Energizing to Power Sparkling Engagement

"Energizing" is potentially highly renewable. We've seen how people become immediately charged up when they discover how select Safety techniques can make them immediately stronger and more balanced.

The way leaders see an issue directs their approach; what you expect to see narrows your attention—and resources. For example, there’s been a lot written and presented about "engaging" workers. And for good reasons. Numerous studies illuminate current (and plummeting) low levels of employee trust, buy-in, and enthusiasm, in some cases where workers are actively and alarmingly working against/sabotaging their company (from undermining leadership, ignoring or outright violating Safety directives or policies/procedures, blatantly badmouthing their organization, stealing, damaging equipment, quitting without notice, and more).

An article in the October 2017 Forbes cuts to the point: "Employee engagement statistics paint a bleak picture, with over half of the workforce categorized as disengaged—defined as 'less emotionally connected' and not willing to do any more than necessary to keep their job. More alarming is that nearly 1 in 5 workers are 'actively disengaged'—actually working against their organization, their boss, or both. If you only had five people working for you, and this many were pulling in the opposite direction, you’d be hard pressed to gain ground!"

And I strongly suspect that many supervisors and managers are also not fully committed to their organization’s mission (though studies seem narrowly focused on demoralized workers).

This has gotten the attention of many leaders. Some respond by ignoring or clamping down. ("The beatings will continue until the morale improves.") Others commission "engagement studies" that are too often strong on generating data but weaker on leading to substantive solutions. (And disseminating polls always sets the expectation this will quickly lead to making things better; further disengagement can ensue when there’s lack of prompt follow-up action.)

A complementary strategy: Aim for the bull's eye of raising workers' and managers' energy. There's a real difference between "energizing" and "engaging" people—though energy is essential for engaging people.

Engaging means eliciting others to do something at a given time—participate in a safety committee, offer a suggestion, speak in a meeting, or more. But where leaders only superficially understand engagement dynamics, their actions can often backfire.

Checking off engagement can lead to workers checking out. For example, some leaders call on people at meetings, pressure them to talk or respond, or "volunteer" them to do something. While this approach might "win a battle," it often "loses the war." People tend to push back when pushed on. Even when they appear to comply under pressure, it's as minimally as possible. Embarrassing people into "acting engaged" can also incite anger and invite disengagement.

An illustration: During the Korean War, singer Jack Crosby (son of the more famous Bing) went public about his strong intent to enlist in the U.S. Army in order to fight, not sing. But after Crosby signed up, the Army placed him in Special Services as an entertainer. The press flocked to Jack, asking about his public expressions of serving on the front lines, not singing. Jack's response: "They may be able to make me sing. But they can't make me sing good."

Nor can any manager force a worker to be engaged or participate "good." And it's a lot easier for workers to quit their job outright or add to the statistics of presenteeism—going through the motions, working at only a fraction of their abilities—than for Jack Crosby to separate from the Army.

In contrast, Energizing entails igniting, cultivating, and sustaining others' level of energy, rather than hit-or-miss or in spikes. It means practically raising interest and enthusiasm, sparking, or recharging them. Energy fuels all action.

Think of it this way. It's as if each of us houses an individual "rechargeable battery" whose capacity may vary (based on lots of factors). Overall, energy is required to see and consider what to do as well as to then make complicated decisions. Ultimately, energy enables and drives our actions (to make things happen, to be charismatic, to engage in activity). But like any battery, our internal charge diminishes or becomes drained with use. And, an important point that many leaders overlook, even such batteries that are unused, on a shelf or in a drawer, lose their charge over time. Lack of use also saps our energies. Physiologically, we all need rest, food, oxygen to recharge. Beyond these basics, leaders can focus on energizing to refuel others through inspiration, dedication, and attraction. So, like "engaging," energizing also results in action—but in this case in action that is driven internally by workers, rather than their externally being pushed or pulled or coerced or prodded. In other words, "energizing" is potentially highly renewable.

For one proven approach, consider "plugging" people in by enlisting the power of Discovery. First, discover what energizes you as a leader. Next, discover what already energizes others. Inquire about their favorite hobbies or pastimes, where they find enjoyment, what moves them. Then, tie this in by asking, Are there Safety elements in your favorite pastimes? Can you share this information for others' benefit? Or invite them to talk about the Safety issues in their hobby at a toolbox meeting. I've found that people become energized talking about their passions. This in turn can excite others as a change of pace by truly personalizing Safety and also spur others' thinking about practical applications to what they most like to do. Also, give them opportunities to solve Safety "problems," don't just tell.

Further, if a picture's worth a thousand words, a feeling is worth a million—and is incredibly energizing. For example, we've seen how people become immediately charged up when they discover how select Safety techniques can make them immediately stronger and more balanced.

The main point? Strategically aim toward energizing, going beyond pro forma "engagement" implementations. For example, think "Lift Truck Rodeo." Recharge people at their core by exciting them to discover how Safety can provide opportunities to boost their available energy and augment their abilities in what's already important to them.

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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