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Turning De-energizers into Energizers

5/29/2003 --

Companies rely on energy within their organizations to create momentum and drive growth. In many firms, however, there are those who create energy and those who deplete it. Managers must be able to distinguish between the two types, i.e., the energizers and the de-energizers, and recognize how these opposing factions impact co-workers, other departments and the organization as a whole, says a team of researchers that includes Prof. Wayne Baker of the University of Michigan Business School.

According to Baker and colleagues Rob Cross of the University of Virginia and Andrew Parker of the IBM Institute for Knowledge-based Organizations, energized people can build a groundswell of enthusiasm that will help boost team performance, motivate colleagues, spur innovation and increase job satisfaction.

On the other hand, energy-sappers can have just the opposite effect by draining away enthusiasm, deflating fellow workers, stifling new ideas and making the workplace a real drag, they say. Managers must find ways to inspire energizing behaviors within their organizational social networks in order to help their firms improve performance, achieve company-wide goals and foster learning, they add.

“Energy is part of everyday talk and experience in organizational life,” said Baker, professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at Michigan. “It clearly is associated with people’s motivation and willingness to exert effort, and it is tightly linked to progress in organizations.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed different patterns of relationships in assessing the energy in seven large social networks, ranging from 44 to 124 people. The organizations they selected included six businesses, ranging from technology companies to financial-services providers, and one government agency.

They found a critical link between energy and performance, and discovered that people who energized others were higher performers. These energizers served in effect as lightning rods within their organizations, attracting more time and attention from colleagues for their ideas and expertise. The researchers also identified the key attributes of energizing interactions, including those that presented a compelling vision, created opportunities for others to contribute meaningfully or offered hope for the attainment of a worthy objective.

In contrast, the study found that de-energizers, which included individuals or members of a functional area or leadership group, constantly aired negative views, failed to engage others, favored their own solutions or did not uphold the commitments they made. These actions drained the energy of other co-workers and groups, stifled creativity and hindered progress on initiatives, the researchers say.

To help companies identify their strengths and weaknesses, Baker and colleagues created a self-test for assessing behaviors that impact favorably or unfavorably on organizational energy. This assessment is presented in their article, “What Creates Energy in Organizations?” which is scheduled to appear in the June issue of the Sloan Management Review.

The good news, they say, is that companies can turn de-energizers into energizers by taking measures to alter behaviors and finding new ways to create energy.

“Several of the organizations we worked with changed their human-resource practices in an effort to inspire energizing behaviors more broadly,” Baker said. “Simple alterations to hiring criteria or performance evaluation processes can have a systematic impact on how energy is fostered within an organization.”

View the Special Report on Positive Organizational Scholarship.

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: 734.936.1015 or 734.6471847