Suggested by Perry Timms, Simon Daisley and – notably – Dorothy Matthew, who suggested to me that time management is outdated, and the focus today needs to be on managing energy as opposed to time, and Russell Harvey, who reminded me leading change means checking in with others to see how they are managing their energy for change.
Managing time is out
I remember attending a training course on time management when I first started out in my career. We were encouraged to schedule important tasks in our diaries and treat them as of similar importance to meetings, for example. At the end of the course, the delegates paired up to check-in and support each other with our agreed actions. I can’t remember the name of the chap I paired with. Let’s call him Dave. So, a couple of weeks later, I dutifully phoned Dave…
“Hi Dave, it’s Jez. How are you getting on with managing your diary?” I asked, politely.
“I’m far too busy to start with any of that crap!” he retorted, paradoxically.
Perhaps even then, the concept of time management was outdated. Dave was living on adrenaline, managing all the tasks he needed to, performing adequately, perhaps, surviving, just. But for how long is such an approach sustainable?
Managing energy is in
Fast forward a couple of decades or so and I now work with groups of senior leaders who are coping with gnarly transformational changes in their organisations. My work is concerned with how to lead change so that it sustains. I’m struck that today’s rapidly changing world gives rise to rapidly changing pressures on leaders.
I’ve said before that leading change starts on the inside. We all react to change when it happens to us from the outside-in. Learning to recognise our own emotional response means we can make more active choices in how to respond, rather than react. How we can maintain our own energy for change, so we can help others cope with it too? How we can internalise the change, so we work with it from the inside-out? This, I believe, makes us better change leaders.
The way we are working is not working
I am reminded of the words that describe working in different zones as articulated by Tony Schwartz in The Way We work Isn’t Working. Schwartz suggests we tend to operate in one of four zones:
- Performance Zone, when our energy and activity are high, and we feel optimistic
- Survival Zone, when our energy and activity are high, but we are running around doing so much. In this Zone, our emotional state is negative, we become pessimistic about work, we retreat into silos, protecting ourselves from the outside world. We are just about surviving
- Burnout Zone, when our energy dips catastrophically and it all becomes too much
- Renewal Zone, when we find time to recover from the pressures of work, energy remains low (we are recovering after all), however we regain our optimism and become ready to move back to the Performance Zone.
When the pace of work and change becomes too much, our performance slips, we can find ourselves operating in the Survival Zone. We might find ourselves feeling lonely or moody, we may become narcissistic and unpredictable. We might also become apathetic, appearing to others as stubborn or intense. These are the signs we are moving towards the Burnout Zone.
The trick is to find ways to move freely between the Performance Zone and the Renewal Zone, so that we remain optimistic and enthusiastic, while slowing our energy and activity to recover, and then using our renewed energy to keep our performance high.
And so, the question becomes: what can you do to maintain your energy for change? To find time in your routine to recover from the pressures of work – where the pace of change is ever-increasing – and keep your performance high?
Three tips to maintain your energy for change
- Find your own words to describe the four Zones. Then, notice when you are feeling that way, it is probably an indication you are already in that Zone, or moving towards it
- Work out what renews your energy – this might be mindful meditation, sport or exercise, social activities, hobbies or clubs. At work, it might simply be finding time to leave your desk and go for a walk or have your lunch with others away from the office. It might be finding time to #JustBe. Outside of work it might be reading, listening to or playing music, painting or simply have a long soak in a hot bath. This tip helps you discover your own Renewal Zone.
- Mindfully choose to spend time in your Renewal Zone. Schedule it in your diary if needs be. Dave, are you listening? I was listening, I have time blocked out in my diary entitled #JustBe.
You might find you start to spot the signs of the Survival Zone or Burnout Zone in others. If so, you might want to encourage them to think about their own Renewal Zone. You may also find you can spot the signs of the Performance Zone or the Renewal Zone in others and choose to appreciate them, to celebrate their achievement!
OD Thought Leader: Chester Elton, “The Apostle of Appreciation” (1958 – )
Chester Elton is one of the masters of employee engagement.
Elton and his co-author, Adrian Gostick, conducted research with 200,000 managers and literally millions of workers to evidence the thinking behind their ‘Carrot Principle’. The research found that feeling appreciated is one of the highest ranked (top three, worldwide) workers’ motivations.
They propose, “a carrot is something used to inspire and motivate an employee. It’s something to be desired… Simply put, when employees know that their strengths and potential will be praised and recognised, they are significantly more likely to produce value.”
Their research has spawned an industry of formal employee recognition schemes. But it is the informal, cultural aspects that often have the most impact. A carrot does not need to be monetary. Simply being thanked or publicly recognised is enough for many.
If I may borrow from another great thought leader, Nancy Kline, “people do their best thinking in the presence of Appreciation.” I’d suggest ‘their best thinking’ translates readily into ‘their best work’. And so, managers showing their honest appreciation improves organisational performance.
Creating a climate of appreciation enables organisations to sustain what Elton calls a ‘Carrot Culture’.
And if, as I believe, Engagement is one of the engines of organisational effectiveness, this can only help to humanise the workplace in a systemic way. And that, dear readers, is what OD is all about.