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All businesses are people businesses

‘Presenteeism’ (the art of being at work but not working) happens in many businesses – it may very well be happening in yours right now.

Its causes are many but perhaps its roots come from the tensions that exist between time and energy?

Many organisations are still very structured around paying people for their time. Whilst most reward performance and achievement, many organisations still think about people through the lens of time based value – full time, part time etc. Your people turn up in the morning and leave in the evening having completed meetings and tasks, made phone calls, or products, or systems, or designs. That is what they do – but the energy they put into those tasks is so much more valuable than the time they put in. The more energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand, the more productive that person is and the greater the value they create for the organisation.

You’ve heard this before. Or you think you have. But this is about much more than just creating a nice place to work. Creating a workplace culture that supports people to invest more energy into their work simply makes good business sense and is now more vital than ever – because if you aren’t, your people and your customers are going to those that are!

Let’s say on average your people put in about 70% of their energy into their jobs (and I would say that’s pretty good). If you could access an additional 5% of that energy, what would that look like to the business? Your overheads haven’t gone up – you are still paying the same salary and you aren’t paying any overtime. But the value to your clients has gone up because they are receiving a better service or quality product. They give you more work. Or you can charge more. They recommend you to their peers. All positive things.

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But what can you do to earn this extra energy from your people?

And I do mean earn – people’s energy is not given freely and you can’t expect this to be given without something offered in return. Our work in this space over the last 20 years has led us to believe there are three basic principles that influence the amount of energy that individuals are willing to give each day. Let’s not forget that time is fixed and finite, it’s perishable and we all have the same amount, however energy is variable and discretionary. Get the mix right and you will see your culture transform with exponential benefit to your people, your clients and your business.

Motivation: Give your best

How do you encourage your people to give their best? By ensuring you have the right leadership in place, autonomy to do meaningful work where people can learn and grow, and provide avenues for everyone to have a voice in the business.

I was reading a brilliant welcome from a creative agency not long ago and it said “Life is easy when someone is telling you what to do. It’s also boring, and it prevents you from being invested in what you’re doing. Since you control your own destiny here, you’ll likely be more emotional about your work. We believe that’s better than the alternative. Can you imagine coming to work each day and not caring? We can’t.”

Neither can I. I love my job. I have a great team. We are supportive of each other, honest, responsible and driven to make our growing teamwork. I want this for our clients and their people.

A sense of responsibility and ownership of collective success is rewarding for everyone in the business and absolutely helps to increase the amount of energy your people will give to their roles.


Execution: Do your best

Okay, you have a great team in place who are motivated and hungry. But do you have the systems in place to ensure they can act on everything they need to do? What are the internal procedures and processes – is there unnecessary bureaucracy slowing things down?

Do you have the right technologies and systems in place to support collaboration and sharing, as well as even the most mundane of tasks?

Is there a strategy that everyone can work towards – and does everyone know where they fit within that strategy and understand how they can help support this?

Your people will do their best work when they have the right tools at their fingertips, the right processes and a direction to collectively work towards. Remove the worry about ‘how’ they will do something, and people can focus their energy on creating real value.


Authenticity: Be your best

This is about bringing your whole self to work – the diversity all businesses aspire to achieve across gender, sexuality, race, background, ability, perspective and skillset. This is important.

Let’s say you work a typical 7.5 hour day, 5 days a week. Let’s factor in 7.5 hours of sleep every night. You spend roughly a third of your waking hours at your place of work (not including commuting time). How motivated are you if you need to fit a certain stereotype, hide part of who you are or compromise your personal life to achieve career goals? Not very?

On top of this, do your people know what is expected of them? Is what you say aligned with what you do? Is the difference valued?

There is a young man in our Sydney office that has several gold medals from the Special Olympics and the World Down Syndrome Games. As well as being an athlete, he is an actor and has appeared in a number of Australian movies. His energy and positivity are phenomenal and he has brought that energy with him to our company – in the process making some of us feel like we haven’t accomplished quite as much as we could have. Would there have been a role for this person a decade ago? Possibly not. But now we know that diversity of all kinds makes for a better workplace. And we are better for it.

Those are the three main influences in the workplace. Essentially, for a business to access the untapped energy in their people then they must become a people business. People must be at the centre. I’d argue that all businesses are already people businesses – but some just haven’t tapped into the potential yet.

As leaders, we hold the collective discretionary energy of our people in our hands. What we do each day, what we pay attention to and how we behave determines just how much of this variable and discretionary value is directed towards our teams, customers and organisations as a whole. Designing your organisation to realise this value is simply too important to be left to chance.