Don’t Waste Your Employees’ Energy: Use it as fuel

Chuck GoseDid you know that there’s a correlation between simple physics (yes, the kind you learned in school) and employee engagement? If you want a refreshing and unabashedly candid take on employee engagement, you’ll want to attend Chuck Gose’s session, The Physics of Employee Engagement, at the World Conference. Gose, global practice leader at STRATACACHE, cuts through the corporate gobbledygook with a common sense approach that builds on employee energy.

In this Q&A with CW Executive Editor Natasha Nicholson, Gose gives a preview of the ideas he’ll be sharing in his session.

Natasha Nicholson: What is your definition of employee engagement?

Chuck Gose: My definition is quite simple. Employee engagement is all about giving a damn. Caring about what you do every day. Caring about your co-workers—and caring about company performance. Often times, companies and individuals will confuse engagement with satisfaction. While they aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, they should be looked at separately.

NN: You’ve noted that some of the news coming out of employee engagement studies isn’t good and hasn’t been for a long time. What is being discovered and what you think it means to an organization’s ability to have a thriving and productive workforce?

CG: I’m a natural cynic. When I read articles about companies who have high engagement, projects [that] always go well, and everything gets along, I assume there are also unicorns roaming the corporate campus. No company is perfect. Every single one has its flaws. They all have warts. But that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging those flaws and improving them, as long as you aren’t taking energy away from your strengths.

A way I like to look at this is like a Slinky at the top of the steps. That’s energy, simply waiting to be released. When you push the slinky, that’s engaging your workers. You’re giving them momentum. Well that leads to the next step, customer engagement. And then that leads to the next step…and the next step…and the next step. Employee engagement is the driver and catalyst for so much of what goes on in an organization, both positively and negatively.

NN: What are the consequences for companies that are not paying attention to employee engagement?

CG: Three words: doomed to fail. But when I say fail, I don’t mean they’ll be closing their doors. What I mean is that they’ll be missing out on the success they could have had. Also, merely paying attention to employee engagement isn’t enough. It’s a start, but it won’t matter unless you do something about it.

I worked for a company once that touted 70% employee engagement. Relative to a lot of companies, that’s pretty good. The next quarter, engagement dropped to 62%. Again, relative to other companies, that was world class. But in my opinion, something was wrong. We “lost” 8% of our workforce. What happened to them? Paying attention doesn’t answer that question. Investigating does.

The other “danger” with employee engagement is when companies don’t consider the individualistic aspect of it. What engages you may or may not engage me. It’s important to understand how to engage employees and with what.

NN: You make a link between simple physics and employee engagement.  Could you explain that?

CG: I’m truly amazed at what can be explained in the natural world with physics. So I challenged myself to see if our employee engagement struggles can be explained with the natural laws of physics. I believe they can. Energy and momentum, both key elements of physics, are also huge components to employee engagement. I’ll talk more about it at the session.

NN: What are the three key steps that are needed to assess employee engagement levels? How can physics help make that happen?

CG: The first step (and the hardest) is for a company to be honest with itself. This goes back to acknowledging faults, weaknesses and warts. When companies get employee engagement survey results back, they’ll often try to interpret what employees meant but in a favorable way. This isn’t honesty. This is convenience. (And also, I’d like to point out this is the first mention of a survey. Engagement is so much more.)

Second, find out what employees care about and what motivates them (enter physics). Employees only have so much energy to give in the workforce. It’s finite. We all have tasks that add tremendous value but that we don’t enjoy. That’s life. But for employees, make sure that they see the value in these tasks but that they also get to put forth energy into things they enjoy and that also prove valuable to the company.

Third, engagement is a two-way street. Companies want to see how employees are engaged with the business. And employees want to see how the company is engaging with them. When these two energies are combined, the output is exponential. When they work against each other, progress is halted.

NN: What are the top three takeaways that you hope people will gain from attending your session?

CG: I hope attendees leave with a whole new way of looking at employee engagement at their company. Using natural laws, which are easily understood by anybody, can help relate engagement challenges in the corporate world.

Second, employee engagement can’t simply be explained by survey results, despite the efforts of many leaders. Employees are not data points. They are not answers to survey questions. They are energy sources, and how companies channel that energy is crucial.

And third, a physics refresher never hurt anybody!