How to Unleash the Awesome, “Can Do” Spirit In Your Employees

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Sep 26, 2014

I loved the video below (People Are Awesome 2013) so much, I used it in two recent presentations on how to cultivate a resilient workforce.

Now, I didn’t just share this video because it was so fun and uplifting; I shared it because it is a great metaphor for the following:

  1. The potential people — including your employees — have to do awesome things;
  2. The factors which influence whether your employees are stressed out and overwhelmed, or demonstrate resilience and a “Bring it On!” attitude
  3. When people are intrinsically motivated, they are capable of amazing things.

Sharing the video before I spoke also accomplished a strategic operational objective. After you watch the video and read on, you’ll understand what that was, and how the video accomplished that objective.

Lessons from People Are Awesome

  • The potential that people, including your employees, have to do awesome things. One of the reasons I love this video is how it speaks to human beings’ ability to do the seemingly impossible. Even if you’re not into extreme sports or fitness, you have to admit that what they were able to do was pretty amazing.

Well, your employees are also capable of amazing things, too.

Unfortunately, many employees don’t get the chance to do amazing things. Hampered by potential-limiting job design, small-minded management practices, and a wide variety of organizational obstacles, the end up achieving a fraction of their true potential.

And yet most of your employees — if you’ve hired well — WANT to do amazing things. They want to make a difference. They want to have an impact.

Are you enabling them?

Stressed out or resilient?

  • The factors which influence whether your employees are stressed out and overwhelmed, or demonstrate resilience and a “Bring it On!” attitude. As you watched some of the feats of daring on the video, did you find yourself thinking “I would be terrified to do what they are doing”?

If you had that response, not only is it understandable, but it’s a great example of how something that one person finds stressful (or even terrifying) is exciting for another. What would be overwhelming and a set-up for failure for one person would be thrilling and a chance to shine for another.

How is this distinction a metaphor for employee resilience, and therefore productivity?

First, it obviously takes a very unique type of person to enjoy skiing off a cliff or riding an 80-foot wave. This speaks to the importance of job fit, of making sure you hire people who have the qualities that make it possible for them to love, and excel at, the job they’ve been hired to do.. No amount of training or encouragement can overcome bad job fit.

Second, no matter what the extreme athlete’s genetic predisposition, they would never be able to do what they do without hard work and training. In the workplace, that translates into whether you provide the training and opportunities that make excellence and mastery possible.

In other words, do make it possible for them to feel “the thrill of victory rather than the agony of defeat”?

Shifting to an energized state

Third, didn’t you feel rather pumped by the video and its great soundtrack? Imagine watching that video, or some other inspiring video, just before a brainstorming session where you and your team needed to solve a daunting problem. Don’t you think your group would have more of a “Bring it On!” mindset? Would you not be more likely to generate ideas than if you were stuck in an overwhelmed, beleaguered emotional state?

Why would that be so?

Because seeing people do amazing things and listening to a cool soundtrack would shift you into an empowered, energized state. Because emotions affect perceptions and creativity, being in an energized state makes possible perspectives and thought processes that an enervated, dispirited state cannot.

Thus, another major take away of the video is this: if you want the best from your employees, become skilled at eliciting empowered, “can do” emotional states in people.

One of the best ways to foster that “Bring It On!” state in your team is to share stories of people doing amazing (or should I say “awesome”) things and of people overcoming obstacles.

Create an archive of these stories. Gather stories and videos you find on the Internet, and collect stories from within your company. This is a great way to keep spirits up during difficult times and foster resilience.

Motivated to do amazing things

  • When people are intrinsically motivated, they do amazing things. The video is also a great example of “different strokes for different folks” and how what each athlete found interesting and invigorating about their sport or fitness challenge might leave the others in the video — and you — completely unmoved.

While you or I might think “And the purpose for doing the whole flying your dirt bike through the air is….?” to the person who is into that, accomplishing that feat has meaning and significance.

This speaks to the importance of helping employees connect to their own personal motivators, their personal Why. The more managers understand the unique drivers and motivators of each employee, the more Awesome they will get out of each person.

Now … the reason I played the video

I played the video not simply as a metaphor for employee resilience, but also to get people into a positive, inspired emotional state so they would be excited about what they were about to learn. Just as in the hypothetical brainstorming session mentioned earlier, I wanted to channel the power of the mind-body connection to optimize their cognitive functioning.

Think about how you can apply this phenomenon of how emotional states affect intellectual functioning and performance in your work. You can harness the power of the mind-body connection by:

  • A. Being conscious of how you impact others emotionally, and make sure you have a positive impact. (see Like a Ringing Bell: How to Get the Most Out of Employees for suggestions)
  • B. Make sharing stories of people overcoming challenges and doing great things a part of your meetings. That’s what Ritz Carlton does to keep their strong, “Can Do” culture alive.
  • C. When coaching an employee through a challenge, ask them to share examples of when they didn’t think they could do something and yet … they did. The act of telling that story will shift their emotional state along with their physiology to one of “stuck-ness” and overwhelm” to one of “I CAN do this.”

 How to get more awesome from employees

  1. Focus on making your interactions as uplifting and encouraging as possible.
  2. Work with your team on how, together, you can create a more positive, inspiring emotional climate.
  3. Collect and share stories of people inside and outside of your organization doing great things and overcoming challenges.
  4. Share these stories and inspiring videos at meetings to remind people “We’re all capable of amazing things.”
  5. Use these stories and videos strategically to shift the mood in meetings to a more optimistic, “can do” vibe.

Note: For more on how to build a “Can Do” spirit in your workforce and why resilience is so important to your organization’s success, see these two articles: Why You Need a Resilient Workforce in Today’s Economy, and How to Build a Resilient, Stress Resistant Workforce.

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