Your most committed employees may be putting your business reputation at risk, and you can do something about it--if you learn a simple secret about how the brain works.

Picture your version of "Jason." Jason has a superstar's track record: hatching innovations, contributing value at  meetings, and creating all kinds of human magic for co-workers and customers. In short, he's the type of employee you wish you could clone.

But Jason's lost his luster. 

He still believes in your company. It's clear he wants to nail results. But he's lost the fire, focus, and resilience he used to have--and his performance is sliding downhill, littered with irrational blow-ups, awkward gaffes, and conspicuous errors of judgment. 

This could be containable if Jason wasn't the face of your business. He handles large accounts, negotiates with key suppliers, and manages your most talented employees. 

Put simply, Jason's slippage is endangering your company's reputation.

But how did this happen? And how can you fix it before things get worse?

Look to brain science.

It's easy to understand Jason's descent from superstardom, if you grasp one simple truth about the brain: it's energy, not effort, that powers up intelligence. 

Job number one for your body is survival, so it deems complex thinking a luxury, not a necessity. When Jason runs low on energy, his locomotion, breathing, and fight/flight features are carefully preserved. However, the fuel flow to "command central" of his brain--the executive function (E/F)--shuts down. 

This constriction of higher-order thought produces worrisome behaviors, because Jason loses the ability to:

  • predict outcomes, 
  • focus on what matters most, 
  • regulate his emotions, 
  • connect the dots, and 
  • make smart decisions. 

In short, Jason has lost access to power tools that produce innovation and value-creation. 

If you have employees who are engaged but exhausted, committed but constricted, the following three key things happen. 

1. They resort to base-level thinking.

Without access to the E/F, people lack tools to find root causes and address systemic issues. As such, duct-tape fixes, quick workarounds, and fire-fighting prevail. This hard-wires depletion into the ecosystem of your company, guaranteeing the spread of dedicated under-performance. 

2. Their emotional thinking takes over.

The E/F enables employees to regulate emotions in high-stakes situations. Without this capacity, people "catastrophize"--defaulting to thinking that is rigid, extreme, simplistic and protective. 

From a reputational perspective, this is risky for businesses. The smart response to the livid customer, recalcitrant supplier, or pushy reporter is rarely in the black-and-white, but more often in the nuances. Binary thinking (e.g., either/or, all or nothing, now or never, "you're either on the bus or off the bus," etc.) has potential to massively backfire--with your company's name attached. 

3. They become overwhelmed by even the smallest of tasks. 

When the brain lacks processing power, the smallest challenge or project becomes magnified in the employee's mind. 

Instead of approaching tasks with a can-do attitude as superstars are apt to do, the employee loses their sense of agency and confidence. He or she thinks, "I'm at risk here" and "I can't get this done," further fractionalizing performance. 

Manage energy, not engagement.

There is a way to bring your superstar employees back from the brink (and blunder-proof your business in the process). 

You do it by stepping into a kind of conversation that's conspicuously absent in the workplace: the energy conversation.

We all salute the work that's been done in the area of crucial conversations, fierce conversations, and difficult conversations. However, today's smartest leaders recognize that this approach has relegated conversation to the episodic. By the time you become aware of Jason's episodes, your good name has already been besmirched. 

You can pre-empt this with an "energy conversation." I'll give a thorough treatment of how to do an energy conversation in a later post, but here's the essence of it. 

Meet with Jason and ask him two questions:

  1. "What energizes you and what depletes you in your day-to-day work experience?"
  2. "How might you and I partner together to get you a bit more of what energizes you, and a bit less of what depletes you?"

Over 20 years, I've personally witnessed leaders in some of the world's best organizations combine their understanding of brain science with energy conversations to reinvigorate entire work forces. Simply by managing and focusing on energy instead of engagement, it is indeed possible to restore the best of employees back to superstardom.

That's the power of brain science--and the key to taking employees beyond engagement.