While writing CONTAGIOUS YOU* last year, I spent time digging deep into data, science, research, and case studies. I wanted to help bridge the gap people often come to the edge of when tying the IEP leadership work (often seen as the "soft stuff") to tangible business costs and outcomes.
Of course everyone knows that being more present, healthier, clearer, kinder, and trustworthy is a nice to have, but does it really net a financial impact? Is it really good business? After all, people say it is, but I've found that when it comes to learning how to do it — which requires leaning into the "soft stuff" — people often disappear into some version of, "We don't have budget, we don't have time, we've got work to do" or my favorite "Isn't that a little woo woo?"
After having done this work for more than twenty years with a spectrum of organizations, business leaders, humans, and industries, I knew the answer to "Does it really net a financial impact and is it good business and is it worth tending to?" was a HUMONGOUS “YES.”
(So do you, if even only intuitively right now.)
And turning myself into a researcher validated my beliefs.
More so than I'd even thought possible.
To the tune of:
— Actively disengaged employees costing the U.S. an estimated $483 billion to $605 billion each year
— 50% of employees leaving their jobs citing their managers as the reason for leaving (even if the job and purpose of it is in alignment)
— 55% of CEOs knowing that lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth, but not knowing what to do so just continuing to push through as if all is fine (which creates more distrust and cost)
— Business units in the top quartile of engagement, compared with those in the bottom quartile, realizing improvements of 41% lower absenteeism, up to 59% lower turnover, 70% fewer employee safety incidents, 20% higher sales, and 21% higher profitability (to name just a few metrics**)
And whatever YOUR turnover, health care costs, lost time, low productivity, distracted subpar work, and cultural and collaborative health is.
All of this**, not to mention the lost opportunities and costs associated with time and energy sunk into managing drama, working around conflict, having people show up lacking intention, clarity, and purpose, and even more so, simply having people show up badly (thereby likely treating others badly), and/or not feeling well, etc...
Money money money. Morale morale morale. Culture culture culture. Shall I go on? Let's dig in...
It's going to be okay, you will want to engage though.
Before I go further, I want to offer that all of this (or at least a lot of it) is within our control. We have the ability to shift everything I mention above. But, it requires that we take response-ablity for the way we show up, the way we address these issues in our organizations and in our own leadership, and the way we choose to be contagious -- not just the physical kind, the energetic, emotional, and behavioral kind of contagious.
The act of shifting costs to benefits when it comes to the financial impact of poor productivity and morale requires we lean into the "soft" and often "intangible" stuff. And even more so, it requires that we acknowledge the "soft stuff" as the powerful bonding agent it actually is and invest in tending to it. I talk about this not only for our organizations and our leadership as adults, but also for what we teach our kids in schools. We need to arm them with the soft skills and the ability to be intentional, take care of themselves, and be present if we want to set them, and our future, up well.
The tangible stuff is important too, absolutely. HOWEVER, if you have great frameworks, and training, and strategies, and even communication skills -- but you (and/or) your people show up badly or burned out doing them, OR you're not clear on your intentions for WHY you're doing them, you're at best leaving a ton of opportunity on the table, and more likely doing more harm than good with your leadership prowess and corporate structures.
The Cost of Disengagement.
In its 2016 report (which references some of the stats I mention above), the Gallup Organization estimated that the US loses $483B-$605B (yes, billion) due to low productivity due to actively disengaged employees. Gallup categorizes engagement in three ways: Engaged, Disengaged, Actively Disengaged.
Engaged employees like their job, give you their best, and are positive energy in the company. As of the 2016 report, 33% of employees were engaged.
Disengaged employees come to work, do their job, but they're not super energized around it, are likely not giving you their best thinking, and are actively looking for, or open to, a new job. As of 2016, 51% of US employees were considered disengaged.
The actively disengaged? They're not doing their work, they're looking for new jobs, and they're actively poisoning the culture in your organization and on your teams. As of 2016, 16% were actively disengaged. (These numbers are not far off four years later.)
That number of $483B-$605B?
That's just the cost of actively disengaged employees.
This is before the pandemic, before we were all locked down, before sheltering in place, and before we had to learn quickly to do our work AND connect, build trust, create safety virtually AND manage our own emotions, stress, anxiety, families, and heartbreak about the state of the world. Not to mention, stop hugging and being with those outside our households (if we even have people in our households). (NOTE: Gallup is looking at 2020 now in smaller samplings to see the impact of the pandemic, and while numbers have fluctuated throughout the year, as of 10/16/20 they report that engagement trends are coming back to pre-COVID levels. This is a different sampling than the full report from 2016, and useful to see. More here.)
What creates disengagement?
After twenty years of working with human beings, here is what I see creates disengagement (and therefore low productivity, low-level thinking, and toxic cultures). Not feeling seen, heard, appreciated, or cared for will create disengagement. Not trusting your leaders (or yourself) or being trusted will create disengagement. Not being or feeling on purpose, being clear about our intentions, not taking care of ourselves, and being exhausted -- these all create disengagement.
At the end of the day, disengagement comes down to how we treat others, how we lead, and how we take care of ourselves. Again, all within our control. A choice. All of these, in my experience, can be traced back to our level of intentions and clarity, our energy and self-care, and our level of presence with ourselves, each other, and our impact.
Examples of Disengagement
Your employee does a ton of work on a project and comes to you for feedback. You have a golden moment to build trust, acknowledge this human, see him/her, and also help him/her grow. But... you're busy. So you quickly go through the meeting, you're not fully present, and when you see something that "doesn't work," instead of taking the time, energy, and presence to give productive feedback or get curious, you judge it/them (which they feel the energy of), and either give curt feedback or nice but unproductive feedback.
[Cost: Connection, inspiration, employee’s spirit, your opportunity to help make something better. I once saw a company spend $500K and major cultural trust and equity on a project that was off the rails because they were too busy to get still, give intentional feedback, and be real with each other. The project failed, no one trusted anyone anymore for it and, years later, it’s still talked about.]
You have a meeting with your team. Everyone comes in (virtual or in person) scattered, half are a few minutes late, no one is really prepared or present. There's tension. People are moving fast. You plow through and have the meeting, working around the tension, not acknowledging broken agreements for time and prep (if you even made the time, ahead of time, to proactively create agreements to set yourselves up well -- hint hint). The meeting is bumpy, exhausting, and not as productive as it would have been if you'd just said "PAUSE" at the beginning, taken a moment to check in and breathe, and addressed anything that needed to be addressed to support a "clean container" for the meeting.
[Cost: Simply consider what this kind of meeting costs your team; financially, morale-wise, productivity, opportunity cost, bandwidth-wise, etc. Bonus costs if someone on the team is especially negative (contagious!) and by the time you get off the call, everyone is in a bad space. NOTE: I give formulas for assessing the financial cost of this scene in our workshops as well as in CONTAGIOUS CULTURE and CONTAGIOUS YOU.]
You're meeting with your prospective client for the last time to close the deal. It's a team meeting. You head into the meeting and quickly realize that you and your team are not fully prepared; you didn't align on intentions, you didn't tend to that energetic dynamic going on with those two members on the team (competition and tension), your energy as a team is scattered and tense, and because you sense the meeting going down in flames you're not able to be fully present to bring it back up and refocus on why you're here in the first place: to be in service of the client. The client decides not to sign with you because you don't seem solid enough for them. (If you’re lucky they’ll tell you this, though they likely will not.)
[Cost? You tell me. I witnessed this, helped a team turn the dynamic around BEFORE they went into the meeting (by naming the energy and getting them aligned on their intentions for impact), and they closed a seven-figure deal.]
Building on this last one, let's make it even simpler. Your employee is in a bad mood and doesn't have the resources to do a reboot and regain command of her state, and when a customer asks for something, she comes across as grouchy, less than helpful, and leaves your customer feeling negative for the experience. If you're lucky, your customer knows everyone has a bad day, and blows it off (but doesn't feel great and might not come back), if you're not so lucky, that customer is going to tell a bunch of people about their experience.
[Cost: Customer experience, possibly the size of the sale, maybe the customer, and your company's reputation. All because your employee didn't have the awareness of impact and/or the ability to shift, and/or to take care of themselves to begin with (via "soft stuff") so as not to get to that level of funk.]
You invest in a ton of training (leadership, sales, DE&I, communication, etc.), put everyone through it, celebrate your care and initiative in growing people. However, in all of this training, while people get the skills, they still come to the table showing up sub-par, exhausted, busy, judgmental, not present, and not intentional with the person they're doing them with.
[Cost: Whatever the training cost you PLUS the impact on the people your people DID their new learnings to in a way that didn't feel great. And the level of trust you've just lost with those that leader is responsible for. You’ve likely seen or experienced this: you send someone through leadership training, they do it, come back to their team armed with new skills, DO the skills (vs BE them), and still show up unintentional, busy, distracted, unaware of their impact, maybe even more judgmental now that they're "better" for having been trained, and following this example through, they're likely even more exhausted. Now your people are more confused than ever.]
Culture & Business:
Your company is doing well, you've got rockstars working with you, people are making great money. You've got cultural initiatives in place (Zoom meets for happy hour, shipping pizza or gifts to your crew since you can't all be together, the company virtual acknowledgment board, etc.). But, you have a couple leaders in the company who leave people feeling small, careful, unsafe, and disengaged who you continue to keep on board because they're cultural icons, have been there a long time, and let's be honest, clients like them and they make you a lot of money. In addition, people are working so hard, they’re unhealthy, their home relationships are falling apart, mental health is not being tended to, people are getting sick.
[Cost: The cost of the turnover when people start leaving because of your leadership bullies, the cost of lost time, the cost of lost best thinking, and the cost of your employees’ health.]
Your Leadership Performance:
You go into a meeting or conversation and you are feeling great, inspired, solid, ready to rock. You're prepared. And your team (or colleague) is.... blech. They're in a low energetic state, bringing bad vibes, complaining, sucking the air out of the room. You hold on for a bit, and then swoosh! You are sucked into the abyss. All that great energy and inspiration is gone. You need a nap. And a shower to wash off the toxic. You've caught the lowest vibration. And it has cost you and your organization. Apply this dynamic to taking a phone call, Thanksgiving dinner, or hanging out with a friend...
[Cost: Your happiness, satisfaction, and life force… whatever that is worth to you.]
I could go on... Each one of these examples I've seen (and/or experienced) many versions of. The challenge is that no one thinks they're doing a bad job with this, often they're not even aware it's happening or that there are alternatives. Often we're so IN IT we can't see it. Which is why this isn't about making ourselves "wrong" for it, it's about awareness and then getting into action to shift it.
When you put this all together and have individuals creating the shifts for themselves, it’s contagious so others create the shifts as well. And now, not only do you have more positively contagious, accountable, and productive high-performance leaders, you have a more positively contagious, accountable, and productive high-performance culture.
So how do you do this?
Arming Yourself and Your People with "Soft Skills"
This doesn't have to be hard. It does take intention, energy, presence, and effort. Great news, awareness is 70% of the battle. The other 30% is in what you CHOOSE to do about it.
My books, this blog, the entire IEP body of work (Intentional Energetic Presence®), the IEP Method®, our online courses, our live (virtual) events/workshops, and my private work with clients are devoted to tackling these challenges and setting up people to lead well, treat each other well, AND feel well.
Our intentions, energy, and presence are core to any leadership skill or act or behavior or cultural initiative we might put in place. Our ability to hold our energetic space and shift our energetic state on command are essential leadership super powers. The act of building your IEP is something that serves YOU, the people you lead, your customers, your organization, your family, your well-being, and your impact.
Our Goal as Leaders Moving forward to Create our Culture
We must be able to hold our space so we don't get clobbered by the energy of the world and those around us. And then so we can even contribute in positive ways to shifting it.
We must be able to be aware of our impact, our energy, our projections, and how we're showing up. And then able to shift in order to help those we lead feel safe, seen, cared for, championed, met, and led.
We must be clear (and be able to clarify) our intentions for what we want to create, the impact we want to have, how we want to show up, and how we want to serve others -- without intention, we have no anchor. And even more so, if we're not clear on our intentions, the intentions and energy of others will move right in.
And finally, we must be able to take care of ourselves, to nourish our energy and well-being, to tend to our mental health, to make sure we're prioritizing our self-care as a leadership skill so that not only do we feel better, we serve others effectively, generously, and sustainably.
Soft stuff? Sure.
Financial impact? You bet. (I promise you WAY more than you realize.)
Cultural impact? Yes. 100%. (We ARE the culture. Every single one of us.)
Can you see it?
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On a personal note. (11/2/2020)
As we head into elections tomorrow, and as we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and stress and anxiety and ambiguity, and all the things are at possibly the highest levels any of us have experienced as individuals, organizations, and as a culture, in our lifetimes, this feels more important than ever.
We can not control what happens around us; we can only influence it and do our very best. We can control how we influence and do our very best and this starts with our IEP, taking care of ourselves, and our intentions for impact. It starts with the soft stuff.
Thank you for your time.
Please let me know how this resonates for you.
And please join me in this work.
Be well, be safe, lead,
*CONTAGIOUS YOU: Unlock Your Power to Influence, Lead, and Create the Impact You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2019) is the follow up to CONTAGIOUS CULTURE: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives (McGraw-Hill, 2015).
** Stats listed are shared in CONTAGIOUS YOU with more details and sources. Also included in that book: an entire chapter on the science of showing up as well as a chapter with case studies from 13 organizations.