You've met with your team about an important initiative, explaining why it matters and what you need team members to do. So you expect everyone to spring into action and work hard to achieve what needs to be done.
But days (or even weeks) later, there's been little progress. And when you walk around to see what team members are working on, there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency. Team members are way too relaxed, acting as if they have all the time in the world.
Heike Bruch and Bernd Vogel, authors of Fully Charged: How Great Leaders Boost Their Organization's Energy and Ignite High Performance, would say that your group is lacking "organizational energy." Bruch and Vogel use that term to describe "the human forces shared among executives and employees in companies or work units--not simply the energy of individuals in these companies or units."
And while performance management and other HR systems tend to focus on helping individuals do their best work, Bruch and Vogel advise, in order for teams and organizations to achieve their ambitious goals, leaders "must learn to unleash the company's collective human potential to create an environment where emotions, thoughts, and actions can flow or spread in the organization. Why? A company's collective dynamic force is much stronger than the sum of individual forces or motivation."
Fully Charged's authors provide a valuable strategy for unleashing employees' energy called "slaying the dragon." The idea is to identify a major threat or challenge (the dragon) confronting your organization and then working with your team members to overcome this challenge.
Bruch and Vogel do not suggest that you should invent or embellish a threat simply to boost organizational energy. "Creating imaginary dragons to slay can damage management's integrity . . . if used in a manipulative way."
But when the threat is real, "slaying the dragon" technique is very effective. A new product is gaining market share. A competitor is stealing your clients. Your most talented people are leaving the company. A proposed new regulation will impact production.
Once you identify the dragon, dig deep to understand the threat and its roots. Then follow these 5 steps to engage your team:
Paint a vivid picture of the dragon. "Focus on the one decisive threat or challenge--the dragon--and articulate this as a clear, imminent threat," explain Bruch and Vogel. "It is not enough to simply identify all possible threats; you must narrow them down . . . to define the one challenge. Then, you have to paint a vivid picture of this most relevant, troubling and dangerous threat." This picture isn't about the facts; statistics won't engage employees. You need to bring the story to life so employees can visualize how the dragon is threatening your organization.
Make the danger realistic and relevant. "Managers often underestimate the depths of communication it takes to get employees personally concerned enough about a problem to want to do something about it," write Bruch and Vogel. By the time a leader is ready to communicate, he or she has gone through a long process of understanding the issue. But now you need to spend time with team members so that they get what the problem is. Ideally, advise the authors, "you should communicate possible threats to your people at an early stage. That way, the threat becomes tangibly realistic to everyone."
Appeal to employees' emotions. Leaders sometimes try to protect their people from negative news and threats because they don't want to cause undue stress. In fact, advise Bruch and Vogel, "Negative emotions can cause eustress--a positive form of stress that produces extraordinary effort and persistence that would not have been activated without the negative impulses."
Present the threat as a challenge. This doesn't mean sugar-coating the situation. "Share all the details you have gathered and paint a clear picture of the situation," write Bruch and Vogel. Then "outline specific, tangible actions that the organization can take to overcome the challenge."
Offer emotional encouragement. Now that you've charged up your team, you need to be visible, present--and patient. Team members will have a lot of questions. At times, they'll need to vent about their struggles and frustration. So you need to make yourself available to work closely with your employees. Often your most important role is not to solve problems--it's simply to listen.
By doing so, you strengthen people's confidence that they can solve the problem. And you'll motivate team members to work hard to meet the challenge together.