The Pivotal Role of Human Energy
Human energy is not easily measured. Even within the discipline of industrial engineering, we do not currently have any valid way to measure it in units. Yet, it can be inferred that once released, human energy can make something happen. We all possess a certain amount of energy that can be called upon when we have a task to perform, and, depending on the magnitude of the task, we can probably complete it and then go on to another task. Whether we are willing to limit our energy output or expend it beyond what is normally called for is an open question that every organization must deal with. Clearly, whichever of these paths is taken will make a difference in productivity and performance.
Here’s an example of the concept of human energy applied in a practical situation. Consider the challenge of setting up a new manufacturing operation. How many people are needed to get the work done? The answer will depend on many factors including how heavy the work is, its complexity, and the quality of the work site. If we assume that each worker possesses the same level of energy and endurance, it is possible to estimate the workforce necessary to produce the desired outcome.
Even with the best estimate we could make, we would still most likely enter a trial and error situation, using feedback from the workforce to assess the appropriate number of people needed to get the work done. Once an equilibrium between work produced (output) and labor required (input) is reached, is it possible to gain more productivity without adding additional people? Do the people assigned to this work have reserve energy that can be deployed at will? This is where the culture of the workplace can play a pivotal role.
In our book, Unleashing Human Energy through Culture Change, we describe how a change in culture in a major manufacturing operation substantially increased productivity without adding to the labor force. The change from a toxic culture to one that engaged workers as partners was not only instrumental in saving this manufacturing plant from closure but helped it set a world record in productivity.
If you want to harness human energy, culture is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. Human energy may not be easily measured, but when unleashed, the results are clearly observable.