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Psst...Your Energy is Leaking

I have seen organizations spend upwards of 85% of their time on activities not related to business results. Think about how you spent a recent day at work. What percentage of the time actually helped the business? I mean REALLY helped the business, or at least was intended to? (failing counts!). Now multiply that by the number of people in your company. That’s your energy leakage total.

Here are some sneaky activities that leak energy:

  • Powerpoint decks to get internal approval.

  • Status reports.

  • Managing expectations or change.

  • Complying with process requirements.

Energy Leakage: When the energy that is intended to be spent furthering business results, is inadvertently seeping out into other activities, I call that “energy leakage”. Leakage usually shows up in the form of time, money, and focus.

Six Sigma refers to these as “non-value-added-work”. The litmus test is “the customer would not be willing to pay for that activity.”

What is causing all this leaking? And what can you do about it?

Soul Neglect. When we don’t attend to soul in an organization, energy leaks out. The simplest example of this is when there’s a layoff or acquisition rumor and everyone’s energy is sucked into speculating and gossiping about it. People’s time and attention are diverted to the rumor. It’s been pervasive during COVID, with the stress and anxiety consuming a chunk of everyone’s energy.

By attending to the needs of our souls, both the souls of the individuals and that of the organization, we can help plug the energy leaks that spring up.

Proving Worthiness. This one is so ubiquitous that we don’t even see it anymore. Think for a moment about status reports/meetings, and that includes all the activities you engage in to show what a good job you and your team are doing. It could be weekly status, and likely quarterly business reviews, maybe it even includes the process of gathering status. How much of that information is designed to garner support, buy-in, budget, or even to avoid scrutiny? That’s all energy leakage. It doesn’t help the business.

I often hear the argument, “getting budget helps the business because it enables us to work on important products that will yield results.” And while “getting budget” may be necessary, it doesn’t add value. Activities that help you get work done, don’t add business value. Why? Because internal processes are getting in the way of getting work done, instead of helping it get done.

Status reporting that does have business value, is the status that drives decisions. If your status shows that what you’re working on isn’t having the intended impact, and we should pivot, that’s valuable. Or better yet, it shows that it’s even better than expected and we should double-down on our investment. Is that happening in your status meetings?

Getting Buy-In or Change Compliance. If you’re spending most of your time trying to get people to do something, it’s leakage. It’s never going to be zero because you need to have the conversation, but when it starts to eclipse the actual work, it’s leakage.

If your idea is good for business, it should be a short conversation. If you’re begging for buy-in, something is amiss and you’re leaking energy. Check out our past blog on buy-in here.

Similarly, Change Management is a big energy leak if you’re trying to get people to do something they don’t want to do. It’s going to help their company thrive and provide financial benefit and security for them? And they don’t want to do it? Something is amiss. Again, I don’t suggest zero time spent on Change Management, but it can become a huge energy vacuum.

Process Compliance. There is a line in the Agile Manifesto that reads “Humans and Interactions OVER Processes and Tools.” My interpretation of that line is that processes and tools should serve us, we should not be serving them. When filling in process documents or tools takes away from the work, it’s leakage. When a process or tool helps things flow smoothly, it advances business results, rather than detracting from them.

I often see organizations that have elaborate approval processes. Approvals can be for quality, transparency, oversight, and other reasons. They also slow down the speed of business, and they are an energy leak, not only for the approver but also for the submitter. Are there approvals in your company that suck the energy away from business results?

Projects that Leak. Sometimes companies spin up projects that don’t align with company strategy or business results. When it serves the greater good, it can be a beautiful thing. But often it’s an issue of the sunk cost fallacy. “We started this project and we can’t stop the train.”

Too many jobs will be lost, too many people will lose face. We already have a budget allocated.” So we keep working on things that should be put to rest.

Retrofits are another culprit. We should just scrap the old system/product/process but it feels so wasteful, so we create a Frankenstein situation that consumes more energy than if we had just started over. Again, the sunk cost fallacy sneaks in at every turn and says “well we’ve gone this far, we can’t scrap it now.” If you’re running any COBOL code, you know what I’m talking about.

Try this...Just for a day, look through your calendar and see how much actual time you spend on activities that leak energy. What would it take to shift 5% of your time away from energy leaking activities?

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