Are You Fully Engaged?
By Gaia Grant
Tuesday, 15th July 2008
There is a new approach to the old balanced lifestyle conundrum. Rather than focusing on managing time, this approach claims that it is more effective to manage energy. By managing energy effectively, it is now stressed, there can be a greater focus on achieving goals successfully through directed attention and ‘full engagement'.

Based on the well-established ‘corporate athlete' concept introduced by Jim Loehr, research on achieving maximum athletic performance is being applied to the contemporary working context.

As Loehr & Tony Schwarz explain in their book ‘The Power of Full Engagement', it has been found that athletes who successfully alternate periods of high pressure training with focused rest and recovery achieve the greatest results. It is what tennis and golf players do between points to recover for example, just as much as how they approach the shots themselves, that most often separates the champions from the rest of the pack.

Like physical muscles, which need to be stretched and extended beyond their standard capacities in order to develop fully, humans also need to be able to extend and recover their mental, emotional and spiritual ‘muscles'. But just as physical growth requires dedicated periods of complete recovery in order to extend potential, so too growth in these other areas relies on dedicated periods of energy recovery. By focusing on use of energy rather than use of time, greater efficiency can be achieved in the workplace.

Giving 110%
The current pressure in the workplace to give 110% – resulting in long working hours and endless meetings and commitments – can mean people are expected to expend energy to the point where they fail to achieve maximum potential and start to flatline.

High expectations from leadership or the actual or imagined pressures to conform with team norms can prevent individuals from taking a break when their body and mind is crying out for it, and can lead them to commit to ideas or values they do not feel fully comfortable with.

Instead individuals can feel forced to hit the nicotine or caffeine to push themselves into a heightened state of readiness (the adrenaline high originally designed as a survival mechanism for "fight or flight") or to summons up a ‘go along with the gang' mentality (the new survival coping mechanism to ensure you don't get left behind personally or professionally), simply in order to be seen as ‘sporting' team players.

But tricking the body and brain like this is only a temporary solution, and in fact can lead to poor performance. In one space station an astronaut was overworked and over-fatigued to the point that he took 50 pictures of the view out the porthole window only to be told the window was actually closed! Another astronaut had to be talked down to earth after his partner's attempts at maintaining team harmony led to threats that his only companion coming back to earth would be a ‘corpse'.

Personal performance and productivity usually drop off very quickly after a certain period of intense performance, and this tendency needs to be properly recognized and dealt with. Because having a disengaged workforce can cost trillions of dollars, (see sidebar statistics: Working in Overdrive) and can obviously also greatly affect individual motivation and group morale, it is vital that solutions to this growing problem are actively sought.

Back to the source
People will often feel disengaged if the energy they spend is not consistent with their values, as there is a conflict of interest at a deeper level.

Some corporate leaders came to us recently asking us to help them understand what impact planned changes would have on their organization as a whole. In order to predict the potential impact, we asked them to complete our CPS ™ (Company Positioning System) exercise, which helped us to identify the company's readiness for change.

The leaders soon realized that their conservative culture would make it difficult for individuals to be able to cope with change, and that they would need to be able to engage their workforce at a deeper level with values they could connect with before making the changes.

Ultimately, the process of ensuring full engagement as an individual and in the organization should to start with the recognition of the need for consistent values, and as a result there will be effective flow through to the ways individuals think and act. Only then can people be expected to perform to full potential, and only then can they feel the sense of satisfaction that should be experienced through the work they do.

To consider:
1) How is your time planned? Do you give yourself opportunities for full attention and full recovery?

2) What culture has been created in your team / organization? How can you help to ensure there is positive support for values that encourage full engagement?

Gaia Grant, director of Tirian and author of the inspirational book 'A Patch of Paradise', offers a range of session in her 'Finding a Rhythm' program. www.tirian.com 

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