Unlocking performance and creativity

Lewis Garrad

Do you feel good about your work? I mean, really good about it?

If you work for a mid-sized or large organisation, chances are there are people running “Employee Engagement” programs within your office who really hope so. The idea of having happy workers is almost intrinsically motivating – when was the last time you met someone who actually wanted people to be unhappy around them?

That said, you might ask what kind of performance differences you can expect to see when focusing your efforts on improving employee engagement. The reality is that being a manager and leader of any organisation is tough; you’re asked to make difficult trade-offs every day. Getting results is what matters.

So what kind of outcomes do you get from feeling positively engaged at work? Let’s start at the grass roots.

“Engagement” is about coming to work with a positive mindset. Psychologically, the outcomes of “positivity” are well researched and the benefits are numerous. One compelling idea comes from Barbara Fredrickson who has identified tangible differences in the way people perform tasks when they are in a positive mindset versus a negative one.

Simply put, positivity causes us to widen the number of thoughts and actions that come to mind. As a result, creativity flourishes and people “connect the dots” easier. Fredrickson has good number of studies showing this pattern.

In a business context, researchers at a manufacturing company found that a more satisfied group of workers led to an environment where more ideas where generated and shared, people were more open to change and the organisation was accordingly more innovative (Shipton et al., 2005). Go figure. We could discuss the health and well-being benefits, too, but we’ll save that for another day.

On the flip side, negative mindsets (stressed, pressured, frustrated, even angry or frightened) create a narrowing of our attention to specific actions that deliver an immediate short-term benefit. Usually these are modern manifestations of the evolutionary “fight or flight” responses. We take action to stop the pain, to avoid a problem or to deter an aggressor. On the upside, this can make us more focused on our goals and more competitive. However, if we push it too hard, there’s chance that we’ll take action to avoid the situation (absenteeism), start to break the rules (sabotage) or even call foul play (strikes/grievance).
The truth is that the business environment is extremely complex; a mixture of free thinking and focus on specifics is important. It’s about combining these two elements to create a high performance, highly engaging working environment.

Now more than ever, companies need their people to be challenging the status quo in order to drive continuous improvement, innovation, efficiency and productivity. Employee engagement isn’t just a great work environment. It’s about what a positive mindset makes possible that otherwise wouldn’t occur. It’s about unlocking true potential.

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