negative beliefs. Brain science shows that it is not our capability but our belief in our capability that impacts how effective we are. Leaders who engage in meaningful conversation with employees can identify and address negative beliefs, and create a much greater sense of agency in their people.
  • Conversation helps leaders get to know the “backstory” or context behind engagement scores. Rather than jumping to action with broad-brush, one-size-only action plans, a solution that takes individual needs into account honours how the brain operates.
  • Conversation manifests into partnering relationships, allowing leaders and employees to co-create powerful solutions that both parties are willing to adopt and implement.

Short, simple “Energy Check” conversations are a proven and effective way leaders can unlock insight and possibility in employees’ minds. It can be as simple as asking employees what is energizing them at the moment, and what is depleting their energy.

Conversation creates natural opportunities to unlock insight and possibility in employees’ minds. This generates energy, which fuels a great customer experience and sustainable business results.

By shifting to an organizational culture that honours how the human brain works, entire organizations can transform themselves into hubs of sustainable passion, innovation and enthusiasm—essentially, the epitome of a truly engaged workforce.

Brady Wilson is co-founder of Juice Inc., a corporate training company that services organizations from Toronto to Los Angeles. This article is based on principles from Brady’s latest book, Beyond Engagement: A Brain-Based Approach That Blends the Engagement Managers Want with the Energy Employees Need. Follow Brady on Twitter (@BradyJuiceInc) or visit www.bradywilson.com.

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