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Strategy and Direction - 27 May 2014

Whenever you take your pulse while exercising, you’re in effect checking to see whether you’re ‘in the zone’.  Being ‘in the zone’ means your heart rate is at a level where it’s working hard enough to burn calories but not so hard you’re at risk of heart failure.

At work, employee energy functions in much the same way.  You want employees energised enough so they perform productively and put in extra effort.  But push them too hard and you risk the onset of burnout, culminating in absenteeism, lethargy and turnover.

That analogy has just been published in the Employment Relations journal in reference to a new study of 1 million pieces of data on employee energy.  Some of the data generated results that were predictable.  The researchers found, for example, that workplaces with high levels of urgency, ownership and rewards compelled employees to be highly energetic.  No surprises there.

But there was one finding that was quite unexpected.  Of the employees who were surveyed qualitatively, 70% of them – an undeniably significant number – referred to the critical role thatstrategy and direction play in driving up (or driving down) their levels of energy.  

The strategy part of the equation is actually fine.  Employees understand the organisation's goals and usually embrace them.  The real problem occurs with the direction that follows a new strategy.  In particular, the mix of work and the amount of work.

Mix of work:  Even though a new strategy can be reinvigorating for employees, their replenished energy can dissipate quickly if the subsequent direction results in work that’s dull and simplistic.  The solution for leaders is to translate the strategy into tasks and projects that are interesting, challenging, and in line with employees’ talents.

Amount of work:  Employees find it frustrating when they’re given projects or additional work without consideration for their current workload.  This depletes their energy because it pushes them towards the burnout end of the spectrum.  The solution for leaders is to either reprioritise(by changing deadlines) or to redirect (by reallocating resources).

Often, executives are consumed by the high-level thinking needed to produce a winning strategy without realising their success will be determined by how well the subsequent direction energises their employees.  Because if that critical part of the equation falls off, there’s little chance the organisation will ever hit the zone.


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