Around the turn of the twenty first century, there was a huge buzz around humans being ‘resources’ and just like the other resources such as machinery, material and finance, it was now time to manage these resources well in order to draw the competitive advantage that is quite critical for businesses to survive and thrive. While this wave was on the upsurge, there was another cry, that of viewing these human resources more as humans – living entities, than the non-living category that the other resources fall into.
The need to manage these resources required for one to figure out a completely different approach, be it Gallup talking about engagement, how a high percentage of employees is not engaged and the negative impact of the same on business performance or there being host of other services that mushroomed up in the last decade or so around culture assessment, competence development, people engagement, employee assistance programs and retention of these resources. All touting the fact that since humans are a different type of resource, this varied and multi-pronged strategy is required for utilizing them in the best possible way for business success. Add to this the complexity of changing generations and with that the needs, aspirations and motivations that drive them. There have also been innumerable models and structures that have been created over the years for managers and leaders to work better with their people.
Whether we view people as human beings or as human resources, there is something fundamentally different with this species ‘homo sapiens’ that has intelligence as a defining and distinct characteristic. Over the ages, the utilization of these resources has seen a shift from purely physical to highly intellectual with the physical and less intellectual work now delegated to machines. So, beyond Maslow’s hierarchy and various motivational theories, what makes the ‘homo sapiens’ go? And what is there in them that needs to be, for the want of a better word, ‘managed’?
How about energy? And energy not just along a single dimension as we usually understand it, but along multiple dimensions with each having a very close interrelationship with the others. These dimensions are the physical at the fundamental level, the emotional and mental ones that spell out the heart-brain connection and the spiritual that encompasses everything else. So, how about managing the energy along these four dimensions? Now some of us may say, hey wait a minute, energy is supposed to be physical, how can it be having any other form? Come, let’s explore it together.
Physical – while most of us understand it as plain and simple energy that we derive through what we eat, the physical energy itself has many other elements that we don’t realize. Of course, not to say that most of us are even eating right and at the right times! Physical energy also depends on the quantity and quality of sleep, the recovery breaks through the work day (which we don’t feel a need for since most of the work is not physical anymore – but do we realize that the brain requires almost 20-25% of the energy we consume through food), the quality of breathing and our water intake. A less than adequate and appropriate input of any of these means that we are fueling our bodies inadequately. Scores of young professionals passing away in their sleep because they used to drive their bodies beyond limits of sanity are proof enough that it doesn’t work. So is the message from unhealthy life styles of youth today that are driving the age for acquiring lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes towards teenage and young adulthood.
Emotional – which leader can survive by ignoring the passions that emotions can arise! From happy, joyful, satisfied to frustrated, stressed and disgruntled, human emotions flow along a spectrum. And so does the energy associated with these emotions. Not only do emotions call forth the deeper human passions for making something happen or not, these also call upon the physical and mental energies to work in tandem. Ask a leader who is able to inspire their followers by tapping into their emotions through developing strong relationships and taking care of things that affect the emotions both positively and negatively. It is important for leaders to be clued into their own emotions for being able to do this (no wonder then that we hear about empathy as one of the most important leadership traits). Have we not known followers work long hours and weekends happily for a leader that they emotionally identify with? And others that are so disgruntled that even the best pay cannot retain them to work with a person who doesn’t really care for them as humans? It is all about tapping into the emotional energy. And it can be of different types. How individuals identify with their teams, the work environment, the leader and how the organization makes the individual special in front of their family for being a part of the ‘work family’. The emotional energy is a force that can be channeled into the positive when it is controlled. When uncontrolled, it can become a destructive force through rage, jealously, hatred or depression, sadness and disinterest.
Mental – the intellectual side of human beings is a no-brainer (pun intended!). The last five decades saw the emergence of industries that rode on human intellect. Especially with IT and it’s deep impact on all other aspects of human life. We continue to ride that wave. Each and every industry now requires people with superlative intellectual energy for bringing about innovations that would continue to define success for the company. And it doesn’t stop at just doing things smarter and better, given the disruptive innovation that has been witnessed in the last decade or so. Moreover, the utilization of this intellectual energy is not limited to big organizations or the top institutes. Many of these disruptions have emerged from the most unexpected of people. Organizations hence need to manage the mental energy of not only who are inside but even who are outside. Big data has brought in opportunities where companies get to have real time feedback on what is working for them in the market and what is not. How well they manage this intellect of people outside the organization is hence a big opportunity.
Spiritual – The last and definitely the most! A deeply profound purpose that drives each one of us. As Viktor Fankl described it in his book – man’s search for meaning. It is what every human being strives for – living a life of purpose. All other energies are subservient to this as evidenced by him in the concentration camps where a lack of purpose made fellow prisoners do things that were counter intuitive to their own survival. And those who lived on with a purpose survived despite all the odds stacked against them. Daniel Pink describes this in his book ‘what motivates us’ as our need to define purpose in what we do. A challenge, a contribution, or making someone’s life better. How many of us really identify the purpose of the organization that we work with? The so called mission that, many a times, is something that is hung in golden letters in offices but is rarely looked at by anyone. Profit being the only motive that ends up driving people and organizations. Over a period of time people find such an existence dry and devoid of meaning. And then they drift off to seek the elusive purpose elsewhere. The question to ask ourselves is whether we have done enough to align every person across the organization to this purpose. And how do they identify their own role contributing to this organizational purpose. Given that all of us play different roles in life, we may have different purposes driving us in each of those roles or that the purpose may change with the phase of life we are in, from a fresh pass out from college to a mid-age professional to a the senior year and beyond. Being connected to the purpose at each stage is important to feel engaged and productive.
I am reminded of a situation described by a fellow senior trainer from the industry. Being from the Indian IT hub of Bangalore, he frequently trains and consults with clients in the city whose offices are located in the numerous IT parks spread across the city. During lunch hours, he is in the habit of sitting and observing the multitude of software engineers and young professionals of today who keep moving across such facilities. An interesting question was posed by him to me – how do these people look? His answer is equally interesting, albeit funny. They look like a wet potato wafer! Yes, more than 90% of the people look like a wet potato wafer. Why? Because they are moving around aimlessly, without a clear purpose and motive and they are living their lives in just earning their livelihoods by doing work that doesn’t bring much meaning to their lives.
So, how many spheres of energy are we drawing upon in our lives? A lopsided extraction of energy from any one source makes for a depletion of that energy while the others remain underutilized. It is this imbalance that also causes grief, disease and unhappiness over a period of time. If we neglect our bodies, or if we neglect our relationships or if we do not sharpen our knowledge and skills or if we continue to live a life of no purpose, it leads to an energy drain that starts affecting us in different ways at various levels.
Whether you are a young professional or a leader with decades of experience, do an energy self-audit today. Happiness, as it is said, is not something to be sought and found from without. It is a state of mind that is found from within. A balanced way of living that extracts and recovers energy in all four spheres is what makes one productive and yet happy. As it is said in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘’for the uncontrolled there is no wisdom. For the uncontrolled there is no concentration, and for him without concentration, there is no peace. And for the un-peaceful how can there ever be happiness?’’ The control is hence required in how we manage our energies. The control is hence also required in organizations on how we as leaders enable people to manage their own energies. An imbalance in energy in any aspect will lead to dissonance in their lives and hence impact their productivity and satisfaction. The balancing act, as it is said proverbially, is not an easy one and hence one can, just like perfection, strive towards living it one day at a time.
In HR parlance, whether for HR leaders or for business leaders, this translates into infusing the right energy into the organization at various points of time. It starts with Talent Acquisition where it means assessing that people bring in the right Spiritual-purpose, mental-competence, physical-wellness and emotional-values alignment. Talent assessment, engagement and development (given all the noise around the need for changing performance assessment approaches, building high engagement and ensuring ongoing development) should move towards assessing contribution made (spiritual energy), continued values alignment (emotional energy), health (physical energy) and continuous competence development (mental energy). Then truly HR practices would’ve evolved towards ensuring that people are highly engaged and not only delivering their best but also are in a position to continue to do so. A dip in energy in any of the four quadrants will signal the need for an intervention in order to get that energy up (even if it is due to personal reasons as a prolonged low state will lead to a breakdown in some way or the other).
So, CHROs, are you ready to make way for the CPEOs (Chief People Energy Officers)?