Have you ever felt like sleeping in because you didn't want to face another day in a dead office? Did you wonder why you, as the employer, should somehow be responsible for motivating your unmotivated employees? What if you could add energy to your office? What if you could energize your employees, your customers and yourself? If you seek answers to these questions, today's story about Elmer and the lessons that follow may help you understand how you can add energy to your workplace.
Elmer entered his office as he had every Monday morning.
He shared cordial 'good mornings' with Samantha, his administrative assistant and Chuck, one of his salespeople. As he made his way to his office, he felt a little out of sorts. Something was wrong. There was a gloomy kind of ‘quiet’ in the office.
Elmer had started his engineering firm five years ago, designing exterior lighting systems for municipalities. His company started with a bang and quickly developed enough momentum to hire five engineers, two salespeople and an administrator. After losing a recent contract to a competitor, Elmer was getting concerned that their startup firm had lost its luster.
The quiet in his office seemed to be just one more omen of a declining business. His engineers were busy working on design projects. They rarely talked to anyone. They’d often dawn their headphones and disconnect from the rest of the world. His sales reps seemed to be busy, but he never heard them talking with customers on the phone; and he noticed their calendars didn’t seem all that full. His administrative assistant seemed be doing ‘busy work’… but wasn’t that busy with ‘real work’.
Elmer decided to give Coach Russ a call. Russ was a business coach who Elmer worked with when he first started his business. Elmer felt like Russ may be able to better diagnose the low energy in his office. Maybe he could inject the ambition that was missing from his startup days.
After some small talk, Russ asked, "What prompted you to call me, Elmer?"
Elmer responded, "I don't know how to say this. I walked into the office today, and the atmosphere just seems BLAH."
"What do you think has contributed to the BLAH?"
"I don't know. I was hoping that you could help me answer that question."
"On a scale of one to ten. One being complete dullsville, and ten being super-charged. What number would you give the overall energy level in your office?"
"It may just be me, but I’d give it a one or a two. I think I must have missed the lesson on how to motivate my people."
"You know as well as I, that employers can't be held responsible for motivating their employees. However, it IS your responsibility to create an energized work environment."
Elmer chuckled, "What do you mean? Am I supposed to electrify the air or something?"
"Yes... something like that. Let's meet and I'll fill you in on how you can energize your workplace."
Coach Russ and Elmer met at a local coffee shop to talk further.
Elmer started, "I think you nailed it, Russ. We have low energy in our office. To be honest... I think this low energy may be coming from me. I just don't know if I'm the right guy to energize my workplace."
Russ responded, "As I mentioned over the phone, you can't force anyone to increase or decrease their level of motivation or energy. As the leader, you CAN create an energized environment."
"I'm curious to hear more about this energized environment. How, exactly do I create energy?"
"First, let's get straight on what I mean by ENERGY. Make sense?"
"There are five levels of energy that are most relevant to business owners. The lowest level of energy is called Victim Energy. This shows up as a type of entitlement energy. Employers can exhibit this level of energy by feeling they’re being controlled by their employees. Employees exhibit this level of energy when they expect to have benefits, high compensation, time off and all sorts of perks as an entitlement. Do you think this energy level exists in any part of your firm?"
"I think my salespeople may be showing some of this. They tell me it's impossible for them to make sales at our current price. And yet, a recent competitor just won an opportunity we were competing for with a higher price."
Russ smiled, "Interesting. What did you say to your salespeople about this?"
Elmer said, "I really didn't feel I would help them by pointing it out. They'd worked hard to win this deal; and I didn't want to rub in the loss."
"Alright. How have your salespeople bounced back after this loss?"
"I don't know. I looked at their calendars and they don't seem to have too many appointments set up to gain new customers."
"What did you say to your salespeople about this revelation of no appointments?"
"I’ve kept quiet about it. I was angry when I first noticed the empty calendars and felt like I needed to calm down before I talked to them."
"Got it. That brings me to the next level of energy. The second lowest level of energy is called Conflict Energy. This is the anger you felt when you saw the lacking appointments on your employees’ calendars."
Elmer looked confused, "Are you saying that anger is better than being passive?"
"You have to remember here, that I’m talking about energy levels. If you’re angry, that shows that you care. If you’re a victim, you’ve accepted defeat and have disconnected. While Conflict Energy is a step up from Victim Energy, it’s still a low level of energy."
"I'm curious to hear what energy levels are next."
"The third level of energy is called Acceptance Energy. People who use this energy are great at coping with obstacles and moving forward. This coping may be ignoring a person with a difficult personality or finding a way to succeed regardless of other obstacles."
"Wow! It seems like if our firm got to level three, we'd be doing pretty good."
"There's no question that you would be doing great if everyone in your office operated at Acceptance Energy. Let me introduce you to the last two levels of energy. The fourth level of energy is Compassion Energy. At this level you create business success by caring for coworkers, employees, and customers."
"I'm not sure I like this one. What if we give up everything to satisfy customers and end up losing money as a company?"
Russ chuckled, "Having compassion for others doesn't mean that you have to lose in any way. The win/lose thinking you just described is Conflict Energy. This means for you to win, someone else has to lose."
"Isn't that the way business works? Isn't there always a winner and a loser?"
"Sadly, too many business owners think this way. Let me ask you, ‘Who benefits when you win a contract to design a municipality's lighting system?’"
Elmer thought for a minute and then responded, "I guess the municipality wins because they’re getting professionally designed lighting. We win because we’re getting money to perform the work. And our competitors lose because they didn’t get picked to do the project."
"That’s true to a point. Let's think of how compassion energy works in a sale. A salesperson who has strong empathy for their customer will often win accounts. If the salesperson is interested in a big commission check; and not listening to their customer's stated needs, they'll try to win by boasting about features that are irrelevant to the customer."
Elmer interrupted, "Darn it! I think this may have been what happened on our last proposal. How can I get my salespeople to get Compassion Energy?"
Russ smiled, "I'll let you know how you can shift the energy level of all of your people in a minute. Let me describe the fifth level of energy. This is the level of energy that benefits business owners the most. This fifth level of energy is called Opportunity Energy. The core thought at this level is Win/Win. People operating at this opportunity level will see positive opportunities in any situation. Even in losses."
"Are you saying that we can find an opportunity in our most recent loss?"
"Of course. Have your salespeople contact the customer they just lost and asked what they could have done to win the account?"
"My salespeople told me that the competitor had a relationship with the mayor and that's why they won."
Russ smiled, "If that’s true, then what should your salespeople be doing?"
"I guess they should be creating relationships of their own."
"You see? Always an opportunity. That's the fifth energy level."
"If level five is where you want all your clients, why do you bother with all of the other levels. Why not just say, Opportunity Energy is the way to go; and then have them focus on one thing, instead of all of the rest of these levels?"
"Great question. While you may want to strive for higher levels of energy, there are times when those lower levels may be more appropriate.”
"Are you kidding me? How can I know which one of these energy levels to use and when?"
"Whenever you have a key decision to make, you need to consider five different options through five different energy levels. I call this exercise, climbing the ladder. We've been talking a lot about this sale you most recently lost. Tell me what your proposal would have looked like at each different level of energy?"
"I suppose at VICTIM, we wouldn't have made a proposal because we would’ve already given up. At CONFLICT, we would’ve compared our advantages and highlighted the disadvantages of our competitor. Actually, I think this is what we did. At ACCEPTANCE, we may have focused more on our advantages and avoided highlighting any disadvantages of our competition. At COMPASSION, we would have focused more specifically on the needs of the customer and how our solutions would make life easier for the folks at the municipality. At OPPORTUNITY, we would’ve discussed a partnership opportunity between our firm and their municipality. Maybe we could have offered discounted lighting design services to members of their chamber of commerce."
"Great job, Elmer! How do you think your sales team will do in the future, if they were to start thinking about these various energy levels?"
"I think they would laugh at me."
"That may be.... but if it made them more successful, I'm guessing they'd start taking energy more seriously."
"I suppose. Russ, I appreciate what you've taught me today about energy levels, but I'm not quite sure how any of this will help motivate my staff."
"As I said before, you don't motivate your staff. All you need to do is have the same conversation I just had with you. When they’re aware of how their thinking’s affecting their ability to succeed, they’ll respond. Their actions will then create the higher energy workplace you desire. No employee wants to come to a low-energy workplace. They want their workplace to be energized just as much as you do. Wouldn't it be awesome if your salespeople filled their calendars with relationship-building appointments without you asking them?"
"Of course, it would."
"If you introduced your salespeople to these energy concepts, which level do you think they’d choose?"
"I suppose they’d choose level five. Especially, if they felt it would earn them higher commissions."
"If they choose, then you don't have to motivate them. Right?"
"You're right, Russ. The energy level in our office would rise because my staff would start choosing to think and act at higher energy levels."
"You got it."
Elmer was excited about his newfound information.
He invited Coach Russ to give his energy talk to his entire staff. He was surprised at how differently he and the rest of his staff started acting once they started using the climbing the ladder exercise on a regular basis.
It seemed like his staff was more engaged in their work; and he could feel the level of energy had changed at the office. He routinely heard his salespeople engaging in relationship building conversations with customers. Even his engineers were taking off their headphones to engage in sales strategy meetings with salespeople.
Elmer's office was energized, and all he had to do was educate his people on five simple energy levels.
What a great story about a business owner who re-energized his business. I want to spend a few moments highlighting this Core Energy concept that was mentioned in the story. First, Core Energy™ is a trademarked system that was developed by Bruce Schneider and belongs to the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching or iPEC. While I mentioned five levels of energy in this story, iPEC teaches seven levels of energy.
I’d like to give you a summary of how this energy works.
The two lowest levels discussed in our story, Level 1 (Victim) and Level 2 (Conflict) are catabolic energy. This catabolic energy has two key characteristics:
It can be helpful in emergencies where immediate action is required.
It is often used as a reaction.
If you use catabolic energy repeatedly, you will feel a build up of stress and you will eventually burn out. If you stay at Level 1 for extended periods of time, you can become clinically depressed.
The higher levels that we talked about in our story, are considered anabolic forms of energy. To access these higher levels, you must be deliberate and be conscious of your thoughts.
In the story, Elmer’s office was reacting to a loss of a project that they had hoped to win. Business owners react to government regulations, customer demands, or to economic pressures. This constant reaction can put you in these lower, catabolic energy levels.
I will often encourage my business owner clients to step back from their reaction and plan out their business. This gives them a chance to see their business objectively and make much better decisions.
I want to quickly outline the “Climbing the Ladder” exercise that was mentioned in our story. This exercise will give you a clear picture of options that you have when making important decisions.
Let’s first create a typical business decision that you may face. Let’s say that your company made a little extra this past year in profit and you’re considering sharing this profit with your employees in some way.
Now, let’s climb the energy ladder…
Level-1 – Victim
At level one you will feel like your profit’s a fluke. You’ll most likely not share any upside with your employees. The two downsides you see are: 1) If you share it with your employees, you won’t have enough money to weather some future storm; and 2) If you give them the money, they’ll feel even more entitled to get a bonus every year. You don’t want that!
Level-2 – Conflict
At level two you will feel like your employees didn’t really do anything to deserve to share in your profit. After all, your employees wouldn’t pay you in a year when there’s a loss, so why should you give them a share of your profit in a good year? The only way you’ll give your employees a piece of your profit is if you’re afraid of losing key employees to your competition. Even then, you’ll be very selective in giving out a portion of your profit.
Level-3 – Acceptance
At level three you’ll become more analytical about your decision. You will consider your overall financial situation. If you have sufficient revenue for the foreseeable future, you will consider giving some of your profits to your employees. You don’t want to just give out this profit as some gift. Instead, you will want to get a benefit for your company through this bonus. You may even give out bonuses on the condition that the recipients of such bonuses stick around for at least another year.
Level-4 – Compassion
At level four you’ll be thinking about your people instead of yourself or your company. You will be happy paying out a bonus to your employees regardless of whether they deserve it or not. At this level, you aren’t as concerned about the money as you are about the reaction you get from giving the money. You’ll most likely send out bonus checks in a beautiful envelope with a heart-felt letter thanking your employees for contributing to your company’s success.
Level-5 – Opportunity
At level five, you’ll be thinking beyond your people. You’ll consider the option of profit-sharing plans or giving portions of company equity to build longer term loyalty. You may be considering investing in a business growth opportunity. Maybe you’ll use the increased profits as a down-payment on a company acquisition or growing your staff. The challenge you may have at Level 5 is deciding which option is the best.
The way the climbing the ladder exercise works is that you now reflect on each level and pick the best option.
That’s it for our story and lesson today. I hope you’ve learned a few things from Elmer’s story and our brief discussion on Core Energy™. If you’d like to learn more about my business coaching practice, you can go to http://www.mmbizcoach.com/.