Below is an interview I did in December 2011 with Eric Davis, Enterprise Risk Management Project Manager (He was MnDOT Human Resources Director at the time) about the 18th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series: The Power of Full Engagement : Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
Tang: Why did you pick this book?
Davis: In the first chapter, the authors ask their readers “If you could wake up tomorrow with significantly more positive, focused energy to invest at work and with your family, how significantly would that change your life for the better? As a leader, how valuable would it be to bring more positive energy and passion to the workplace? If those you lead could call on more positive energy, how would it affect their relationships with one another, and the quality of service that they deliver to customers and clients?”
There is so very much competing for our time, attention and energy. Feeling starved for time, we assume we have no choice but to try and cram as much as possible into every day. But as the authors point out, managing our time efficiently is no guarantee that we will bring sufficient energy to whatever it is we are doing. The authors assert that “energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”
Tang: What do you like most about this book?
Davis: The book offers a number of case studies and a few were uncomfortably familiar. I recognized in myself many of the same destructive habits that may have allowed me to meet some short-term goals, but risked my long-term health and most important relationship. I took some inspiration from these stories and applied the author’s principles for key energy management principles. Although I can’t claim to habitually renew my energy in all four dimensions of life (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional) as the authors advise, I do generally recognize when my engagement and energy predictably falters and know I need to make energy renewal a priority.
Tang: Recently the Office of Human Resources has been conducting an Employee Engagement Survey agency-wide, one division at a time. Is this the first time MnDOT has done such a survey? What do you try to get out of the survey and what do you plan to do with the result?
Davis: No. There was a department-wide, comprehensive attempt to assess employee satisfaction and engagement in the 90s. Unfortunately, the results were not very actionable and it was difficult to respond to identified concerns. The approach of using a limited set of questions focused on actionable items known to influence an employee’s engagement and conducting the survey in divisions of the agency allows leaders to more effectively respond to what we learn from the survey. In that sense, I think what we are doing now is more valuable and effective.
Tang: Is there anything from the book you learned that has been helpful in this survey effort?
Davis: The authors write “Leaders are the stewards of organizational energy – in companies, organizations and even in families. They inspire or demoralize others first by how effectively they manage their own energy and next by how well they mobilize, focus, invest and renew the collective energy of those they lead.”
The survey gives MnDOT leaders some valuable insight into what employees believe about their own experience and the opportunity to better influence engagement.
Tang: The book mentions a Gallup poll showing that less than 30 percent of American workers are “fully engaged,” 55 percent are “not engaged” and 19 percent are ”actively disengaged.” How engaged are MnDOT employees based on our Employee Engagement Survey result so far?
Davis: So far, the survey suggests the majority of MnDOT employees are highly engaged. In general, the majority of MnDOT employees report they understand what is expected of them at work, have access to the necessary tools and resources to do their work, understand how their job makes a difference and are willing to give their very best efforts to get a quality job done. Perhaps one of the most encouraging things we’ve learned from our survey is how nearly every MnDOT employee takes tremendous pride in serving the public. Despite the public and political discourse that at times can be very hostile to public employees, MnDOT employees have sustained a strong sense of pride in the service they provide to the public.
Tang: What does it mean to be fully engaged?
Davis: To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritual aligned with a purpose greater than our immediate self-interest. As the authors explain, “It means being able to immerse yourself in the mission you are on, whether that is grappling with a creative challenge at work, managing a group of people on a project, spending time with loved ones or simply having fun.”
Tang: What are the core principles of full engagement?
Davis: The authors explain full engagement requires:
(1) Our ability to draw on four related sources of energy, our physical capacity, our emotional capacity, our mental capacity and our spiritual capacity. Peak performance under pressure is achieved when all levels are working together.
(2) Our ability to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse.
(3) Our ability to push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic what that elite athletes train.
(4) Our ability to incorporate positive energy rituals – highly specific routines for managing and renewing our energy for sustained high performance.
Tang: What can you as the HR director (Or What can MnDOT) do to help employee become more or fully engaged physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
Davis: As leaders we need to model and encourage everyone we work with to recognize and act on the wisdom of occasionally “stepping off the endless treadmill of deadlines and obligations” to take time for our reflection and renewal. Emails, cell-phones, and the like can easily addict us to the urgent and now and fill us with an inclination to live our lives in a perpetual state of crisis management. However, sustained high performance depends as much on how we renew and recover energy in these four dimensions of our lives as how we expend it. When leaders attend to the well-being of employees and people feel strong and resilient, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritual, they perform better. They win, their families win, our communities win, and MnDOT wins.
Tang: What are the most important lessons you have learned from the book? What are the most important ideas you would like people to take away from this book?
Davis: Stress is not necessarily the problem, nor is the quantity of time available to us. “The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quality of energy available to us is not.” As the authors succinctly assert, “Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.” While in our lifetime there will undeniably be real life crises and tragedies, difficult relationships, toxic environments, but we often have more control over our energy that we ordinarily realize. “The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become,” Loehr and Schwartz.
Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you.
Davis: “Most of us are just trying to do the best that we can. When demand exceeds our capacity, we begin to make expedient choices that get us through our days and nights, but take a toll over time. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee and cool down with alcohol. Faced with relentless demands at work, we become short-tempered and easily distracted. We return home from long days at work feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.”
“Will and discipline are far more limited resources than most of us realize. If you have to think about something each time you do it, the likelihood is that won’t keep doing it for very long. The status quo has a magnetic pull on us.”
“While it isn’t always in our power to change our external conditions, we can train to better manage our inner state. We aim to help corporate athletes use the full range of their capacities to thrive in the most difficult circumstances and to emerge from stressful periods stronger, healthier, and eager for the next challenge.”
Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.
Davis: I often find I’m reading more than one book at a time and would like to cultivate a habit of just reading one book at a time so I can enjoy and learn from the book better. I permit myself to divide my attention a bit too thin. Riding the bus for my morning and evening commute is the best time for me to read. I like to have a book to read for my education and development in the morning and something strictly for fun and enjoyment after work.